Friday, October 31, 2014

Stubs – The Wolf Man


The Wolf Man (1941) Starring: Claude Rains, Warren William, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenkaya, Lon Chaney. Directed by George Waggoner. Produced by George Waggoner. Screenplay by Curt Siodmak. Run Time: 70 minutes. U.S. Black and White, Horror.

During the early 1930s Universal had been the dominant Hollywood studio when it came to the horror genre. In three short years, they introduced four iconic monsters in such films as Dracula (1931)Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932) and the Invisible Man (1933). They then spent most of the decade making sequels: Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Dracula’s Daughter (1936) and Son of Frankenstein (1939). It wouldn’t be until 1941 before they would add a new monster to the roster: The Wolf Man.

This wasn’t the first werewolf film nor was this the first film Universal would make on the subject. Werewolf of London (1935), starring Henry Hull and directed by Stuart Walker, was considered to be too similar to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932), starring Fredric March, and did not do well at the box office. Jack Pierce’s original makeup design, which would be used in The Wolf Man, was rejected in favor of a minimalist approach which didn’t hide facial expressions. Further, the werewolf, while it would become progressively more monstrous with each transformation, was still very human, even going so far as to wear a hat, scarf and coat.

Having found early success with the horror genre, Universal had been financially in the red for most of the 1930s. The Laemmles, father and son, had been bought out and the studio needed a hit to start off the new decade. They turned back to their tried and true genre and resurrected the lyncanthrophy concept. But who to star? Bela Lugosi’s star had tumbled since starring in Dracula a decade earlier and he was no longer considered a bankable actor. Boris Karloff felt he was too old to play monsters and no longer wanted to; his last monster film was Son of Frankenstein (1939).

Universal turned to an unlikely choice, but one who had horror films in his blood, Lon Chaney, Jr. During the silent era, his father, Lon Chaney, was known as the Man of a Thousand Faces for his ability to change his look, using makeup to appear as different characters, including some of the biggest silent horror films, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925). It was Chaney’s death in 1930 that led Universal to look at actors like Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff for films like Dracula and Frankenstein.

At the time of The Wolf Man, Lon Chaney, Jr., who by now had dropped the Jr., had appeared in only one horror film, Man Made Monster (1941), in a part originally intended for Karloff. Prior to that, Lon Chaney, Jr., born Creighton Chaney, had appeared in small roles in such films as the Wheeler and Woolsey version of Girl Crazy (1932). He had been approached about playing Quasimodo in a remake of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), a role that would go to Charles Laughton. That same year though, Chaney would get some positive reviews for his role as Lennie in Of Mice and Men. But it was Chaney’s performance in Man Made Monster that brought him to the attention of the film’s producers, Jack J. Gross and George Waggner. Waggner had been the director of Man Made Monster and would be the director on The Wolf Man as well.

Like The Mummy, The Wolf Man did not have a literary source. Curt Siodmak, a Polish born writer of books and screenplays, fashioned a story drawing upon European folklore and legends and along the way created several werewolf "legends" such as being marked by a pentagram; being practically immortal apart from being struck/shot by silver implements/bullets; and the famous poem used in the film. (The poem would reappear in future Wolf Man films and even in the film Van Helsing (2004), though some of the lines have been changed slightly over time.)

Curt Siodmak would invent much of what we know about werewolves.

One aspect Siodmak didn’t invent or use was the idea that a werewolf is transformed under a full moon. As the poem implies it happens when the wolfbane blooms in autumn. (The connection with the full moon wouldn’t be made until the first sequel. The poem was also changed to specify when the moon is full and bright.)

With a budget of $180,000, the film, with the working title Destiny, began shooting on September 8, 1941 and was finished on November 25th of that year. The shooting was not without incident, especially for Evelyn Ankers, the actress cast as Gwen, the movie’s love interest.

To begin with, Chaney had it out for her. As punishment by the studio for vandalism committed while he was drunk, Ankers was given his dressing room. He called her “Shankers”, played practical jokes on her and loved to sneak up behind her, in full makeup, and scare her.

Then there was the thick chemical fog that was used on the set, the fumes of which made breathing difficult. For one scene, Ankers was to faint and fall to the misty ground. Unbeknownst to the director and crew, Ankers passed out from the strong fumes. She lay there unnoticed until studio technicians began to break down the set.

Ankers was also chased up a ladder by a 600-pound bear who escaped his trainer. The scene would later be cut from the finished film.

In 1934, Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney) returns to his family estate, Talbot Castle, in the Welsh countryside. Larry, as he’s been known in the U.S. for the past 18 years, has returned because of the recent death of his older brother John (seen only in a portrait) in a hunting accident.

Talbot Castle as seen at the beginning of The Wolf Man.

Larry is greeted by his father, Sir John Talbot (Claude Rains), and his childhood friend, Paul Montford (Ralph Bellamy), who is now the town Constable. After Paul leaves, Sir John apologizes to Larry for having neglected his youngest son for so long and the two resolve to be more open with one another. (Years of expensive psycho-therapy avoided with a handshake.)

Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney) comes home after 18 years and is greeted by his father,
 Sir John (Claude Rains) and his boyhood friend, now Constable Paul Montford (Ralph Bellamy)

A package arrives containing a lens for Sir John’s telescope and Larry helps put it together. Testing the telescope, Larry spies Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers) in her room above her father’s antique store and goes almost immediately to meet her.

Larry helps his father finish setting up his telescope.

Larry goes into the store under the pretense of looking for earrings. When he doesn’t like the ones Gwen is showing him, he tells her that he liked the half-moon ones she was wearing in her room and asks her to go get them. She is suspicious of how he knows about them and he claims to be psychic when it comes to pretty girls.

When he’s not making headway with the earrings, he decides to buy a walking cane and after looking at a few chooses one he thinks would make a good putter, a silver handled wolf’s head with a pentagram. Gwen explains that it is the sign of the werewolf, being the first one in the movie to recite the poem:

                     Even a man who is pure in heart
                     and says his prayers by night
                     may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
                     and the autumn moon is bright.

Larry buys a walking stick from Gwen (Evelyn Ankers) when he strikes out on the earrings.

At that moment, a gypsy troupe arrives in town. Gwen tells Larry that they read fortunes and Larry, seeing that as an opportunity for a date, asks her out. She tells him no repeatedly, but he is insistent on picking her up at eight o’clock.

When he arrives, he is nonplused to find that Gwen has invited her friend, Jenny Williams (Fay Helm), to accompany them as a chaperon. Along the way, they find the wolfbane in bloom and while she picks some, Jenny recites the same poem Gwen had earlier.

Arriving in the gypsy camp, there are only two at this point, Bela (Bela Lugosi) and Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya). Bela is the one that reads fortunes and Jenny, knowing she’s the third wheel, volunteers to be first, taking her wolfbane with her. While reading her fortune, Bela, who has a pentagram on his right temple, begins to react to the wolfbane and sees the sign of the werewolf, a pentagram, on Jenny’s palm, meaning she’s the next to be attacked. Bela tries to get her to leave, but she is not fast enough.

Bela Lugosi as Bela the Gypsy.

While Larry and Gwen are off talking in the woods, they hear a wolf howl and a woman scream. Larry runs off to investigate and Gwen, not wanting to be left alone, follows. Larry comes upon a wolf attacking Jenny and tries to fight it off. In the fight, Larry gets bitten, but he manages to turn the tide and beats the wolf to death with his silver-topped cane.

Gwen and Maleva help Larry back to Talbot Castle, where Sir John and Paul are. Maleva slips away before a villager comes to inform Paul of Jenny’s murder. Paul hurries off to investigate the murder, while Larry is helped up to his room.

At the murder scene, Paul is joined by Dr. Lloyd (Warren William), who determines Jenny’s cause of death. Nearby, they find Bela’s body and the murder weapon, Larry’s walking stick.

Dr. Lloyd (Warren William) examines Jenny's dead body.

The next morning, Larry is greeted in his room by his father, Paul, and Dr. Lloyd. Paul confirms that the walking stick is Larry’s and he tells him that they found Bela’s body, not a wolf’s, next to Jenny’s. To prove his story, Larry tries to show Dr. Lloyd the bite mark, but it isn’t there. While Paul wants to question Larry further, Dr. Lloyd intercedes, saying Larry needs his rest.

Paul, Dr. Lloyd and Sir John question Larry the day after Jenny and  Bela were killed.

Later, Paul is still convinced Larry killed Bela. Sir John tries to make excuses, that perhaps Larry and Bela both came to Jenny’s aide and in the confusion and fog, Larry killed Bela by mistake. But there are still unanswered questions: Why was Bela barefooted? If Larry wasn’t bitten, then why were his clothes bloodied?

Larry is there when they take Bela’s remains to the church and he watches while Maleva speaks to her son in his coffin saying, "The way you walk was thorny through no fault of your own, but as the rain enters the soil the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end. Your suffering is over. Now you will find peace for eternity."

Larry gets emotional over Bela's coffin.

When Larry goes into town to see Gwen, he walks into their shop while some of the town’s women, including Jenny’s mother (Doris Lloyd), are confronting Gwen’s father (J. M. Kerrigan) about his daughter's role  in the murder. Mrs. Williams blames Gwen for Jenny’s death and is about to make an accusation when Larry comes in and scares the women away.

While he’s talking to Gwen, her fiancĂ©, Frank Andrews (Patric Knowles), the games keeper on the Talbot estate, also arrives. His dog starts to bark incessantly at Larry and has to be removed.

Later that night, Gwen and Frank go back to the gypsy camp, which has turned into a carnival of sorts, as the gypsies gather, as they traditionally do, to celebrate Bela’s funeral. Trying to show there are no hard feelings, Frank sees Larry and insists that he attend with them. Nearby, Sir John and Paul are observing. They go to a shooting gallery, where Larry is a crack shot until the next decoy is a wolf. At that point, he freezes, unable to fire.

Larry runs into Maleva. She confirms that Bela was the wolf Larry killed; that he was a werewolf and that having been bitten and lived, Larry is now a werewolf, too. She offers him a pendant with a pentagram on it as a charm to ward off the curse. At her request, he shows her the wound that Paul couldn’t see earlier. After they’re done talking, Maleva tells the other gypsies that there is a werewolf in camp and they quickly pack up and leave. On his way home, Larry bumps into Gwen and gives her the charm to keep her safe before hurrying away.

Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) gives Larry a charm to help ward off the curse.

That night, back at Talbot Castle, Larry watches in horror as he slowly transforms into a werewolf. Outside, he attacks and kills Richardson (Tom Stevenson), a grave digger, ironically working the graveyard shift at the cemetery. Paul and Dr. Lloyd arrive at the murder scene and find wolf tracks near the murdered body.

Larry transforms into a werewolf back at Talbot Castle.

The next morning, Sunday, Larry wakes to find wolf tracks leading from the window ledge to his bed. He asks his father about the legend of the werewolf, who tells him it is about the good and evil in a man's soul and that anything can happen in a man’s mind.

Father and son go to the church, where we see villagers discussing the murders. Mrs. Williams suggests aloud that Larry is the killer, since there were no murders before he arrived. Larry can sense the ill will and doesn’t sit down, but rather flees.

Later, Frank, Dr. Lloyd, Paul and Sir John discuss what to do next. Paul and Frank decide to place traps out for the wolf, which snag Larry when he’s out looking for victims. He apparently passes out from the pain and transforms back to his human form. Maleva, who has not fled with the other gypsies, comes by and releases Larry.

Back in town and limping from his wounds, Larry awakens Gwen and tells her that he’s leaving. Despite being engaged to another man, Gwen offers to go with him. But when he sees the pentagram mark on her hand, he refuses.

Rather than leaving then and there, Larry goes back to the castle and tells his father he’s leaving. Sir John thinks it’s all in Larry’s head and, trying to help him get over it, he takes him to his room and ties Larry down to a chair before locking him inside. He might have stayed, but Paul and Frank have come for Sir John to join the hunt. Before he leaves, Larry implores his father to take the silver topped cane with him.

Sir John ties up his son and, at Larry's request, takes the silver-topped cane with him when he leaves.

Outside in the foggy countryside, villagers take their places to wait for the werewolf to attack. Sir John sees Maleva, who tells him as long as he has the cane, he will be safe. Gwen arrives looking for Larry and goes into the woods looking for him, despite Maleva’s warnings.

Maleva tries to warn Gwen; if only she would listen.

Somehow, we’re never shown, Larry transforms, breaks free from his bindings and escapes from the castle. Naturally, as the werewolf, he attacks Gwen. Hearing the attack, Sir John goes to save her and kills the werewolf with the cane. Maleva is there too and they watch as the werewolf transforms back into Larry.

Sir John tries to save Gwen from the clutches of the Wolf Man.

The others arrive and Constable Paul surmise that the wolf that attacked Gwen and Larry must have been killed saving her.

Overcome by the events, Gwen collapses into Frank's arms.

The film had the misfortune of being released on December 9, 1941, only two days after the day that will live in infamy, the attack on the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbor. The film would go into general release on December 12th and, despite mixed reviews from the critics, turned out to be a surprise hit for Universal.

While the Wolf Man character would continue in films, unlike Frankenstein, he would never have sequels that were all his own. Talbot is awakened from the dead in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), in which Talbot finds the Monster (Bela Lugosi) instead of the doctor; he returns again in House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945). While he is cured of the curse in the latter, Talbot once again gets bitten in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

Universal, which can’t stop itself from remaking their classics, tried The Wolfman (2010) starring Benicio del Toro, in which the Puerto Rican born actor returns to his English hometown. If you didn’t buy it you’re not alone. The film did not do well; budgeted at $150 million, it grossed about $140 million worldwide at the box office. In 2014, the Los Angeles Times listed the film as one of the most expensive box office flops of all time; not a distinction anyone wants to have.

In The Wolf Man, Larry’s transformation from man to wolf is shown through lap-dissolves and progressive make-up and then only sparingly. The transformation was laborious and the makeup was designed by Jack Pierce, the wizard behind how the monsters looked in Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Bride of Frankenstein. For this movie, he used the same make up he had originally designed for Henry Hull in Werewolf of London, but which Hull refused to wear.

While Lon Chaney, Jr. was very proud of the Wolf Man, frequently stating in interviews: "He was my baby", after this film, he would be forever linked with the horror genre. Chaney would be the only actor to portray all four of Universal’s major monsters, playing the Wolf Man in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948); playing Frankenstein's monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942); playing Kharis the mummy in The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1944) and The Mummy's Curse (1944); and Count Alucard—Dracula spelled backwards—in Son of Dracula (1943). He would also appear on television in a live performance of Frankenstein on Tales of Tomorrow (1951-1953).

Lon Chaney as he appeared as Larry Talbot. His career would be forever changed by The Wolf Man.

Producer Stanley Kramer took a liking to Chaney and had him appear in High Noon (1952), Not A Stranger (1955) and The Defiant Ones (1958). He would continue to act in horror films, including Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace (1963), and low budget Westerns for Paramount producer A.C. Lyles. Chaney would also appear in guest roles on everything from Wagon Train to The Monkees. One of his memorable appearances was on an episode of Route 66, in which Chaney would appear as the Wolf Man and Mummy along with friends, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre.

One of the great movie actress names belongs to Maria Ouspenskaya, who played the role of Maleva, an old Gypsy fortuneteller in The Wolf Man. Russian-born, Ouspenskaya was travelling with the Moscow Art Theatre when it landed in New York in 1922. She decided to stay and performed on Broadway. In 1929, she formed the School of Dramatic Art in New York City with a colleague from the Moscow Art Theatre, Richard Boleslavsky.

Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva the gypsy.

She came to Hollywood in the 1930’s to start the Maria Ouspenskaya School of Dance and eventually ended up in movies. Her first appearance in a Hollywood film was in Dodsworth (1936) and earned an Academy nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She would receive a second nomination for Love Affair (1939). She would also appear in The Rains Came (1939), Waterloo Bridge (1940), Beyond Tomorrow (1940), Dance, Girl, Dance (1940) and The Mortal Storm (1940) before her role in The Wolf Man. She would appear in Kings Row (1942) before reprising Maleva in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943).

Evelyn Ankers was a British actress, who after having made films in the UK came to the U.S. under contract to Universal in 1941. Her first film here was Burma Convoy (1941), an early War film released prior to the U.S. entrance in the war. The Wolf Man was her next film and after that she played in many of the sequel and B-horror films Universal produced, including: Hold That Ghost (1941) with Abbott and Costello; The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942); The Mad Ghoul (1943); Son of Dracula (1943); Captive Wild Woman (1943); Jungle Woman (1944); Weird Woman (1944); and The Invisible Man's Revenge (1944).

Evelyn Ankers as Gwen.
She did play other roles including Kitty in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942); Black Beauty (1946) for 20th Century Fox; and The Texan Meet Calamity Jane (1950), a western for Columbia. After that last film, Ankers, at the ripe old age of 32, would retire from films. She made some appearances on TV and made one more film, No Greater Love (1960), with her husband, Richard Denning.

My first thought upon seeing him is what is Ralph Bellamy doing in a horror film? I associate him with sophisticated comedies, like the Awful Truth (1937) and His Girl Friday (1940), not horror. But Bellamy played a wide range of characters in various genres throughout his career. And while I was surprised to see him in this film, his next was another horror film, The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942).

Ralph Bellamy was a bit of a surprise.

Warren William was an American actor who was known for playing villainous characters in such pre-code films like: The Match King (1932). He also appeared in several series of films throughout his career, including four films as Perry Mason (the first actor to play the character), two films as detective Philo Vance and eight films as the reformed jewel thief The Long Wolf.

Warren William plays Dr. Lloyd.
Of all the films we’ve reviewed as part of our Halloween salute to Universal films, I have to admit The Wolf Man is my least favorite. While I would watch it many more times before I would want to watch MGM’s Freaks again, this is a flawed film.

To begin with, the casting seems to be a bit of a stretch. Lon Chaney, Jr. doesn't seem like the right choice to play Claude Rains’ son. Not only don’t they look anything alike, Chaney towers over him and while Rains is obviously English, Chaney is clearly not. They look more like people who would avoid each other at a party rather than father and son. And while some think he can act, I don’t find myself in that camp.

Sometimes it seems as if the screenwriter, Siodmak, has written the story into a corner he can’t write it out of. The whole story of the werewolf seems to have problems. Unlike Dracula, who literally feeds on the weak, the werewolf seems to kill for the sake of killing. The pentagram on the hand seems to mark the victim, but there seems to be no motivation for the attacks. He’s not trying to right a wrong or feed off their flesh, the werewolf, whether it is Bela or Larry as the Wolf Man, he kills whoever is convenient.

The dialogue that Larry says in order to woo Gwen the first time they meet comes off sounding more like a stalker approaching his subject. It is no wonder Gwen doesn’t jump at the chance to go out with him, but a real wonder why she doesn’t call for Constable Paul or at least for her father. The fact she goes out with him at all, even with a chaperone, seems implausible.

And the charm that is supposed to protect Gwen from attack doesn’t prevent her from being a victim of the Wolf Man. A story should at least follow its own logic. Siodmak would even change some of the conventions he sets out for werewolves in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) when it became a full moon that caused the transformation of the Wolf Man, not the wolfbane in bloom.

For the casual horror film watcher, I would almost recommend skipping The Wolf Man altogether. I don’t find Lon Chaney (Jr.) to be a compelling presence, the way Boris Karloff was in Frankenstein. And I’m sorry to say I don’t find The Wolf Man to be a compelling film.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Plants vs. Zombies: Timepocalypse (Halloween ComicFest Comic) - It's About Time


For those who don’t know, Free Comic Book Day is an annual event where, on the first Saturday of each May, participating comic shops are given special comics by participating publishers to give away for free (this can also extend to figures for the popular Heroclix tabletop game); these comics are mostly reprints of a company’s older comic, but can also feature original material (IDW has used the event twice recently to kickstart a Transformers-related series). Each year, there is also a (lesser-known) follow-up event on the last Saturday in October called Halloween ComicFest, which is essentially Free Comic Book Day Part 2, but usually features different free comics for distribution, often featuring Halloween-themed books in the line-up (this is also a mixture of reprints and original material). Today was one such Halloween ComicFest, and one of the comics up for grabs was a mini-comic from publisher Dark Horse, a print preview of a digital series called Plants vs. Zombies: Timepocalypse (in a similar fashion to the SDCC version of Plants vs. Zombies: Lawnmageddon). Aside from having a funny subtitle, this series is meant to tie in with the mobile game Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time. Though this is only the beginning of a larger story, I decided to review it anyway to see how well this comic does with interesting the reader in wanting to read more. Having read it, I can say wholeheartedly that this does the job well.

Following the events of Plants vs. Zombies: Lawnmageddon, Dr. Edgar Zomboss builds a Sun Vaccum that will, as the name implies, absorb all sunlight so that zombies can feast on brains unimpeded. However, when he tells a zombie to make some Pop Smarts (Strawberry flavor), the zombie puts them in the Sun Vaccum instead of the toaster, causing it to explode and open a portal, scattering the Sun Vaccum’s pieces throughout time. Zomboss then orders the zombies to go through and retrieve the scattered parts.

Paul Tobin returns as the writer for this comic, which he revealed to me when I got Lawnmageddon signed at Comic-Con, and he does as amazing a job as ever. There’s plenty of humor abound in this snippet of Timepocalypse, and I enjoyed every moment of it, since it’s the kind that fits within the Plants vs. Zombies universe. We also get to see how Nate, Patrice, and Crazy Dave are doing in this, as they are the main human characters, and so far the story does well with fleshing them out from the previous story. Ron Chan also returns as artist (and presumably Matthew J. Rainwater as colorist; the credits are listed in an ad for the digital release), and they again prove to be a great compliment to Tobin’s style of writing and add greatly to the humor value of the story, in addition to making the characters very lively and accurate to the source.

The Halloween ComicFest version of Plants vs. Zombies: Timepocalypse is a great way to get fans of the Plants vs. Zombies comic a reason to come back and make them want to see what happens next. The creative team from Lawnmageddon returns for this series, which is good as I think they did a wonderful job with the previous story and it seems the two will share a similar tonality and enjoyment level as a result. As a preview, I think it managed to hook me once again and I would recommend Plants vs. Zombies fans check this out via its digital release or the inevitable physical hardback; I personally am going to wait for the latter before I review the full comic in the future, mainly because I prefer physical releases. In any case, if you haven’t already and are interested (especially as a fan of the games), I would also recommend checking out the Lawnmageddon comic, as it, while not entirely required, provides some background on the events of Timepocalypse.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Stubs – The Mummy


The Mummy (1932) Starring: KARLOFF (aka Boris Karloff), Zita Johann, David Manners, Arthur Byron, Edward Van Sloan. Directed by Karl Freund. Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. Screenplay by John L. Balderston, Garrett Fort and Francis Edwards Faragoh. Run Time: 72 minutes. U.S. Black and White, Horror.

While you might not think of The Mummy (1932) as being ripped from the headlines, it sort of was, as events, real and imagined as reported in the press, were the inspirations for the film.

In 1922, Howard Carter and George Herbert discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, also known as King Tut. Even though the tomb had been robbed at least twice in antiquity, it was still pretty much intact. The opening of the tomb became a worldwide sensation. As a result, references to ancient Egypt became common place in culture, including songs like “Old King Tut”.  

Howard Carter, English archaeologist discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.

Along with the discovery, the tale of the Curse of the Pharaohs gained in popularity. The curse was said to affect anyone who disturbed the tomb of an Ancient Egyptian person, especially a Pharaoh. No differentiation was made in the curse between thief and archaeologist; all were subject to bad luck, illness or death as a result of their violation.

The Carter team was supposedly not immune. The New York Times reported the death of Carter’s pet canary at the hands, or rather mouth of, a cobra, which had entered the bird’s cage and devoured it. The cobra was considered a symbol of the Egyptian monarchy and it was taken as a sign that the Royal Cobra had entered Carter’s house, just as he had disturbed King Tut’s resting place.

But mysterious deaths would perpetuate the myth of the curse. Six weeks after they had opened the tomb, George Herbert, aka the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, the financial backer of the excavation, died about six months later. He suffered a severe mosquito bite on March 19, 1923 and died April 5th. Scientifically, his death was attributed to blood poisoning, progressing to pneumonia, after he had shaved a mosquito bite infected with erysipelas. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, suggested Lord Carnarvon’s death had been caused by elementals created by ancient priests to guard the tomb, and this only fueled more interest in the curse.

It didn’t quell talk of a curse when Carter’s friend, Sir Bruce Ingham’s house burned down soon after he received as a gift, a mummified hand with its wrist adorned with a scarab bracelet marked with, "Cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence.” Reportedly, when he rebuilt the house it was caught up in a flood.

(It should be pointed out that most people connected to the expedition, including Carter himself, lived normal life spans. Of the 58 people present at the time the tomb and sarcophagus were opened, only eight died within a dozen years. The last one died 39 years later in 1961. But you print the legend.)

True or not, the story of the expedition and the curse inspired producer Carl Laemmle Jr., who was looking for a new horror story as a follow up to Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931). He commissioned story editor Richard Shayer to find a literary novel source to form a basis for an Egyptian-themed horror film, but he couldn’t find any.

Using the life of Alessandro Cagliostro, an Italian Count and occultist, as a basis, Shayer and writer Nina Wilcox Putnam wrote a nine-page treatment entitled Cagliostro. The story, set in San Francisco, was about a 3000-year old magician who survives by injecting nitrates. Laemmle was pleased with the story and hired John L. Balderston, the playwright who had adapted the plays Dracula and Frankenstein, to write a screenplay from the story. Balderston, who had also covered the opening of Tutankhamen's tomb for New York World when he was a journalist, is credited with moving the story to Egypt and renaming the film and its title character Imhotep, after the historical architect. Imhotep would be the working title, but later changed to The Mummy.

Alessandro Cagliostro was the basis for the story John L. Balderston would mold into The Mummy.

Karl Freund, the cinematographer on Dracula, was hired to direct two days before filming began. He cast Zita Johann, who believed in reincarnation, as the female lead.

Filming was scheduled for three weeks, but actually lasted seven. Reports are that Freund drove the cast and crew hard; this was in the days before Hollywood was unionized. Often they would shoot past midnight. One of the reasons for the long hours was due to the make-up Karloff had to wear. Using cotton, rubber cement and paint, make-up artist Jack Pierce would start transforming Karloff at 11 am and not finish until 7 at night. Shooting would go on as late as 2 a.m. after which it would take 2 more hours to remove the make-up.

There are reports of tension on the set, especially between Freund and Johann. As noted above, he worked the cast and crew for long hours, but at one point near the end of filming, Johann supposedly fainted and was out for about an hour. Freund attempted to portray Johann to the film producers as a temperamental actress.

Supposedly Freund told her that she would have to play the part of Ankh-es-en-Amon nude from the waist up, to which Johann supposedly replied "I will if you can get it past the censors." Freund ultimately never forced Johann to appear nude; however, he did make life difficult for her, forcing her to stand against a wall for hours to keep a dress from wrinkling, and providing her with no protection from lions in a scene which was ultimately cut from the film.

Speaking of being cut from the film, a lengthy and detailed flashback sequence showing the various forms Ankh-es-en-Amon was reincarnated in over the centuries didn’t make the final film. Only stills survive from the sequence. Reportedly, Johann was upset by its excision.

The piece of classical music heard during the opening credits, taken from the Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake, was previously used for the opening credits of Dracula.

The story begins in 1921, the British Museum Field expedition to Egypt, led by Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron), has discovered the mummy of Imhotep (Boris Karloff). A high priest, they determine that Imhotep was buried alive in the Temple at Karnak and the spells that were supposed to help him live in the afterlife had been removed. 

The Mummy (Boris Karloff) lying in his sarcophagus before he is brought back to life.

Whemple brings in a friend, who is also an Egyptian expert, Doctor Muller (Edward Van Sloan) to examine the find. Muller, who believes in the occult, warns the rest of the expedition of the curse that is imprinted on the gold seals of the Pharaoh Amenophis  on a box they found with Imhotep’s body.

Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron), Doctor Muller (Edward Van
Sloan) and  Whemple's assistant Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher)
examine the curse on the box found with Imhotep's mummy.

While Muller takes Whemple outside to try and persuade him to stop, knowledge of the curse proves too much of a temptation for Whemple's Oxford assistant, Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher). Try as he might, curiosity gets the best of him and he opens the box and examines the Scroll of Thoth. Translating the hieroglyphs, he reads in a whispered voice the life giving message which awakens Imhotep. The Mummy then comes out of its sarcophagus, takes the Scroll and walks out. When Whemple returns, he finds Norton has gone insane.

Norton becomes insane when he sees the Mummy walking.

Eleven years later, and the British Museum keeps coming back to Egypt. Sir Joseph has not returned since 1921, but his son Frank (David Manners), along with Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie), has come back. The archaeological expedition they led has, for the most part, returned to England, leaving Whemple and Pearson to finish up.

They are visited by a strange and ageless Egyptian, Ardeth Bey (Boris Karloff), who presents them with a piece of pottery and leads them to where they can dig for the unplundered tomb of Ankh-es-en-amon, who was a daughter of royalty buried 3,700 years earlier. Using Egyptians to do the hard work, Whemple and Pearson break the seal and enter the tomb.

Ardeth Bey (Boris Karloff) offers to show Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie)
and Frank Whemple (David Manners) where they can find the tomb of Ankh-es-en-amon.

The tomb of Ankh-es-en-amon proves to be a sensational find, and her coffin is almost immediately placed in the Cairo museum, as the British are not allowed to take it back to England. Sir Joseph Whemple has returned for London to help with the exhibition and they are visited at the museum by Ardeth Bey.

After the museum closes for the night, Bey stays back and kneeling by the display of Ankh-es-en-amon’s mummified remains, starts to read from the Scroll of Thoth in hope of reviving her body.

At the same time, Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), whose father is a high ranking British government representative and whose mother was Egyptian, is travelling with her physician, Dr. Muller, in Egypt. They are at a dance when Helen is summoned telepathically, by Bey’s reading, to the museum.

Helen (Zita Johann) hears Ardeth Bey calling her telepathically.

She arrives just as the Whemples are leaving for the night; they watch as she runs up to the locked doors and collapses unconscious. The Whemples then take her home to recover.

Meanwhile, inside the museum, a guard comes across Bey, who quickly douses the candle he’s been reading by. When the guard chases after him, he dies of shock. Bey inexplicably leaves the Scroll behind when he flees.

Back at the Whemple's, Dr. Muller, following up on leads to her whereabouts, tracks her down. She has no memory of being at the museum. Frank tells Helen that she resembles the beautiful Ankh-es-en-amon, whom he fell in love with during the excavation.

Frank Whemple is taken by Helen and falls in love.

While Muller and Sir Joseph are talking about the curse and linking it back to Imhotep and
Bey, Whemple gets a call from the museum that the guard has been found dead and they leave to go there. The police figure that the guard had prevented a robbery and give the Scroll they found to Whemple. Even though he had not seen the Scroll in the beginning of the film, he clearly knows what it is.

Sir Joseph is given the Scroll of Thoth after the murder of a guard at the museum.

Back at the Whemple’s, Frank is falling in love with Helen. When Sir Joseph and Muller arrive back, they walk in on Frank and Helen kissing. Whemple believes Helen is caught up in the curse and now so is his son. The three men leave Helen and go into the study to discuss matters. The belief was that the Imhotep mummy had been stolen, but Whemple is rethinking the matter.

Left alone with Helen, Frank moves in for a kiss.

Suddenly, Bey shows up at the house. The Nubian servant (Noble Johnson) is immediately put under Bey’s control. Bey then comes across Helen sleeping on the couch and is obviously struck by her resemblance to Ankh-es-en-amon. He tells her he’s there to see Sir Joseph and when she informs him he’s in the study, he asks if he can wait with her. Helen seems polite, but troubled to be in Bey’s presence.

Helen can't take her eyes off of Ardeth Bey.

Meanwhile, in the study, Muller has seized upon Frank’s suggestion that they burn the Scroll to be rid of it and is trying to convince Whemple to do it. He insists, however, that it is the museum’s property, not his to dispose of.

Dr. Muller  tries to convince Sir Joseph Whemple to burn the Scroll of Thoth and end the curse.

Frank hears someone talking to Helen and investigates. When he tells his father it's Ardeth Bey, he hides the Scroll from view. They find Helen and Bey staring at each other and she appears to be under his spell. When Whemple tells Bey about the murder at the museum, Helen overhears and is surprised that it happened while she was there. She tells Bey the story about being found there. Hearing her story seems to cement in Bey’s mind that she is somehow related to Ankh-es-en-amon.

While Muller, as Helen’s doctor, insists she return to the hotel, she seems drawn to Bey and says she feels more alive than ever. Still, she lets Frank take her away, but not before telling Bey that they will need to see each other again.

Once she’s gone, Muller and Whemple talk to Bey about their theory that perhaps the mummy of Imhotep wasn’t stolen, but perhaps brought back to life by the Scroll. While Bey at first pretends not to know what they’re talking about, he does demand that they return the Scroll to him. He doesn’t believe they left it back at the museum, but that it’s in Whemple’s study. He tries to force Whemple to get it, but Muller intercedes. He tells Bey that the Scroll is with a third party and will be destroyed if anything happens to them. Before he leaves, Bey instructs Whemple to get the Scroll and give it to the Nubian servant, who will deliver it to him.

Dr. Muller confronts Ardeth Bey with his theory about the mummy of Imhotep.

Muller finally convinces Whemple to burn the Scroll, but rather than doing it immediately, he seems to wait long enough for Bey to get back to his dwelling, for we see Bey scrying at a pool of water. There, he watches as Whemple removes the Scroll from its hiding place and takes it to the fireplace. But before he can set it on fire, Bey reaches out and causes Whemple to have a heart attack and die. The Nubian servant, under Bey’s command, enters the room and replaces the Scroll in the fireplace with some newspapers, which he sets on fire before leaving with the Scroll.

The next day, Muller confronts Frank with the knowledge that his father knew it would cost him his life when he burned the Scroll. To help protect Frank, Muller gives him a charm made to resemble the Egyptian Goddess of Life, unfortunately known (given today’s associations) as Isis.

The charm of Isis that can protect Frank from Bey's powers.

Muller convinces Frank to go with him to see Helen, hinting that he saw her attraction for Frank and welcomed it. Frank calls and tells Helen not to leave her room until they get there. She agrees, but by the time they arrive, she’s gone.

Helen can not stay away from Ardeth Bey and is drawn to his temple.

Under Bey's spell, Helen goes to his temple, where he, using his scrying pool, reveals to her their past in ancient Egypt. Imhotep, the high priest to the Pharaoh (James Crane) is so in love with Princess Ankh-es-en-amon that he can’t stand to watch her die. To bring her back to life, Imhotep steals the forbidden Scroll and is trying to bring her back to life when he is discovered. It is an unholy deed and Imhotep is sentenced by the Pharaoh to be buried alive and the Scroll is buried with him in an unmarked grave. The slaves who dug the grave are killed and the soldiers who killed them are themselves killed in order to maintain the secrecy of his tomb.

In the scrying pool, Bey and Helen watch while Imhotep is punished for his crime by being buried alive.

When he is done telling the story, Helen can’t remember it and leaves. Returning to Frank, Helen, half-conscious, asks him to save her. A nurse (Florence Britton) tries to sedate her and Frank places the Isis charm on her door knob to protect her, but when Bey reaches out and gives Frank a heart attack he pulls the charm off the door to save himself.

Frank grabs the charm from Helen's door to save himself from a Bey-induced heart attack.

Drawn by Bey’s power, Helen escapes to the museum. There, dressed in the clothes and jewelry of Ankh-es-en-amon, Helen seems to be taken over by her soul. She, as Ankh-es-en-amon, knows Bey and wants to be with him, but doesn’t like his plan, which is to kill her, mummify her and then bring her back from the dead, so she can be, like him, a living mummy. She wants to live again, but not that way. Bey burns Ankh-es-en-amon's body in a convenient fireplace, as he believes her soul has been reincarnated in Helen.

Bey takes Helen back to  the museum and dresses her in Ankh-es-en-amon's clothes and jewelry.

Frank and Muller arrive at the museum, but are powerless before Bey's spells, so Helen, now as Ankh-es-en-amon, begs the goddess Isis for assistance. The god's statue raises its arm to point a glowing ankh at Bey, who ages immediately and crumbles to the floor. The ankh also sets the Scroll on fire.

The goddess Isis comes to Helen's rescue and slays Ardeth Bey.

Muller insists that Frank then calls Helen back from Ancient Egypt, as his love might be powerful enough to bridge the centuries. And Helen comes back, the Scroll continues to burn and we see the remnants of Imhotep on the floor.

The last shot in The Mummy.

Critically, the reviews were mixed. The Hollywood Herald called the film “A gripping melodramatic romance and one of the best of Boris Karloff’s starring pictures.” The New York Times review called it “a costume melodrama for the children” and said, “The photography is superior to the dialogue,” which I don’t think is meant as a compliment to the dialogue. The New York Daily News also commented on the dialogue calling it “stilted”. Others noted, that unlike the other horror films, The Mummy is pretty much devoid of any humor. Variety commented “Zita Johann is attractive, but always role conscious.” Again, not a compliment. The Washington Post wrote “Only in the startling realism of his makeup does Boris Karloff recall such of his terrifying earlier pictures, say as Frankenstein.”

Unlike Dracula and Frankenstein, the original The Mummy does not have any sequels. Rather in 1940, Universal semi-remade the film as The Mummy's Hand, in which Tom Tyler played the Mummy. The Mummy’s Tomb followed in 1942, with both The Mummy’s Ghost and The Mummy’s Curse released in 1944. The latter three starred Lon Chaney, Jr. The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Curse both supposedly contain scenes from the original The Mummy.

In the late 1950s, British Hammer Film Productions took up the Mummy theme, beginning with The Mummy (1959), with Terence Young directing and Christopher Lee in the title role. Rather than being a remake of the original Karloff film, this one is based on The Mummy's Hand (1940) and The Mummy's Tomb (1942). Follow-up films — The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964), The Mummy's Shroud (1966) and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971) — are unrelated to the earlier film or to each other.

Universal returned to the franchise, producing a big budget remake in 1999, directed by Stephen Sommers and starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and Arnold Vosloo. The success of which spawned a sequel, The Mummy Returns (2001), with the same director and stars, and a prequel, The Scorpion King (2002), directed by Chuck Russell and starring professional wrestler turned actor, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.


To capitalize on the success of The Mummy reboot, Universal Animation Studios premiered an animated show on the WB network, The Mummy: The Animated Series, also known as The Mummy: Secrets of the Medjai for its second season. The series ran from September 29, 2001 to June 7, 2003.

The Mummy was Karl Freund’s first turn as a director. A German, Freund had worked as a cinematographer on many German Expressionist films, including The Golem (1920), The Last Laugh (1924) and Metropolis (1927). He co-wrote and was the cinematographer on Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (1927). He emigrated to the U.S. in 1929.

Karl Freund was a cinematographer before he directed The Mummy.

Freund would work on about 150 films in Germany and Hollywood as a Cinematographer/Director of Photography, including Murders at the Rue Morgue (1932); The Great Ziegfeld (1936); The Good Earth (1937), for which he won the Academy Award; A Guy Named Joe (1943) and Key Largo (1948). Back when he worked on silent films in Germany, Freund is credited with inventing the dolly shot and being one of the first cinematographers to use a handheld camera. He would also direct twenty films from 1921 to 1935, none of which would be as famous as The Mummy.

But for all his accomplishments on film, Freund may be best remembered for his work on television. Desi Arnaz persuaded Freund to work on the sitcom I Love Lucy (1951-1956). Freund is credited with developing the “flat lighting” for shooting sitcoms that is still being utilized today.

Zita Johann, who played Helen Grosvenor, had a very short film career. A stage actress on Broadway, she made her first film appearance in D. W. Griffith's The Struggle (1931). So disillusioned by the filming of The Mummy, she asked Carl Laemmle Jr. to do her a favor and not pick up her option. She must have been disillusioned with Hollywood in general, because after seven films, she quit to work in theater, starring with John Houseman, to whom she was married to at the time, 1929-1933, and with Orson Welles. She also taught acting to people with learning disorders. The Mummy was her third film and her most famous role. Her last role was a small part in Raiders of the Living Dead (1986).

Zita Johann in a publicity photo for The Mummy.

She is good in her part. She has the entranced stare down cold and her exotic look is right for the role. I can see why she was cast. Her costumes either have plunging necklines or are almost nonexistent, which gives her character a sensual and comfortable-with-myself quality. (Though the headdress they have her wear as Ankh-es-en-amon doesn’t quite work for me.)

Stalwarts of Universal horror films, David Manners and Edward Van Sloan, both appear in The Mummy. Manners, who had been the romantic lead in Dracula, returns in a similar role here and does about as much with it was he did in the previous film. Good-looking, but we’re never shown any of the actor’s range.

David Manners plays the romantic lead in The Mummy, Frank Whemple.

Sloan, who had appeared in supporting roles in Dracula and Frankenstein, also appears in a similar part here as well. There is more for him to do in The Mummy, but he is still basically an advisor to the romantic lead and is there to give exposition when needed for the story to progress.

The film, which mixes the mystical with the scientific, keeps the story keeps moving. I think the planned and filmed sequence of Ankh-es-en-amon’s past lives would have really slowed the film down.

Humorless, the film is at times melodramatic and the romance for the ages seems a bit hard to swallow. Frank’s love for Helen, someone he’s known for a matter of hours, is shown to trump Imhotep’s love for Ankh-es-en-amon, which has lasted for 3800 years, creepy though it may be.

And the film is really more creep than horror. Heart attacks and dying of fright, while serious, are not the most horrific ways to die. And Bey’s death at the end, credit to John P. Fulton who handled special effects, is well done. Easily that could have been drawn out with a lot of murky super-impositions between stages, so one has to appreciate the straightforwardness of the transformation

Part of the well done special effects at the end of the film.

It is easy to see why the film did not have a sequel right away. While Bey is somewhat of a sympathetic villain, he does what he does for the love of a woman; you never really connect with him. Karloff gives a very strong performance, but he isn’t quite enough on his own to push this film to the level of Frankenstein, which honestly had a lot more going for it. And mummies don’t make for the same romantic character as vampires like Dracula.

Boris Karloff as Ardeth Bey in The Mummy.

Still, this is a film worth seeing given the season, though it might not be one you want to watch every year.