March 16, 1974: The Mummy’s Hand (1940) / The Ape (1940)

Synopsis: Archeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and his sidekick / comic relief Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford) are down on their luck in Cairo. Unable to secure funding for their expeditions, they are preparing to return to America by steamship. But by chance Banning finds a broken pot at a bazaar that seems to indicate the location of the tomb of ancient Egyptian princess Ananka — a remarkable find, should it prove to be true.

Taking it to the Cairo Museum, Banning’s discovery is verified as authentic by museum curator Dr. Petrie (Charles Trowbridge). Unexpectedly, though, the influential Professor Andoheb (George Zucco) declares that the pot is a fake.

Professor Andoheb knows perfectly well the pot is authentic. But he’s pulling double duty — not only is he the recognized expert on Egyptian artifacts, he is also the high priest of a secret order, chosen to guard the sanctity of Princess Ananka’s tomb.

Banning and Jenson are discouraged, but by chance they meet an American stage magician (Cecil Kelloway) who agrees to bankroll their dig. What’s more, the magician has a beautiful daughter (Peggy Moran) who insists on coming along on the expedition.

Using the map on the pot as a guide, the expedition unearths a tomb – but it is not Princess Ananka’s tomb. Rather, it’s the tomb of Kharis. Unlike most mummies, Kharis has a job — he is Princess Ananka’s last line of defense. And it isn’t long before Andoheb shows up at the site, to bring the mummy to life with a potion of tana leaves, and instruct it to kill all those who would dare defile the tomb of the princess….

Comments: Unlike its contemporaries Dracula and Frankenstein,The Mummy (1932) had no direct sequels. Rather, eight years passed before the release of The Mummy’s Hand, a movie which might best be described — in modern studio parlance– as a “reboot” or “reimagining” of the original.

None of the characters from the first film appear or are referenced in this one. Even though footage from the first film is used, and a forbidden-love subplot is borrowed, Kharis, not Im-Ho-Tep, is the titular mummy; Princess Ananka stands in for Ankes-en-Amon; the Scroll of Thoth disappears, replaced by the device of the tana leaves; and instead of the somber Whemple family, we have two archeologists so light-hearted that one can imagine them being played by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. (Well, I did imagine it; and spent the first third of the movie wondering if they were about to break into song or do their grating patty-cake routine with Andoheb’s goons.)

Perhaps the most radical change is the concept of the mummy itself. Ardeth Bey was shown to be physically frail, incapable of doing much of anything as a mummy, even an ambulatory one. Passing himself off as a modern Egyptian, his main weapon was hypnotic control. In The Mummy’s Hand, Kharis is more like a traditional zombie: largely unaware of its surroundings and incapable of reason. It is almost entirely under Andoheb’s control, a slave to the tana leaf potion which is always placed, like so many dog treats, in the tents of the men it is ordered to kill.

The Mummy’s Hand is clearly a lesser movie than its predecessor, but in spite of some glaring plot holes (why would the ancient Egyptians festoon pots and medallions with a map to a forbidden tomb?) it is still quite lively and entertaining.

Dick Foran is a passable though undistinguished lead, and Wallace Ford (whom you may remember from the goony Night of Terror) wears out his welcome rather quickly. Peggy Moran is supposed to be the love interest here, but she spends most of the time looking sour, marking time until she needs to be rescued in the third act.

All three characters are rather unceremoniously disposed of in The Mummy’s Tomb, but that still lies in the future. For now, we can admire the work of Cecil Kelloway, who plays the Great Solvani with infectious enthusiasm; and that old smoothie George Zucco, whom you may remember as the love-sick professor from The Mad Ghoul. And Tom Tyler does as well as one can expect wrapped in bandages, with his eyes blacked out frame-by-frame in each of his mummy close-ups.

Ladies, perhaps you’ve dated better-looking guys. I admit he needs to work on his personal hygiene. But he’s from a good family and he’s very loyal.

The Ape

Synopsis: Dr. Bernard Adrian (Boris Karloff) is widely disliked by his small town neighbors. The locals have few rational reasons for their hostility. Dr. Adrian keeps to himself, but when dealing with his neighbors he is civil enough. Nevertheless there is a general feeling that doesn’t belong, and the distinctly vague complaint that he “experiments too much”.

The one person in town who adores Dr. Adrian is Frances Clifford (Maris Wrixon), a young woman stricken with polio. Dr. Adrian dotes on her like his own daughter, and this causes resentment from Frances’ jealous jerk of a boyfriend Danny (Gene O’Donnell).

Dr. Adrian has been experimenting with the spinal fluid of animals, and he believes he is getting closer to perfecting a serum that will cure those who’ve been stricken with polio. At about the same time, a circus comes to town, and Dr. Adrian encourages Danny to take Frances to see it. Late the same night, an ape badly injures its trainer and escapes from the circus. The trainer is brought to Dr. Adrian’s surgery, but it is clear that the man has little chance of survival.

Soon Dr. Adrian has created a human serum and he begins to treat Frances with it. The serum causes great pain to her legs, which alarms Danny, but Dr. Adrian sees this as an encouraging sign, since the paralysis had left her without any feeling in her legs whatsoever. Meanwhile, the ape, which is still on the loose, kills another man, and Dr. Adrian must sign the death certificate.

Frances’ reaction to the spinal fluid treatment is encouraging. While the pain in her legs is growing worse, she is able to move her foot a little — a clear sign that Dr. Adrian’s treatment is working.

Late one night the ape breaks into Dr. Adrian’s lab. Dr. Adrian is able to kill it but not before it smashes his vials of serum. He decides to keep the ape’s death a secret.

Soon the county coroner comes to visit Adrian. It seems the two victims of the ape were both found to have puncture wounds in the spine — as though Dr. Adrian had injected something into the men — or extracted something.

Before long, Dr. Adrian is wearing the ape’s skin and prowling the neighborhood, knowing that the gorilla will be blamed for the murders he needs to commit in order to help Frances….

Comments: Dave Sindelar (of Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings fame) says that the ending to this movie nearly brought him to tears when he was a kid.  And that might be the nicest thing anyone’s ever said about it. No matter how much goodwill I bring to watching The Ape I find myself periodically checking my watch. And the movie is only 57 minutes long.

Curt Siodmak wrote the screenplay, but there’s nothing to tip you off that he worked on it aside from a preoccupation with spinal fluid. Say what you like about Siodmak, he was a solid craftsman, but for whatever reason – most likely a poverty-row insistence that good money ought not to be wasted on frippery like second drafts — the script isn’t even competent.

There are plenty of plot holes and general nonsense to be found here, but I think the biggest problem is the character of Dr. Adrian himself. Not only does he violate the laws of God and man in his quest to procure spinal fluid for young Frances’ serum (we expect that; it’s a given for the mad scientist subgenre) but he abandons all common sense along the way. Dressing up like a gorilla doesn’t do him any good unless somebody sees him (the gorilla costume doesn’t give him the strength of an ape, it just makes him look like one); and if somebody sees him they’re likely as not going to shoot him (Dr. Adrian’s final tally while wearing the ape suit: shot three times, stabbed once). Had he skulked around as Dr. Adrian, he could have dreamed up some excuse for doing so if caught   — looking for the gorilla, for example. That’s what the rest of the yokels are doing out in the woods in the middle of the night.

Even setting this aside, what was Dr. Adrian going to do, once he has strangled someone out in the woods in the guise of the gorilla? Why, insert a needle into the base of the skull and withdraw spinal fluid, of course. That an autopsy would quickly discover this never seems to occur to Dr. Adrian, even though autopsies revealed exactly that in both of the previous two victims. How would he explain that? “Oh, I was walking out in the woods and this fellow was lying there, dead. So….”

As long as Dr. Adrian is acting irrationally, why not murder Frances’ jerk boyfriend Danny, whom he at least has a reason to kill? For all Dr. Adrian’s avuncular kindness to the young girl, I’m not entirely convinced his motives are as pure as he lets on. So murdering Danny would be a more interesting plot development than strangling some unsuspecting townie.

Aside from one William Henry Pratt, a.k.a. Boris Karloff (who could probably play these sorts of roles in his sleep by this time), this film features the lovely Maris Wrixon as Frances. Wrixon was an up-and-coming actress on the Warner lot who never quite made it as a star, and she spent more time loaned out to Monogram than she ever did at the studio that actually signed her contract. After Warner dropped her, she quickly vanished. But she was a winning presence here, as she was in another Monogram mad scientist picture, the John Carradine vehicle The Face of Marble.

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