Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Film Reviews: The Mummy's Hand & The Mummy's Tomb

"The Mummy's Hand"  ** (out of ****)

Before Universal Pictures destroyed its Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolf Man franchise the studio, once known for its horror films, got its hands on the Mummy in "The Mummy's Hand" (1940).

I enjoy watching the classic monster movies from the 1930s & 40s. They don't scare me but compared to the blood & guts slasher movies we get today, I really appreciate the craft that went into the classics. Unfortunately Universal didn't care much for craft as the years went on and began to lose interest in the horror genre they did so much to create. As a result Universal reduced its horror movies to "B" movies. Believing there may have still been a market for Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Mummy, Universal continued to release countless sequels as an attempt to make as much money possible off these characters. They even started to combine all these classic characters in the same movie for sensationalism. However, the one character not included in these monster sleepovers was the Mummy, but don't worry. Universal would kill this franchise as well.

Case in point, we have what some call a sequel to Universal's "The Mummy" (1932) starring Boris Karloff. However, the movie is not really a sequel as it does not continue the story where that movie left off and introduces a brand new set of characters. What "The Mummy's Hand" is, is actually a remake, taking much of the plot from the 1932 movie and repackaging it for a perhaps originally intended series of movies. In fact three more mummy movies would follow.

"The Mummy's Hand" centers on two Americans in Egypt, one an archaeologist, Steve (Dick Foran) and the other, his best friend, Babe (Wallace Ford). They are supposed to be your "typical" Americans, always ready with the wise-cracks and loud and obnoxious. Babe is a kind of comic relief sidekick, the "funny best friend". It is the Babe character which hurts the movie more than anything else.

While shopping at a bazaar, in the streets of Cairo, Steve finds what he believes is a valuable ancient vase which may hold clues to the whereabouts of the Egyptian Princess Ananka's tomb and her treasures. Now all Steve and Babe need to do is find someone to finance their expedition. They hope fellow archaeologist Andoheb (George Zucco), who works at the Cairo Museum, will but he declines, citing the vase is an imitation and it is far too dangerous to go on an expedition. Two teams were sent out to the same region Steve believes the tomb is and were never heard from again.

The warnings and opinion of Andoheb do not deter Steve. He is convinced his hunch is correct and will begin his expedition without the help of Andoheb. The Egyptian God's smile at Steve when he meets another American in Egypt, a magician, Solvani (Cecil Kellaway) who agrees to finance the expedition. However Solvani's daughter, Marta (Peggy Moran) is fearful the two men have taken advantage of her father, as she doesn't believe in mummies and buried treasure (what is there not to believe?). Perhaps the Marta character was meant to be a romantic interest for Steve, however little to nothing is developed, outside of remarks they both find each other attractive.

We learn nearly 3,000 years ago of a man named Kharis (Tom Tyler) loved Princess Ananka. After learning about her death he steals tana leaves, hoping this will bring her back to life. He is discovered and buried alive. Legend has it there is a curse placed on anyone who dares enter the tomb of Princess Ananka, as Kharis will seek revenge. Kharis, is it discovered, never really died as a secret cult, headed by Andoheb, has been preserving his life with tana leaves.

Much of this plot was directly taken from the 1932 movie, minus name changes. In that movie Karloff was also buried alive for attempting to bring his lover back to life. However, he believes she will be reincarnated in modern day. It was very similar to Dracula.

"The Mummy's Hand" (the title doesn't make sense) at times seems to be a comedy / horror movie "thanks" to the Babe character, who does card tricks and everything! What purpose does this character serve? Why was it written into the story? The movie is not so intense and scary that there are moments we need comic relief, so the audience can catch their breath. The "comedy" ruins the picture. If Universal couldn't take this story serious, how can we?

Universal does little to create atmosphere, although for a "B" movie, I must admit it doesn't look so bad. I might have been able to buy into the movie if it wasn't for the comedy. If you want to watch a bad mummy comedy see the Wheeler & Woolsey movie "Mummy's Boys" (1936).

"The Mummy's Tomb"  *** (out of ****)

"The Mummy's Tomb" (1942) was the second installment of a four movie series involving the Mummy. The first was "The Mummy's Hand" (1940).

Some of the prominent characters from the previous movie return for this sequel but the biggest change is the mummy, Kharis, will now be played by Lon Chaney Jr. Making Mr. Chaney one of the few actors to have played The Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula's son and a mummy. He is unrecognizable in the role however.

Running a brisk 60 minutes, many may consider "The Mummy's Tomb" an equally inadequate sequel to "The Mummy's Hand" however there is one big difference between the two movies. "The Mummy's Tomb" cuts out a lot of the cornball humor and focuses its story on the mummy's revenge for the events of the first movie. Because of this, the movie actually creates some nice moments of suspense and gives us something to cheer for and root against.

Granted the movie is not perfect. The movie begins with an elderly Steve (Dick Foran again) telling stories of his adventures from the first movie to his son John (John Hubbard), Isobel (Elyse Knox), John's girfriend and Steve's sister, Jane (Mary Gordon). This set-up takes approximately 12 minutes of screentime as a nearly complete recap of "The Mummy's Hand" is given, showing clips of the movie as well. That leaves us with roughly 45 minutes of story left to tell for "The Mummy's Tomb", not really enough time to go into details and develop scenarios and characters.

"The Mummy's Tomb" also gives us a near repeat of events as Andoheb (George Zucco) selects his successor as the new high priest of their cult, Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey), who must leave Egypt with Kharis and head to America in order to seek revenge on Steve, Babe (Wallace Ford) and his family.

The movie still has a touch of the ridiculous to it as we see scenes with Kharis sluggishly making his way down streets through a small American town on the hunt for his next victim. However the movie works more as a monster / serial killer movie than a mummy movie as we see Kharis kill one character after another. We even see a group of angry townspeople on the hunt for Kharis with burning torches and all. This time they aren't roaming the countryside looking for a scary castle but a nice suburban home.

Because of the running time, not much is done with the Mehemet Bey character to make him a credible threat. The movie simply goes to the heart of its story, trying to cram as much as it could into 45 minutes.

Still, compared to "The Mummy's Hand" this is an improvement. It could have been a much better movie if the running time were expanded at least 30 minutes more to play out dramatic events and develop characters a bit more to create more character motivation. "The Mummy's Tomb" is worth watching if you are a fan of Universal monster movies. If not, it would be strongly recommended you watch the 1932 movie starring Boris Karloff instead.