Friday, October 26, 2018

Halloween Hammer Watch: The Mummy (1959)

Watched:  10/25/2018
Format:  TCM/ DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1950's

I thought I'd seen this movie before, but I had not.  But, boy howdy, did I like it - weird British Imperialistic dismissal of other cultures and all.  The movie is The Mummy (1959), part of Hammer's slate of Universal Horror remakes from their 50's and 60's boom era.

Peter Cushing plays a young (cough) archaeologist who is with his father digging in the desert when he busts his leg.  They plow on, his dad uncovering a mummy and - like the Universal Karloff film reads "the scroll of life", bringing a mummy back from the dead and driving the man quite mad.  From here, the plot takes a sharp turn from the original, which is terrific as a whole new take on concepts from the original.

Three years later, back in England, Cushing's father regains his senses, just as an Egyptian fellow shows up with a bunch of artifacts, and then a Mummy goes on the rampage, his big plan for getting out and about after 3000 years?  MURDER!

Look, you're not going to want to take on a mummy on your own, Mr. Cushing

That Mummy (Lee, all 6'4" of him) is a terrific force under the make-up and bandages.  Unlike Karloff's Mummy, he doesn't revert to a human disguise, he simply is a mute, undead, laser-focused monster at this point.

He does have a backstory (and some very groovy Egyptian make-up) that sort of lifts from the Karloff film, so we do get the prerequisite ancient Egyptian flashbacks.

And, of course, a princess who dies tragically young (and beautiful) and a priest who makes some mistakes and winds up also mummified.

While Karloff makes the switch and manages to slide into the mundane world (after some time) as a sort of curious weirdo, our Mummy remains bandaged and in thrall to an Egyptian fellow who has turned the ex-Priest into a murder machine there to avenge the desecration of the tomb.  Curiously he makes a pretty sound speech about "doesn't it occur to you that you're upsetting graves and sending their contents to the British Museum?" - something that's now considered a bit of a problem.  To which Cushing simply says "no, not a problem.  I'm doing my job!" and the movie just rolls with the notion that the British Empire can just do whatever the hell pleases them, even when they know that may launch Mummy Curses and whatnot.

The film has a good bit of comedic relief in the form of a poacher who spots Lee's frankly pretty scary looking Mummy and keeps telling people, but everyone assumes he's just drunk.  There's also the dual role of the princess/ modern woman who looks like the princess played by Yvonne Furneaux.  Here she's wed to Peter Cushing and given less to do than Zita Johann, and she lacks Johann's otherwordliness, but brings her own special something to the role.

Hammer: knowing how to cast since 1958
All in all - man, I really dug the movie.  Its not going to win any Oscars, and it has some plotholes and parts that drag and all that, but it's got some rock solid stuff in there, Lee and Cushing are fantastic, and despite my reconsidered and newfound appreciation of the Karloff Mummy, I think I might have liked this one just as much in its own way.

There's a good new take on The Mummy as horror franchise, but that isn't going to happen if they keep trying to make it an action-adventure film.  This may be a good angle from which to pick up, especially with reconsideration of what it means to sack tombs for science and profit and with little regard to local custom.

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