Most folks, when they hear of the Mummy movies, automatically default to either the classic Boris Karloff version or the Brendan Fraser ones which came out 19 years ago (how’s that for a reminder of how old you are?). While these may be the films we are most familiar with, there is absolutely no shortage of mummy-related movies which have come out over the years. These undead lovesick creatures have been with us on film since the 1930’s; Hammer Studios made several mummy films in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. More than a few comedy films featuring mummies have been made from Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy to Bubba Ho-Tep. However, the series that I would like to speak to is the Universal Mummy movies from the 1940’s.
Leading up to the release of Universal Studio’s newest Mummy movie on June 9th, I would like to feature all five of the Universal predecessors presented in glorious black-and-white. Saving the best for last, I want to start with the film that kicked off the Kharis saga: The Mummy’s Hand.
If you haven’t seen this film, don’t expect any of the creepy atmosphere or iconic dialogue that was present in the Boris Karloff namesake which came out 8 years earlier in 1932. In fact, the only thing that The Mummy’s Hand has in common with the original is footage for flashback scenes which has been shamelessly ripped from the superior film without even giving consideration to change the actors out. Seriously, you can see clearly see Karloff walking around in the flashback scenes. No, this film features an entirely new set of heroes, villains and a new mummy.
The film wastes no time in explaining itself by thrusting the viewer straight into an exposition scene. A dying priest passes on his position and duties to a successor by the name of Andoheb. He outlines the sacred duty of protecting the tomb of the Egyptian princess Ananka by administering a monthly dosage of three tana leaves to the mummy of Kharis. Kharis is an entirely new mummy with an entirely new backstory: he was mummified alive for stealing tana leaves in an attempt to resurrect Ananka. Now he serves as a statue-like protector of the tomb for all time; only with the administration of nine tana leaves will he regain motion and become an unstoppable killing machine…who will be stopped four different times over as many movies. Oh, and get used to hearing the instructions for these tana leaves, because you will have to sit through the story and directions in every single Kharis movie.
Enter the two heroes of the film: Steve Banning and Babe Jensen; a couple of wise-cracking archeologists who seem to fancy themselves the next Abbott and Costello. While the jokes and comic relief these two provide throughout the film are definitely a nice change from the norm as far as monster movies from the time period go, it does become quite distracting and quickly loses its appeal. To make matters worse, the duo team up with the magician Solvani and his daughter Marta upon learning of the location of Ananka’s tomb. Why do they team up with a magician; for funding of course, and also to provide more opportunities for out-of-place slapstick routines. Anyway, after learning of the location of the tomb and teaming up, the foursome head out into the desert in search of Ananka’s tomb, not knowing that Andoheb has been lurking in the shadows and will stop at nothing to keep them away from the tomb.
Upon arrival at the tomb, the crew and their native diggers are terrorized on a nightly basis by Kharis who has been brought back to life through the tana leaves in order to protect Ananka’s tomb. Kharis the mummy, looks pretty good as far as makeup and costume are concerned; while the work isn’t on par with Jack Pierce’s work in the original, it is still impressive especially when you notice the early attempts at special effects to remove the eyes in the close-up shots. There are some shots, however, where you can tell that someone got lazy and simply had the actor wear a mask instead of going through all the trouble of applying makeup. But what do you expect from a film that was shot in the span of a few weeks?
Finally, the climax of the film arrives and because we need a shot of the monster carrying a girl away, Marta is kidnapped by Kharis who takes her to his masters in Ananka’s tomb. A climactic fight ensues between Steve and Babe against Kharis and Andoheb. The battle ends with Andoheb being shot by Babe and Kharis being set on fire by Steve. Without wasting any more of our time the movie ends with everyone heading back to the USA with the Ananka’s mummy in tow.
Overall, this isn’t a bad movie; it has its memorable parts and is definitely my favorite of the Kharis films. There are some good one-liners and on more than one occasion I recall thinking to myself “I love this part”. The filmmakers messed around and got a few good shots in and the sets at times just reeked of that classic Universal design. However, to say this is the best of the Kharis films isn’t saying much as they are all pretty bad when compared to other Universal films coming out at the time. At one hour and seven minutes long it is definitely worth the time to see it if, for no other reason, than to say you have. It’s all down hill from here as next time I’ll be discussing The Mummy’s Tomb.