This month, I wanted to talk about George Zucco. Zucco was in many of the horror and sci-fi B-movies from my childhood, as well as a decent number of mystery movies from the 1940s (which were my mom’s favorite movies).
His most well-known work is likely in the Mummy movies, where he played a priest of Kharis, the Mummy. In The Mummy's Hand, he played Andoheb and the Mummy was played by Tom Tyler, while in The Mummy's Tomb and The Mummy's Ghost, Kharis the Mummy was played by Lon Chaney, Jr. There were a total of four films in the original Universal Mummy series, which does not include 1932's The Mummy starring Boris Karloff, which was entirely its own story.
Near the beginning of The Mummy's Hand, Andoheb became the High Priest of Karnak. As the High Priest, he is entrusted to protect the Princess Ananka’s tomb and to take care of Kharis, who must be given the sacred tana leaves every full moon to keep him alive in case he is ever needed (which, of course, he is during these movies). Once Andoheb decides to awaken him, the Mummy is a lumbering, terrifying force who lives only to murder those who would dare enter the princess’s tomb, which has become so iconic. This is the first time that they really play up the curse of the mummy as Kharis is awoken as to protect Princess Ananka’s tomb, whom he was in love with in life. The Mummy’s Hand used the same back story as Karloff’s The Mummy, but the rest of the tone of the film was very different and had more horror elements over Karloff’s film, who spent most of the movie out of the Mummy makeup.
Each of the films in the series follows a very similar story structure, with slight variations. They are designed to work as direct sequels to one another, though if you know just a little bit about the Mummy movies, you can watch any of them as a standalone movie.
George Zucco also makes a brief appearance in House of Frankenstein as Professor Bruno Lampini. Lampini is the traveling show owner that Dr. Niemann (Boris Karloff) and his assistant kill early in the movie. I can’t suggest checking this movie out just for George Zucco, but I will always recommend any of the classic Universal Monster movies (even if this variation of the werewolf curses makes me scream each and every time).
One of my favorite Zucco films was 1943’s Dead Men Walk. Zucco played the dual role of twin brothers, Dr. Lloyd Clayton and Dr. Elwyn Clayton. This was also one of the last films Dwight Frye appeared in (Frye would die in November of the same year). Again, Frye played a hunchback servant, this time named Zolarr. This is an odd little movie about murdering twins, Satan worship, and revenge, where Zucco plays both a good and bad twin.
George Zucco also appeared in several mysteries, including very brief appearances in Charlie Chan in Honolulu and After the Thin Man. He also appeared in 1939’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes as Professor Moriarty. The movie starred Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. As with all of the Holmes movies of this era, there were a lot of interesting actors playing secondary roles, but nothing compares to the Rathbone and Bruce teamwork; I believe they are still the most iconic Holmes and Watson to date. Professor Moriarty was, as always, highly intelligent and sophisticated. This may be one of Zucco’s best performance as the role fits his natural demeanor.
George Zucco appeared in many other classic horror and sci-fi B-movies of the 1940s, most of which I probably saw a child and have forgotten. I always look forward to seeing Zucco in any movie; he was an underappreciated icon of the genre.