The Mummy (1959)

My contribution to this year’s Hammer-Amicus Blogathon hosted by Barry Cinematic of Cinematic Catharsis and Gill of Realweegiemidget

Hammer-Amicus Blogathon II - Mummy

In 1895, an English archaeological expedition in Egypt discovers the tomb of the Princess Ananka. Just before entering, native Mehemet Bey warns Steve Banning and Joe Whemple against raiding the resting place of the dead. Ignoring the caution, the two enter. When Joe exits the tomb, Steve finds a small casket containing the scroll of life. Soon after, the others outside hear a scream. Rushing in, Joe finds his stricken colleague slumped over the sarcophagus, speechless.

Several months later, back in England, John Banning, Steve’s son, visits his father in the nursing home where he’s been confined since going mad in Egypt after reading the scroll. In a semi-lucid moment, Steve tells him of the scroll and the living mummy. John is understandably skeptical. Later that night, two careless workman hired to deliver a large crate of Egyptian relics instead lose it in a bog near the asylum.

The next morning, it’s revealed the crate belonged to none other than Mehemet Bey. That evening, Bey, scroll of life in hand, heads to the bog and raises the mummy from the mire, then sets him off on a spree of revenge killings. First up; Steve Banning. John and his uncle decide to comb through the dead man’s papers hoping to uncover something that could solve his murder. John relays, with the help of a lengthy flashback, the story of Ananka’s sudden death and the forbidden love of priest Kharis, which leads to his mummification and immurement as punishment for trying to raise Ananka with the scroll.

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Kharis, under the power of Mehemet Bey, continues killing, growing confused when he sees John’s wife, Isobel, a dead ringer for Ananka.

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With a script by Jimmy Sangster and directed by Terence Fisher, one would expect good things from this movie, but I found it a bit lacking. Mummified Kharis is vigorous, swift, and formidable, but never really creepy or otherworldly. I never quite got past the fact that it’s Christopher Lee in a linen bandage suit, and Lee’s tall and lean build was occasionally reminiscent of Ricou Browning’s Gill-man, at least from behind and when covered in muck. The mummy make-up resembles a mud-pack facial left on too long, and Kharis’ eyes appear too bright and ‘alive’ instead of ancient, desiccated, or unearthly. The flashback sequences are long and dry, and it’s painfully evident that without the benefit of California’s sunny clime, the early Egyptian scenes are shot on a soundstage. Apart from being appropriately covered in marsh sludge, Kharis’ quick resurrection from the bog, with some silly looking staggering, is anti-climactic. Far superior is the eerie and surreal resurrection of Ananka in Universal’s B-picture, The Mummy’s Curse. The conclusion wasn’t as exciting or interesting as it could have been, and was inspired by the finale of The Mummy’s Ghost.

There are plenty of plot holes and lapses in logic, including the expedition not cataloging or photographing anything before entering the tomb, and I say if Kharis is going to stroll past two posted guards before breaking in to commit blasphemy, he deserves to get caught. The acting, for the most part, is mediocre. Cushing’s character is of the soft-spoken, English gentleman variety, only displaying Van Helsing or Frankenstein style cunning late in the film when paying a visit to Mehemet Bey. I enjoyed Raymond Huntley as Joe Whemple, a man who showed more concern for his nephew’s well-being than his own father did. The music is well done, a nice change of pace from the bombastic and obtrusive music usually employed in the Dracula films, more like underscoring that always sounds appropriate for the scene.

Where the Frankenstein and Dracula entries benefit from color, I think its use detracts from The Mummy. A dry and ancient reanimated corpse, gray as the dust of several millennia, is better suited to black-and-white, with atmospheric and eerie shadows. A personal preference, of course. I loved this movie as a kid, but as an adult, not so much. Instead of offering a fresh and interesting take, like The Curse of the Werewolf, this one is a little stale and disappointing. For me, Hammer’s 1959 The Mummy is a Garanimal mix-and-match, mashing together character names and plot points from Universal’s five earlier mummy flicks. The recipe is roughly 3 parts The Mummy (1932), 2 parts The Mummy’s Hand, 4 parts The Mummy’s Tomb, 2-1/2 parts The Mummy’s Ghost, and 2 parts The Mummy’s Curse. Garnish with a couple of pinches of originality and you’ve got Hammer’s The Mummy. ** out of 5

 

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