Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Mummy (Great Britain, 1959)

As I mentioned in my review of Berlin Wie Es War, the magazine Cult Movies printed some reviews I had written and never lived up to their side of the deal, which was to send me a free copy of the issues my writings appeared in. The review below is a version of another review I know they (in my opinion) dishonorably and dishonestly printed.

After frightening the world with their artistically and financially successful color updates of the old horror staples Dracula and Frankenstein, Hammer films rounded up the same core elements of The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958) to do their version of yet another classic of Universal Pictures’ golden age of monsters, The Mummy. Terence Fisher returned to his seat behind the camera, and in a script cobbled together by Jimmy Sangster—who had also supplied the words for the first two Hammer remakes—Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee faced each other once again as the hero and monster. Based not, as commonly assumed, on the 1932 Karl Freund masterpiece The Mummy (starring Boris Karloff), the 1959 Hammer remake mined instead the slightly less artistically exceptional movies entitled The Mummy’s Hand (1940) and The Mummy's Tomb (1942).
The plot, in short: Three English archaeologists discover and open the tomb of the Egyptian Princess Ananka (Yvonne Furneaux). Returning to England, they are followed by Mehemet (George Pastell), an Egyptian cultist who exacts revenge for the desecration of Ananka’s grave by having the mummy kill the “disbelievers” one by one. Peter Cushing’s character is saved only because his wife Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux) is (surprise!) a spitting image of Princess Ananka and can command the mummy to release him. There is a mandatory chase through the local bog before the mummy lets the little lady go and sinks to oblivion.
The Hammer version of the story did indeed fill the studio’s pockets with change, but time has revealed that though lightening often strikes twice, in the case of The Mummy, it did not strike thrice. Whereas age has in no way detracted from the stylish thrills and chill of Hammer's Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy seems to be little more than a tacky mistake. Cushing and Lee do their best at what they are given, but Cushing’s John Banning is a bore that really does deserve to die and Lee’s Mummy can’t seem to decide if he should amble slowly or charge like a bull. Likewise, not only are the Egyptian scenes laughably staged and unconvincingly cheesy, but the Technicolor makes the use of “Brown Face” on the various “Egyptians” embarrassingly obvious. (Brown face may also have been common in the B&W Universals, but in B&W it is a tad easier to overlook.) The script has holes big enough to see the Pyramid through, with characters saying and doing things that are better suited for a bad television film, such as when the “archaeologists” blow up the tomb or when Isobel Banning is taken outside into the bushes with Inspector Mulrooney "for her safety." True, the scene of Cushing inefficiently blowing holes through the mummy with a shotgun and then impaling the monster with a fire poker does have a certain thrill, but one good scene doesn’t make a good movie, especially when the movie is saddled with a variety of ill-conceived comic elements. Unbelievable that a script including two (!) flashbacks didn’t go in for a rewrite.
Though Hammer has produced many a modern classic horror film in their day, The Mummy is not one of them. Obviously, all those involved must have realized this, for not one of them (other than a few minor character actors) where involved with either of the two Hammer variations that followed later, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) and The Mummy’s Shroud (1967).

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