Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Mummy's Hand (1940)

Director: Christy Cabanne                              Writers: Griffin Jay & Maxwell Shane
Film Score: Frank Skinner                              Cinematography: Elwood Bredell
Starring: Dick Foran, Peggy Moran, Wallace Ford and George Zucco

The poor Mummy. Of all of the Universal horror franchises, this monster was the least respected and quickly went from a defrocked Egyptian priest in the first film with Boris Karloff to a shuffling collection of bandages that was used as little more than a murder weapon in the sequels. Worse than that, Universal tried to turn The Mummy’s Hand into something of a horror-comedy eight years before Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Here the ersatz comedy team consists of Dick Foran and Wallace Ford. Add to that the faux magic of Cecil Kellaway and whatever attempt at suspense and fear there had been in the screenplay was dissipated by these comedic elements. And then there’s the fact that the film is not really a sequel at all, but rather an updated version of The Mummy. Only instead of the Karloff character who comes to life and attempts to regain his lost love, the dead priest remains wrapped in bandages to do the bidding of others. Unlike the minimal attempt to make the other franchises in Universal’s monster pantheon somewhat interesting and follow from the original film, the Mummy series was immediately turned into little more than B-movie programmers, with second-rate writers and directors and, with the exception of horror stars like George Zucco and Lon Chaney Jr., B-list actors as well. As a result, this is the first of a long line of substandard Universal mummy films.

The Mummy doesn’t even get original theme music in the sequels, as the main titles--like the rest of the film--are accompanied by Frank Skinner’s music for Son of Frankenstein. The film opens with Eduardo Ciannelli renewing the curse on all those who desecrate the tombs of the pharos. From there, George Zucco gets off the train at the Cairo station and heads out into the desert the following day to an ancient temple to meet with Ciannelli. In a pool of water, similar to the one used by Karloff in the original, Zucco is shown flashback scenes of the origin of the mummy from the first film but in close up Karloff is replaced by Tom Tyler who plays the monster in this film. Ciannelli shows Zucco how to revive Tyler as the mummy before he hands over the high priesthood to Zucco and dies. Back in Cairo, Dick Foran and Wallace Ford have been fired by the museum, but Foran stumbles onto a valuable piece of pottery in the market that gives clues to the location of the tomb of Ananka, played by Zita Johann in the original. Charles Trowbridge takes them in to show their find to the head of the museum, but he turns out to be George Zucco. Obviously Zucco isn’t going to finance and expedition to uncover the tomb he has vowed to protect, so the two men call on Cecil Kellaway, a magician who has a daughter, Peggy Moran, to finance the dig. Zucco then uses the mummy to attempt to kill the members of the expedition before they are able to find the tomb.

Tom Tyler, who was known mostly for westerns, was chosen to play the monster because of a slight resemblance to Karloff, but it would be his only appearance in a Universal horror film as the studio later jettisoned the whole connection to the original film and used Lon Chaney Jr. in subsequent entries for the name recognition. The whole production is a contrast in seemingly cheap location shots, and some relatively sumptuous interiors. But that can be explained by the existing sets Universal had on the lot. The sands of the Egyptian desert have been replaced by scrub brush in the foothills of California, and even the dig seems to be taking place on a beach rather than the desert. For the huge interior of Ananka’s tomb, the production used an existing set from James Whale’s 1940 adventure film Green Hell, which had been completed earlier that year. Director Christy Cabanne hadn’t really been successful after the silent era had ended, and so it’s no wonder that the film lacks anything remotely artistic. But while screenwriters Griffin Jay and Maxwell Shane added some inanities to the screenplay like the Mummy being active only during the full moon, their invention of the forbidden tana leaves is one that would be latched upon for all subsequent films in the franchise, and be used in any number of ways. The Mummy’s Hand is a pale imitation of the original and, unfortunately, would set the stage for a string of uninspired Mummy films to come.

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