Saturday, July 29, 1978: Monster on the Campus (1958) / The Mummy’s Ghost (1942)

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 Ghost

Synopsis: Andoheb (George Zucco), high priest of the secret order of Arkam (whom we’ve met previously in The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb), summons acolyte Yousef Bey (John Carradine) and tells him he has an important mission for him. He recounts the story of Princess Ananka: how 3,000 years ago she had been an initiate of the order of Arkam, but broke her vows when she engaged in a forbidden love with Kharis, an Arkam priest. For this sacrilege Ananka was put to death and Kharis buried alive in Ananka’s tomb, doomed to guard the princess forever.

Nearly three millennia later, archeologists uncovered the tomb and brought the princess’ mummified body to the United States. Kharis was dispatched to America by Andoheb to kill those who had defiled the princess’ tomb, and was presumed destroyed. But Andoheb reveals that despite what the infidels believe (and despite what we saw with our own eyes at the end of The Mummy’s Tomb), Kharis was not destroyed; and he tasks Yousef Bey with traveling to America and returning both Princess Ananka and Kharis back to Egypt.

Bey travels to Mapleton, Massachusetts, where the events of The Mummy’s Tomb took place. He recovers Kharis, accidentally reactivated via tana leaf potion by Professor Norman (Frank Reicher) and goes to the Scripps museum, where the mummy of Princess Ananka is kept. But in trying to bring the princess to life, he instead turns the mummy to dust. Bey quickly realizes that the soul of Ananka has been transferred to the body of a living woman, an Egyptian college student named Amina Mansouri (Ramsey Ames).

Kidnapping Amina, Bey finds himself captivated by young Amina’s beauty, and he begins to hesitate. Should he return her to Egypt, where she will become subject to the will of the High Priest? Or is it possible that he can make the beautiful young Amina his bride, against all the teachings of the order of Arkam?

Comments: The fourth entry in Universal’s original cycle of mummy films, The Mummy’s Ghost isn’t an ambitious movie but gets the job done, having finally dispensed with Dick Foran and Wallace Ford’s goofball characters from The Mummys Hand (1940) and The Mummy’s Tomb (1942). Freed from the duo’s tiresome antics, the result is a nearly archetypal mummy movie of the black-and-white era. Lon Chaney, Jr. is all but unrecognizable under the bandages and heavy makeup, and Robert Lowery as Amina’s boyfriend Tom is forgettable (not surprising, given the shortage of young male actors during WWII). But the film succeeds due to a workmanlike (though decidedly talky) script by Griffin Jay, Henry Sucher and Brenda Weisberg, as well as a standout performance by Ramsay Ames as Amina.

It is often claimed that Ames was a last-minute replacement for Acquanetta, who was injured on the first day of shooting. It isn’t clear if that story is true or just a studio fabrication, but we can thank the Gods of Arkam that the Venezuelan Volcano didn’t play Amina. While Acquanetta was certainly beautiful, the woman couldn’t act scared in a dark alley, and the movie was better off without her. Ames is a better actress — by several orders of magnitude — and while the part doesn’t make enormous demands of her, she is convincing as an ordinary woman who comes to realize she embodies the spirit of the 3,000-year-old Ananka.

I’ve made no secret of my dislike for John Carradine, a dreadful ham who seemed enamored with the sound of his own voice. But Carradine’s booming self-importance actually works in portraying the fatuous religious fanatic Yousef Bey. The formula of Universal’s mummy films had already been set, of course, and it’s inevitable that Bey will abruptly fall for whatever female he’s been assigned to sacrifice to the Gods of Arkam. It’s a little hard to believe Bey suddenly throwing over his entire mission and religious vocation over the first pretty face he sees, but by this time it had become a sturdy plot point in the Mummy franchise, so we go with it.

George Zucco is a reassuring actor to see in any Universal film, even if it’s just a cameo as the luckless Andoheb, a guy who screwed the pooch 30 years ago by falling in love with Peggy Moran. We can only imagine how embarrassed he is now after dispatching two other priests of Arkam who make exactly the same mistake.

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