Saturday, November 3, 1973 (Midnight): The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) / The Mummy’s Curse (1944)

Synopsis: Times are hard in the village of Frankenstein, and a town hall meeting is being held to discuss the situation. The village’s reputation has suffered greatly since the events of Son of Frankenstein (1939) and now the inn stands empty, the children go hungry, and a general atmosphere of despair hangs over the town. What can be done to make life better for the citizens?
Well, not much, the mayor admits. But he allows the villagers to go blow up the abandoned castle of the Frankensteins, which they believe is still carrying the family curse.

Of course it can’t be a real Frankenstein movie without a torch-wielding mob, and this one races off to carry out its mission.

Meanwhile, we find that Ygor (Bela Lugosi) has remained in the old castle, playing a rustic horn (which sounds suspiciously like an oboe) by the sulfur pit where his friend the monster was destroyed in the previous film. When the villagers trigger the explosives and blow apart the castle, the monster is freed, and Ygor is delighted to find that he is still alive, though greatly weakened. The two of them flee the destroyed castle.

They make their way to the nearby village of Vasaria. But the monster is soon captured by the police and imprisoned, and the village prosecutor, (Ralph Bellamy) goes to the local psychiatrist, Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) and asks him to come and assess this difficult case.

But before Frankenstein can do so, Ygor pays him a visit as well. He tells Ludwig that he knows something the people of Vasaria don’t know — that he’s the brother of the hated Wolf Frankenstein and the son of the even-more-hated Henry Frankenstein. Moreover, Ygor threatens to reveal this information to the locals if he doesn’t act to help the monster.

Compelled to hide the monster in his laboratory, Ludwig decides that it must be destroyed once and for all. He prepares to drain all of the electricity out of the monster’s body and disassemble it piece by piece, essentially reversing Henry’s installation instructions. But he is visited by the ghost of his father, who implores him to carry on his work and recharge the monster to full power….

Comments: In writing previously about Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, I speculated that Elsa Frankenstein must have been the daughter of Ludwig Frankenstein, because (a) Wolf is exile and (b) she came from Vasaria, just as Ludwig did. Seeing Ghost of Frankenstein again, I realize that Elsa was under my nose the entire time. In fact, she plays a prominent role in this film — she is clearly identified as Ludwig’s daughter. How could I have forgotten her?

The answer is simple, really. I’d forgotten her because she is played by Evelyn Ankers, who never leaves any impression on me whatsoever, either good or bad.

Ankers possesses a sort of generic prettiness, but her looks aren’t remarkable in any way. She is a reasonably good actress, but lacks a definitive style. She has just enough screen presence to be cast as the female lead in Universal horror films, but not quite enough to prevent her from fading into the background whenever the camera is pointed in her direction.

Compare her to Ilona Massey, who played Elsa in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, and Anker’s shortcomings become clear. Massey is in every way a striking presence: she projects an aloof and aristocratic manner that barely masks her guilt and anguish over her family’s checkered history. Her Elsa is sharp-eyed and intelligent, someone who sees what is coming and cannot quite prevent it from overtaking her. While these attributes aren’t written into the script, they are evident in Massey’s face and delivery; these are the hints toward an interior life that good actors are able to communicate. Ankers is simply incapable of a performance of that caliber, and so her Elsa is entirely forgettable.

But Elsa’s character doesn’t have a lot to do here, so perhaps it’s unfair to blame Ankers.  This movie ultimately belongs to Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who plays Ludwig, and Bela Lugosi as Ygor.  The two actors are at the absolute top of their game, and particularly riveting in their early scenes together.  Ludwig has made a life for himself beyond the shadow of the Frankenstein clan, but now he is suddenly confronted by a man who can take all that away.  For his part, Ygor knows how much Ludwig enjoys the status and the prestige of his current position; furthermore, he knows that Ludwig’s family knows nothing of his father’s crimes.  Ludwig is a man with everything to lose, and therefore a tempting target for extortion. Had money been Ygor’s motive, things would have ended much more happily.

Ralph Bellamy appears as Vasaria’s prosecutor as well as Elsa’s love interest.  He’s strangely unengaging here, much as he was in The Wolf Man.  But he’s a great pro, and it’s lovely to see an actor in this sort of role who isn’t  Patric Knowles.

The Mummy’s Curse

Synopsis: A construction crew is draining the swamps near a Louisiana village, and a number of men working on the project are nervous. There are tales of a mummy that roams the area at night, in the company of the Egyptian princess he carried into the swamp twenty-five years ago. Some of the locals dismiss it as the talk of superstitious yokels. Unfortunately, most of the guys working on the project are superstitious yokels.

Oh sure, the skeptics concede, we all know that a mummy did carry an Egyptian princess into the swamps, but that was a long time ago. You don’t expect that sort of thing to get in the way of a federally-funded construction project.

An archeologist from the Scripps Museum named James Halsey (Dennis Moore) arrives on the site, bearing a letter that permits him to search the local swamps for traces of the mummy. Foreman Pat Walsh (Addison Richards) is annoyed by this sort of tomfoolery, but he must allow Halsey and his fez-wearing sidekick Ilzor (Peter Coe) to do as they please. The arrival of Halsey is not lost on Pat Walsh’s beautiful daughter Betty (Kay Harding).

Almost immediately, mysterious mummy-related events begin to unfold. One of the workmen is found murdered, near an impression in the ground that is the same shape as a man — as if a bulldozer had uncovered the body of a mummy.

Meanwhile, we learn that Ilzor is a member of the secret priesthood sworn to protect Princess Ananka*. He sets up shop in an abandoned monastery nearby, and aided by his henchman Ragheb (Martin Kosleck) revives the mummy Kharis.

Ilzor’s plan is to use Kharis to track down Princess Ananka before Halsey does. But Ananka rises from the swamp and wanders into the village, suffering from amnesia. Her knowledge of ancient Egyptian artifacts impresses Halsey, who puts her to work on his archeological crew.

But the mysterious young woman is troubled by strange dreams, and a string of murders has been occurring, the victims found with ancient mold clinging to their broken necks….

Comments: The Mummy’s Curse was the last — as well as the shortest — entry in Universal’s original mummy franchise. It premiered in December 1944, just six months after the previous entry in the series, The Mummy’s Ghost (which Horror Incorporated hasn’t yet broadcast).

This final effort is entertaining enough, but the seams are clearly starting to show, as more and more plot contrivances are thrown in with a shrug of the shoulders . In one of the more remarkable continuity lapses between sequels, Kharis, who had descended into a New England swamp at the end of the last picture, emerges from a Louisiana swamp at the beginning of this one. Aw, what the hell! A swamp’s a swamp, right?

And what better way to start off a horror movie than with a cheerful little polka? Tinde Benthe, proprieter of the eponymous cafe, serenades the Louisiana day laborers with a ditty called “Hey You!”. This is not, by the way, the morose Pink Floyd song of the same name.

As a public service, I have transcribed the lyrics in question:

Hey you, with the naughty eye

As you pass us by we just have to cry

Hey you — yoo hoo!

When we see you smile in that sweet profile

We dream all the while of you

Hey you! Did we meet again at the Place de la Madeleine in the rue Lorraine?

We two! And if you care for me

And be my sweet cherie

YOO HOO! I go for you!

The patrons don’t all get up and walk out during this number, but let’s admit it: entertainment options are presumably limited in the bayou.

Nevertheless, once things get rolling we have a pretty good time. Much of the action focuses on the travails of an amnesiac Princess Ananka, played here by Virginia Christine. You would have needed to see The Mummy’s Ghost to know that she was in fact a woman named Amina Monsouri, an Egyptian college student imbued with the spirit of Princess Ananka. The role was originally played by Ramsey Ames, whom I wound up liking a good deal more than Christine. But then, you never get over your first Ananka, do you?

Martin Kosleck does a good job as Ragheb, the guardian of Ananka whose earthly desires proves to be his undoing (again — the same fate befell previous Ananka guardians George Zucco in The Mummy’s Hand, Turhan Bey in The Mummy’s Tomb, and John Carradine in The Mummy’s Ghost).

Interestingly, the song “Hey You!” was co-written by the movie’s producer, a Hollywood jack-of-all-trades named Oliver Drake.

Drake started his career as an actor in silent westerns, eventually writing, producing and directing cheap oaters himself for the poverty row studios until TV pushed the genre out of the theaters. He wrote songs for his movies too, with titles like “On the Prairie”, “Moonlight on the Painted Desert,” and “Out On the Lone Star Trail.”

Drake did a fair amount of TV late in his career. He directed his last film in 1974, an X-rated feature called Angelica: The Young Vixen. Presumably taking a lead from Son of Dracula, he was credited as Revilo Ekard.

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