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Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Study in Classic Horror- THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940)


Is this Hollywood’s first attempt at rebooting a franchise? I’m sure many who haven’t seen The Mummy’s Hand and the three Mummy films that followed it assume they are sequels to the 1932 Boris Karloff vehicle, when it is, in fact, its own series. Yet, it’s clearly conceived to build on people’s memories of the first film. The origin of Kharis, the mummy of the latter films is virtually identical to that of Karloff’s Imhotep, so much so that his origin flashback is presented with the same footage from the earlier film.

The Mummy’s Hand is enjoyable enough, even if it is a bit uneven. (Which so far seems to be a consistent characteristic of the Mummy films.) It can’t seem to make up its mind on whether it wants to be a horror, comedy, or adventure film, but at least it has a capable cast of character actors. Dick Foran and Peggy Moran establish the chemistry they will carry over into Horror Island the following year, while Wallace Ford and Cecil Kellaway make for entertaining comic foils. George Zucco is a formidable villain, and Tom Tyler is creepy enough as Kharis the mummy, even if I question the decision to black out his eyes. I’ve seen photographs of him in full mummy make-up and his own gaze is formidable enough without special effects.

The plot is rather simple, and probably launches the cliché we’ve come to associate with mummy movies: Desecrating an ancient Egyptian tomb leads to becoming the victim of that tomb’s mummified guardian. Though I never realized that a catalyst in the form of a fanatical religious cult was needed in order to restore life to the guardian, for the mummy cannot walk unless disciples of the cult give him a dose of serum derived from tanna leaves. It seems to me the cult’s value of ancient tombs over human life requires a high level of devotion, but I suppose such fanaticism can be found in modern religions to this very day.

The Mummy’s Hand reliance on comic relief can be rather jarring at times. I found it particularly odd for Ford and Kellaway to be amusing themselves with card tricks mere moments after the death of a colleague, but sometimes that’s just the way of Hollywood. It’s going to be a while before I get to Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, but I’ll be certain to draw on memories of this film when I write my entry for it, because I could easily see the script for Hand working as a piece for Bud and Lou with only the slightest of tweaking.

This week’s supporting features:

The Silly Symphony The Skeleton Dance (1929)

The Our Gang short Shiver My Timbers (1931)

In two weeks:

The Black Castle (1952) starring Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., Richard Greene, Stephen McNally and Rita Corday

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