Saturday, April 30, 1977: Monster on the Campus (1958) / The Mummy’s Curse (1944)

Synopsis: Dr. Donald Blake (Arthur Franz) is a professor of biology at Dunsfield College, and while he has a great job and a loving relationship with beautiful girlfriend Madeline (Joanna Moore) he is gloomy about humanity’s future. The human race, he reasons, is too self-destructive to survive in the long term. But today he is in a good mood: he is going to receive a shipment from Madagascar that contains the frozen carcass of a coelacanth, a primordial fish long thought extinct but recently discovered alive.

Student Jimmy Flanders (Troy Donahue) helps Blake unload the fish from his truck, but as he does so a small amount of bloody water from the melted ice drips onto the pavement. Jimmy’s dog Samson laps up some of the water, and within a few minutes begins snarling at Madeline. Blake locks Samson up in a kennel. When he examines the dog he sees that it has huge canine teeth, and he tells Jimmy that the dog must be a throwback to a much more primitive creature. Jimmy protests, saying Samson is nothing more than a purebred German Shepherd.

Within a few hours the dog seems to be back to normal, and the giant canine teeth are gone. No one can explain its suddenly aggressive behavior, or why he just as suddenly returned to normal.

Later, Blake is working in his office when nurse Molly Riordon (Helen Westcott) arrives to pick up a saliva sample from the dog. Molly brazenly comes on to Blake, who admits to her that he finds her advances unnerving. While returning the coelacanth to the freezer, one of the teeth in its mouth cuts into his hand. He begins to feel dizzy and asks Molly to drive him home.

Later, Madeline arrives at Blake’s house. She finds Molly hanging from a tree in the backyard, strangled by her own hair. Blake is unconscious in the house, his clothes shredded. The inside of the house has been smashed up by an incredibly strong assailant, and a picture of Madeline has been ripped in half. The fingerprints found at the crime scene are barely human — they must be from someone who is deformed, the police reason.

Blake is seen by the police as the most likely suspect in the crime, but the freakish fingerprints absolve him; nevertheless he is racked with guilt and throws himself even deeper into his work.

Jimmy and classmate Sylvia (Nancy Walters) are at the lab one night when they and Blake witness something truly astonishing: a foot-long dragonfly, of a species that disappeared millions of years ago, flying around the room. Jimmy protests that there’s no way such a species could have survived to the modern era without anyone knowing about it. Nevertheless, Blake says, there it is….

Comments: This movie about evolutionary throwbacks is something of a throwback itself, directed by Jack Arnold after he had graduated from monster-movie duty at Universal. As the story goes, Joseph Gershenson, music supervisor for countless films at the studio, wanted desperately to be a film producer. The studio wouldn’t trust him with a producer assignment unless he had an experienced hand behind the camera, so Jack Arnold took the job as a personal favor to him.

This was a smart choice, because Arnold makes this sort of movie look easy. The premise is silly and the screenplay isn’t particularly well written, but Arnold paces it well, and as always gets the most of his bread-and-butter actors. In the end it isn’t great, but much more memorable and interesting than it would have been in the hands of a lesser director.

It differs from previous Jack Arnold efforts in a number of ways, particularly in tone. Dr. Blake is unusually gloomy and pessimistic about the future of the human species and unlike the scientists in other Universal pictures of the time (It Came From Outer Space, Creature From the Black Lagoon, This Island Earth) he is not a hero. He is more like Larry Talbot in The Wolf Man, or the protagonist of a Greek tragedy — someone who doesn’t see until too late the ironic fate that has befallen him.

Arthur Franz does quite well with the role of Dr. Blake, with a seriousness that’s well-suited to the tone. He rarely got lead roles like this one, spending most of his prolific career portraying character roles or second-leads. He had a memorable turn in William Cameron Menzies’ Invaders From Mars (1953). Jack Arnold must have liked him in this picture, because he cast him in a starring role in the 1959 syndicated TV series World of Giants.

Smoky-voiced beauty Joanna Moore was also extremely busy; the same year she did Monster On the Campus she appeared in another (and much better-known) Universal picture: Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. She played Marcia Linneker, the daughter of the businessman killed by a car bomb on the Mexican border. She continued to work steadily in film and television over the next couple of decades, including a season as Andy Taylor’s love interest on The Andy Griffith Show. She later married Ryan O’Neal, and is the mother of actress Tatum O’Neal.

Troy Donahue was being groomed for stardom at the time, and would enjoy a taste of success appearing in the hit film A Summer Place (1959). Alas, his career prospects would be hampered by an unfortunate lack of talent. Anyone who’d seen Monster on the Campus could have predicted that.

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.

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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