The Mummy (1959)

*. The Mummy introduced the third of Universal’s initial triumvirate of monsters, and was the third to be adapted by Hammer in their profitable exercise in movie graverobbing. But after the success of The Curse of Frankenstein and their Dracula remake (Horror of Dracula) they had entered into an agreement with Universal-International so at least they had a permit this time.
*. It’s been said that this is less an adaptation of The Mummy than it is a reworking of later films in the series like The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb. I guess they borrowed the names (the Mummy is Kharis not Imhotep, and his lost love is Ananka), but aside from that there’s little connection at all. At the end of The Mummy’s Ghost the Mummy sinks into a bog, which is what also happens here, but in that earlier movie he took Ananka with him. It’s also the case that the priests are again worshippers of Karnak and not Arkam and there’s none of the stupid business involving tana leaves. So really it’s a very different movie.
*. They got rid of the tana leaves but were still stuck with the awkward business of having to relate a lot of information through flashbacks. And as much fun as it looks like everyone is having with the costumes and the sets, the historical material stops the film dead in its tracks. Then there is another flashback later in the film to show us stuff that happened at the beginning. All of this should have been tightened up.
*. The Mummy isn’t much of a role for an actor, but Christopher Lee is really good just working with his eyes. You feel sympathy for Kharis’s lonely fate. Lee also makes the most of his towering physical presence, which apparently led to him taking a beating during filming. All-in-all he may be my favourite movie mummy, or at least near the top of the list.

*. In the original Universal films southern California stood in for Egypt, which I don’t think fooled anyone. (I’m not sure, but 1981’s Dawn of the Mummy may be the only mummy picture actually made in Egypt.) In this film we’re even further removed from anything that feels like a real location, as it’s an almost totally studio-bound production. The archaeological dig might as well be Gilligan’s island, and even the bog was a giant tank on a set. It all looks artificial as can be, but I didn’t mind. There’s a consistency in the film’s look that’s maintained throughout, which is the important thing. Once you get over that first jungle set you’ll even buy into the tidy and well-lit tombs.
*. It was going to be a more shocking movie, as the scene where Kharis has his tongue cut out had to itself be cut out. Too bad. But they did keep the scene where Banning (Peter Cushing) spears Kharis and Kharis does a back-breaker move on his priestly handler Mehemet Bey. I was getting tired of the same old strangulation routine.
*. As you know from my notes on them, I don’t care much for the Universal Mummy series. I did, however, like this picture, so it may be one of the few cases where I actually prefer the Hammer version to the original. Sure there isn’t much chance for interplay between Cushing and Lee, seeing as the Mummy can’t speak, but then Lee’s Dracula had hardly any lines in Horror of Dracula either. I think they both do a great job with what they have to work with, and the design of the film is very nice. There’s even one somewhat scary scene when the elder Banning is killed in his padded cell (conveniently forgetting for a moment that he’d just been told to ring the bell in case of emergency).
*. In short, it’s classic Hammer horror in the house style of the house that dripped blood. It’s not all that lively (Terence Fisher just didn’t have that gear), but compared to other work in the genre both before and after I think it holds up pretty well.

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