Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box set, at least. Now it’s 1940’s The Mummy’s Hand. Boris Karloff’s Imhotep is out, but the good news is that fan-favorite mummy Kharis is here, to take us through the rest of the series.
Here’s what happens: In ancient Egypt, Kharis was buried alive after stealing magical Tana leaves in hopes of reviving his dead love Nananka. Centuries later, an archeologist and his team find their way to Kharis’ tomb, only for him to rise and keep after those darned Tana leaves.
Monster! Most first-time viewers of the Karloff Mummy are surprised to see him in the bandaged look in only one scene. Kharis, on the other hand, is a full-on tattered-bandages mummy in all his shambling glory.
Also a monster! Most of the tension in the film comes from Professor Andoheb, who conspires to keep the adventurers away from the tomb. Actor George Zucco has something of a notorious history in Hollywood, but in this movie he’s a great menacing figure.
Our hero: Archeologist Steve Banning is a classic pulp hero, square-jawed and broad-shouldered, and as tough as he is smart. I actually liked him as a proto-Indiana Jones, and wouldn’t have minded seeing his further adventures.
Hapless humans: This was the year of Casablanca, and there’s a little bit of Casablanca in The Mummy’s Hand. Egypt is portrayed as an international crossroads, equal parts intrigue and romance. This allows the filmmakers to round out the cast with all sorts of kooky characters. The expedition is funded by a stage magician (!), whose gun-toting daughter becomes Bannon’s love interest. Two other favorites are the creepy beggar who becomes a conspirator, and the incongruous Cockney bartender.
Thrills: Kharis might be a mindless brute, but he strangles his way through his enemies pretty good. He even does the “sympathetic monster” thing during the final confrontation, when he’s undone by his desire for those darned Tana leaves.
Laughs: Comic relief – and lots of it – is supplied by Banning’s sidekick, Babe Jensen, who spends the movie cracking wise and pining over his girlfriend back home, named “Poopsie.” Get used to hearing the word “Poopsie” a lot in this bloodcurdling horror film. To be fair, though, Babe is the one who ends up saving the day at the end.
Thoughts upon this viewing: This is a silly movie, but I’m okay with its silliness. I just like that it’s a monster movie where the human characters are just as interesting and fun – if not more so – than the monster.
Next: Fade out!
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