REVIEW: The Mummy's Hand (1940)
Nearly a decade after its first major appearance, Universal decided to exploit its mummy intellectual property and turned it into a quadrilogy reboot
It took Universal roughly eight years to release a follow-up to The Mummy (1932). The ancient bandage-wrapped monster, one of the original Universal classic creatures that became popular in the 1930s beginning with Dracula (1931), was one of (if not) the last to receive such treatment. Strictly speaking, The Mummy’s Hand it's not a sequel. In today's parlance, it would be called a reboot. Many of the original elements are still there (siblings in spirit), but many more have been added that makes it a different 'beast', including the fact that it's a 'different' mummy and the movie's 'tone' has radically changed. But the most drastic element is the addition of a secret society.
The High Priest of the Temple of Karnak (Eduardo Ciannelli), knowing that he is dying, summons his successor, Andoheb (George Zucco), explaining to him the great secret to eternal life that it will be his duty to guard. Three thousand years ago, princess Ananka (Zita Johann) died. Kharis (Tom Tyler), her lover, while attempting to bring her back to life, steals a supply of (apparently sacred) tana leaves, capable of resuscitating corpses. Unfortunately for him, he was caught in the act, condemned, and buried alive in a nearby cave close to Ananka's tomb. Andoheb must now protect both sacred tombs from unscrupulous archaeologists in search of loot and glory.
With a 67 minutes running time, a 'modest' production budget, and the re-use of material from other films, including footage from the original, musical score from another, and a set piece from yet another movie, The Mummy’s Hand is fairly considered a B-movie, albeit one that it might have been more influential than the original and the three direct sequels that followed it. While the 1932 version was more sophisticated in many aspects (better makeup, cinematography, screenwriting; in short, more 'artistic'), this version comes across as clumsy and 'artless'. One could probably make the case, figuratively speaking, of the classic 'art-house' vs. 'popcorn movie' debate.
Something will likely ring true to a modern viewer. The 1999 revival, which ended up being popular in many territories, has more in common with The Mummy’s Hand than Boris Karloff’s original incarnation. While the details vary, they both share a prologue involving a woman's death and a man buried alive. The three main good characters are strikingly similar: two men and one woman, where one of the men functions as a comic relief, and the woman as the love interest of the adventurous protagonist. And the High Priest in the 1940 version resembles actor Arnold Vosloo (who plays Imhotep in 1999). Additionally, don’t be surprised to hear that both movies are often considered the best of the many versions that followed.
It seems obvious that the format is 'audience-friendly' (especially when comedy is added to the mix), but I found the humour childish (most of it are just silly magic tricks; although Cecil Kellaway's character is mildly charming), and the 'action' and 'horror' happen too late in the movie. They didn't even know what to do with Peggy Moran's character. When she proposes an important course of action, she even claims (as acknowledging that she's barely doing anything besides looking pretty): "Oh, I hope so. I owe this party a little contribution of some kind" (46m). And the mummy is just a lumbering mute that seems to exist solely to destroy, compared to Karloff's Imhotep who relied as much on his wits as he did on brute strength. I wouldn't say it's a boring entry, but I'll stick with the original mummy.
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