Saturday, June 11, 1977: The Mummy’s Hand (1940) / Captive Wild Woman (1943)

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.

Captive Wild Woman

Synopsis: Fred Mason (Milburn Stone) returns from a two-year trip to Africa, where he has been gathering wild animals for the Whipple Circus. He is particularly proud of a gorilla he’s captured named Cheela, whom he has taught a number of tricks on the long sea voyage home.

His girlfriend Beth Colman (Evelyn Ankers) is glad to see him, but she reveals some developments that she hasn’t shared via letter since Fred went on his journey. Beth’s sister Dorothy (Martha Vickers) has been deeply troubled, and her doctors have concluded that her problems are glandular in nature. She took Dorothy to see Dr. Sigmund Walters (John Carradine), an expert on glandular problems, and Dorothy is now hospitalized at his sanitorium. She also shares that Dr. Walters has shown a keen interest in Beth, and has taken her to dinner several times.

Perhaps looking to size up the competition, Mason goes with Beth and meets Dr. Walters, inviting him on a behind-the-scenes look at the circus. Walters is deeply impressed with Cheela and asks off-handedly if Whipple would ever sell a beast like that. He’s told that the circus would never sell at any price.

Feeling that Cheela is necessary for the experiment he wants to try, Walters secretly meets with a fired worker from the circus (Paul Fix), offering him money to help him steal Cheela. Once he has the gorilla in his possession, he murders his nurse, Miss Strand (Fay Helm) and uses her cerebrum on the gorilla to augment its intelligence, then injects it with Dorothy’s glandular secretions.

This presumably violates all the standard laws of God and man; nevertheless the procedure is successful. Cheela is transformed from a hairy gorilla to a beautiful woman (Acquanetta). Walters gives her the name Paula Dupree and takes her to the circus, where she seems to have a hypnotic effect on the animals. As long as she is close by, the animals are easy for Mason to control.

It soon becomes clear that Paula has fallen in love with Mason. But what simian savagery will be released when she discovers that he loves Beth?

Comments: This Ben Pivar production is interesting for a number of reasons, mainly because of the clever way it uses extensive footage from a completely different movie. All of the circus animals we see are from a 1933 film called The Big Cage, featuring famed animal trainer Clyde Beatty. Most of the scenes in Captive Wild Woman are built around this archival footage.

In fact, a good third of this film’s 60-minute running time is from The Big Cage, so Captive Wild Woman must have been a bargain for the studio. They didn’t spend a lot of money on the cast, anyway. Milburn Stone, a lackluster contract player at Universal who was usually cast as the lawyer or the family friend, was evidently chosen to play Mason because his wavy black hair resembles that of Clyde Beatty.

With matching costumes it was fairly simple for Edward Dmytryk to show Beatty in long shots and reverse angles, and Stone in closeups. Through clever editing, most people in the audience probably were never aware of the recycling job. It’s a bit of stretch to imagine Evelyn Ankers waiting around for Milburn Stone for two years, but it works for the purposes of this movie.

Stone doesn’t get top billing in this picture, though: that honor goes to horse-faced ham John Carradine. In spite of this being his first starring role, Carradine’s performance was already tiresome. Will this guy ever stop ranting about glandular secretions? And scientists of the 1940s, please stop trying to turn gorillas into human beings, especially since you don’t seem to have any point in doing it.

Even allowing for the slipshod science, it’s not clear how or why Cheela the gorilla (played by Ray “Crash” Corrigan and his trusty gorilla suit) would turn suddenly into Acquanetta. Fortunately, the Venezuelan Volcano doesn’t speak, automatically making this her best screen performance. The whole movie is quite silly, even by the gland-happy standards of 1940s horror cinema.

I do want to address one element of the film that really bothered me, and that I would hope many others would find disturbing today as well. The scenes of animals being mistreated probably didn’t bother very many people, once upon a time. But the world has changed a lot since this movie was released in 1943 (and indeed, since we saw it on Horror Incorporated in the 1970s).

By today’s standards the circus scenes are simply appalling: we see magnificent animals that don’t belong in captivity caged up and tormented for the amusement of spectators. Clyde Beatty cracks a whip and fires blank cartridges at animals that are obviously frightened and stressed, and at one point a tiger and a lion are made to fight one another on camera (the fight was real; the animals were forced into a cage together and the resulting fight was filmed, with one of the animals dying as a result of the staged altercation).

People can wax nostalgic about the past if they wish; there were certainly good things in the world that are now gone forever. But we tend to forget the thoughtless and cruel things that have gone by the wayside, and we should all be grateful that circuses and inhumane zoo exhibits have largely vanished.

And with that, my friends, I shall step off my soap box, doff my hat in farewell, and disappear into the night.

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