Tuesday, 29 September 2020

The Mummy’s Hand



The Mummy’s Hand
USA 1940 Directed by Christy Cabanne
Universal  Blu Ray Zone B

So, following on quickly from The Invisible Man Returns earlier that year (reviewed here), Universal continued their revival of monster movies from the previous decade with The Mummy’s Hand and, I have to say, even though I love the original The Mummy and its importance in the pantheon of Universal Classic Monsters, I think The Mummy’s Hand is also a very important and influential film in its own right. The main reason for my thinking on this is because, although we have a new Mummy character completely, in the form of Kharis The Mummy, played here by B movie Western star Tom Tyler... who would go on to play the titular superhero characters in both the 1941 serial The Adventures Of Captain Marvel (reviewed here) and 1943’s The Phantom... we also have the first, to my knowledge, American movie where the Mummy is an actual bandaged monster who slowly limps around killing people with its superhuman strength. In The Mummy, Karloff was only seen opening his eyes in bandages, followed by a shot of his bandaged hand reaching for some papyrus... so this is the first time that we get the full monty, so to speak, of the Mummy in all his wrapped up glory. So all later films which feature mummies swathed in bandages and shambling about owe a debt to this movie in particular, I think.

Now, in The Mummy (reviewed here), the titular character was Imhotep (who would later be revived in the Stephen Sommers reboot movie in 1999). Here, however... and for the next three sequels too... we have Kharis but, this is the only time he is played by Tom Tyler. After this, Lon Chaney Jr would don the bandages three more times.

Now, the film primarily focuses on the lead protagonists of archeologists Steve Banning (played by Dick Foran) and Babe Jenson (played by Wallace Ford), who make up a kind of Abbot and Costello straight man and funny man partnership. Here they are joined by Cecil Kellaway (who we saw in The Invisible Man Returns) as stage magician Silvani plus Peggy Moran as his daughter and love interest for Banning... Marta. Silvani is bankrolling Banning’s expedition (after a little way into the picture, after some fairly entertaining shenanigans) but they are abetted by George Zucco as Andoheb, one of the guardians of the High Priests of Karnack, who will stop at nothing to ensure the American ‘defilers of tombs’ will not find the tomb of the Princess they are looking for. As luck would have it, they find Kharis instead... who is controlled by Zucco to kill for him.

In a long sequence before we even meet any of the main protagonists, a High Priest who is Andoheb’s father passes down the secret of making Kharis mobile and its all to do with the bizarre and unfortunately persistent plot device of the brewing of a potion made from Tana leaves. A brew made form three leaves during the full moon will ensure Kharis continues to live but, nine leaves allows him to get up and start doing killer shenanigans for his masters. And I seem to remember in terms of Kharis getting up to his tricks in the next three movies, these rules keep changing or at least being broken somewhat but, we shall see.

Now, in this opening sequence we find the High Priest character has a little pool which acts just like Boris Karloff’s did  in The Mummy... it projects pictures of what the guy is talking about. Here, he tells the back story of Kharis the mummy which is, it has to be said, almost identical to that of Imhotep... barring the inclusion of the Tana leaves. That’s handy then, since an awful lot of the back story of The Mummy is included via re-used footage with the odd shot of Tom Tyler inserted whenever we need to see his face. It’s quite comical once you start spotting the way the footage has been put together. Here’s a hint... when the footage looks just a little grainier and doesn’t include Tom Tyler’s face, you are almost certainly looking at the back of Boris Karloff’s head and other bits from the previous film. One truly dead giveaway is when Tyler is bending over a box of Tana leaves and turns his head to see the temple guardians behind him... in long shot with his head turned away from us, he is suddenly bending over a scroll... he turns his head back in close up and... it’s magically a big casket of Tana leaves again. So yeah... Karloff standing in... err... bending in for Tom Tyler there via the miracle of re-used footage. There’s a heck of a lot of that kind of thing in this sequence and, if you are familiar with the first movie, it’s fairly easy to spot.

More recycling is Andoheb’s father as the Writers here are... maybe not trying to be lazy, just on brand... with a bit of famous dialogue recycled to give a similar beat from the very first talking Universal horror movie, Dracula (reviewed here). In that movie Bela Lugosi hears the wolves howling and says... “The children of the night. What music they make.” Here, the guy hears the jackals baying and says... “The children of the night. They howl about the Hill of the Seven Jackals and Kharis must be fed.” So, yeah, trying to echo their earlier successes no doubt.

Now, at just under 67 minutes, the film is fast moving, entertaining and has some nice dialogue. The classic Hans J Salter music, partially recycled, is augmented by some Flash Gordon fight music during a bar fight and its one of those films that trundles along nicely to its inevitable conclusion.There are some interesting little errors and oddities I noticed about the film which I’ve not come across listed anywhere else though... not to mention the huge problems with continuity which would go on to kill the credibility of the entire Mummy franchise after this one.

Okay, so something I noticed was that, when Kharis enters the tent shared by Silvani and his daughter and strangles the father (more in that in a moment), Marta screams and then feints before being carried off by Kharis. However, when we cut to Banning and Babe’s reaction shot outside the tent, they then hear her scream a second time. But... hey there Mr. Director... she’d already feinted.

Secondly and, as far as I’m concerned, much more interestingly... when Banning investigates Silvani he replaces what looks like his lifeless corpse back on the bed. Even though they both have a line of dialogue! Well, since Silvano does look so lifeless here, my guess is those two lines were added in post synch to pull together continuity. I don’t know what the script was like in terms of changes on a day to day basis but later on, when Banning tells Marta that her father is going to be okay, when he’s trying to rescue her from the clutches of Kharis, I suspect that the decision had been made to have Silvani’s character survive too. However, I also suspect when the scene was shot with Kharis in SIlvano’s tent earlier, the idea was probably that the father would be the next victim of... The Mummy’s Hand. Somewhere before filming the later scene, the decision was made and they overdubbed the dialogue in on the earlier scene to try and hoodwink the audience. That’s completely a guess, by the way and, I’ve not seen it mentioned anywhere else but... that’s my deduction as to what happened here.

And then, of course, there’s the really alarming thing. Not for this movie but for the next three sequels... some of which would also compound the problem themselves. From the contract Banning draws up with Silvani in a bar near the start of the movie, it’s clear that the film is set in 1940. However, when the next mummy film came out in 1942... well, I won’t jump on that one just yet, I’ll wait until my review of The Mummy’s Tomb before I spring that one on you.

Nevertheless, for all it’s faults , The Mummy's Hand is also, as I said, quite influential in its own right and, perhaps more importantly, a very entertaining film with some stand out performances from the principal actors. As always, a pleasure to watch and recommended viewing for anyone who wants to take in these classic, Universal monster movies. A gift-wrapped bundle of joy.

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