The Mummy (1959) October 15th, 2020
I’m nearly a year into recovering from last Halloween. Catching Covid plus becoming temporarily (thankfully) unemployed gave me more time to watch horror movies than to write about them. My attention and patience had reached its limits by the time I watched the third Fisher, Cushing, and Lee remake The Mummy. I hated it but didn’t realize how much it influenced the only good mummy movie starring Brendan Frazier.
I disliked this movie so much that I second guessed all my praise for Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula. That dislike became a roadblock in my blogging. I avoided writing about The Mummy but that held me back from writing about other movies, and new movies. At this point I’ve actually written like… 13 unpublished reviews. And they will remain unpublished until I make my way through the chronological backlog. But we’re here to rap about The Mummy so let’s get to it.
I rewatched The Mummy to refresh my memory as I had done with the previous Hammer Monster remakes. Cushing plays John Banning a young archeologist unearthing an Egyptian tomb, but his excavation is delayed due to a broken leg sustained at the dig site. His elderly father Stephen (probably no older than 44) takes the lead in his son’s stead and becomes the first person to enter the tomb since its sealing. Before the elder archeologist opens the tomb he receives a warning from a local man who warns a curse will befall anyone who enters. Stephen ignores the warning because if he didn’t there wouldn’t be much movie left.
Surprise, surprise, the curse is real. Buried in the tomb is the mummified remains of a beautiful Princess Ananka, but she is not buried alone. Hidden in the walls is the secret tomb of her lover and protector Kharis, played by Lee. Stephen inadvertently releases Kharis who attempts to murder the old man (keep in mind, he’s in his 40s) but is stopped by the local man who warned of the curse. He commands The Mummy return to his resting place and stay hidden. Stephen is driven insane by the incident and never fully recovers.
Years pass and the excavation team returns to England where they sell their pillaged artifacts. Stephen would live out his days a rambling lump going on and on about a mummy. Humpf, nonsense. His son John continues his studies until one day when an Egyptian man appears in town transporting ancient relics. Unfortunately some of these relics were lost in transit… relics like The Mummy!
At this point there’s an extensive flashback sequence where the story of Kharis and Princess Ananka’s romance is told complete with the discovery of their affair, his living mummification, and her death. I think at this point is when it dawned on me exactly how much of this film informed and set the stage for the 1999 classic The Mummy remake starring Brendan Fraser. Perhaps that observation seems obvious “Of course The Mummy remake was influenced by The Mummy!” you’ll say, but remember this film itself is a remake of the Boris Karloff Universal classic and I, the uneducated film-urchin you read before you, had seen them in the worst order imaginable. I saw The Mummy as a child, then years later I saw The Mummy and then finally saw The Mummy last year which, as I’ve said, was much more like The Mummy than The Mummy, and no, I haven’t and don’t plan to see The Mummy but I appreciate your thoroughness.
It occurred to me at this point in the film that this expository flashback sequence of Kharis and Princess Ananka was undeniably slowing the film down. It’s like a 10 minute flashback with characters and places we’ve barely seen up to now. I remember thinking “Man, this sequence is important for understanding their relationship I just wish it didn’t happen right in the middle of the movie. It would make way more sense to put this flashback in the very beginning of the film.” Minutes later it dawned on me, that’s exactly what Stephen Sommers did in 1999, complete with an homage to the gruesome tongue removal scene from the 1959 version, and it worked perfectly.
The rest of the film plays out like you’d expect. The mummy sets out to kill John at the Egyptian man’s command but is stymied by the unexpected resemblance John’s sister (or cousin… wife? I cannot remember) Isabel, bears to his beloved Princess Ananka. But all ghoul things must come to an end and eventually the film concludes in a spectacularly abrupt manner.
The Mummy carries Isabel into a murky bog where he’s blasted to dust by police rifles and left to rot in the muck. Don’t worry, Isabel makes it to the safety of her brother’s (cousin’s… husband’s?) arms before the credits begin to roll on the swampy scene.
Unlike the tomb in the movie, rewatching The Mummy doesn’t curse you with anything but more appreciation and less contempt for the film. Why aren’t there ever any Egyptian guys hanging around warning me about that? Stupid ‘reality’.
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