The Mummy’s Hand (1940)

2.5 stars out of 4. One cannot deny its charm.

Here is the first of the oft-maligned 40’s Universal films featuring the Mummy. And there is a reason why they are so maligned. All are just over one hour in length with drastically reduced budgets. These are double bill fillers, the kind of B-movie that was cranked out at such a speed that little care or thought was ever put into them. Remember time = money!

The first of four, The Mummy’s Hand is probably the only one actually worth watching. It blends the mystical resurrected Mummy with a cheapy serial film effectively to become a nice throwback to the fantasies of childhood. It doesn’t ever claim to be anything greater and we wouldn’t want it to.

The Mummy itself doesn’t appear until late in the film and this allows for our characters to be built up from scratch. The audience is allowed to form attachments instead of  not worrying when they are picked off later on. The story is actually well constructed, holds interest and moves at a astonishingly quick pace because there’s only 70 minutes to work with!

Our journey begins with new priest Andoheb journeying to the dying old high Priest of Karnak in order to become the next high priest. The old man tells Andoheb of the story of Kharis the living mummy whom they have controlled for centuries in the event that anyone should disturb the tomb of Ananka. Fans of the original film may notice that the names are different here. Some subtle and not so subtle alterations were made to the original story line to fit this new sequencing. We are then treated to a flashback while the priest narrates over the footage from the original film. Inserted badly are shots of the new actor Tom Tyler, while Boris Karloff is still visible in others. Kharis now steals tana leaves to revive his love instead of the unbelievably superior mac guffin the Scroll of Thoth.

Andoheb is sworn to uphold the ways of the priesthood and becomes the new man in charge. He is entrusted with Kharis and instructed on how to use him as the instrument of the priest’s will. During the full moon, the brew of three tana leaves will keep his heart beating. Nine leaves will give him movement and motivation. But if Kharis were to obtain any more he would become an uncontrollable monster. (This last bit is never utilized in any of the films.)

Two down on their luck American archaeologists in Egypt stumble upon a broken vase in a Cairo street vendor’s stall that shows the way to the legendary lost tomb of Ananka. They take it to another archaeologist friend who works in the museum which just happens to be headed by Andoheb. He claims the vase as imitation and then “accidentally” breaks it.

The three continue with their plans to find the tomb unknowing that Andoheb is secretly out to stop them. They end up securing finances from a traveling magician and his daughter but inadvertently take every cent the man had. Ater gathering supplies they travel to the site but find the tomb of Kharis instead of Ananka. All of the men are frightened away and Kharis is brought back to life by Andoheb to destroy all those who would violate the ancient tombs…

This is a 70 minute serial that happens to feature a Mummy as a henchman. Said mummy is revealed well and in post-production, its eyes were blacked out actually making the ridiculous seem quite creepy.

Unfortunately after this, the other films transplanted the action to an American location and dropped any of these wonderful serial adventure elements. Gone were also the relatively developed human characters and the actor who played Kharis.  Tom Tyler was replaced by Lon Chaney Jr., and while this seems like a wise decision in both performance and billing, Chaney spends his time merely stumbling about and not really seeming threatening to anyone. These three other sequels are exactly 1 hour and 1 minute celluloid filler.

Many of the elements from these Kharis sequels were combined and rearranged to form the basis for Hammer’s superior The Mummy (1959).

The film was originally released on a double sided disc with other Mummy films, and these were repackaged into the Legacy Collection. The print source is very clean and the DVD is well done from the best available print. Affordably packaged here with the masterful Karloff original and the other three vastly inferior sequels.

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Filed under 2.5 stars, Film, Universal Horror

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