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The Mummy's Hand / The Mummy's Tomb

Classic Monster Collection: Series Three

  • Dracula's Daughter / Son of Dracula
  • Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man/House of Frankenstein
  • The Mummy's Ghost/The Mummy's Curse
  • The Mummy's Hand/The Mummy's Tomb
  • Son of Frankenstein/Ghost of Frankenstein
  • Werewolf of London/She-Wolf of London

  • A look back....
  • It's rare that a movie franchise begins with its weakest entry, but Universal's four "Kharis the Mummy" movies managed to get (relatively) better after The Mummy's Hand, the initial outing. Released in 1940, The Mummy's Hand was the first mummy movie since The Mummy, Universal's 1932 Karloff classic. Clocking in at just 71 minutes, Hand begins the Kharis series by recounting the life and love of the famous foot-dragger eternally damned for a forbidden romance 3000 years ago. None of the Kharis flicks can touch the moody and atmospheric Karloff original, but the quartet does have its memorable moments of entertainment value, particularly in the later entries. The Mummy's Hand isn't a sequel to the original. Rather, it's a lesser remake with names changed and a story watered down with strained "Abbot & Costello" style humor. Given what was to come after, The Mummy's Hand is all but superfluous — its salient moments are recapped in its immediate sequel and the two beyond that.

    The plot is familiar if you've seen even one other mummy movie. In the days of the pharaohs, the late Egyptian Princess Ananka was to be ceremonially entombed. But a prince who loved her, Kharis, defied the gods by beginning to resurrect her via magic tanna leaves (or "tana," depending on which movie's subtitles you watch). For this sin, Kharis was wrapped up and entombed alive with a stash of tanna leaves, cursed to endless not-quite-life and charged with guarding Ananka's secret resting place. For 3000 years, the High Priests of Karnak have kept Kharis alive but dormant until now, when an expedition of American archeologists led by Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and "Babe" Jenson (Wallace Ford) travel to Egypt in search of the legendary Princess Ananka's tomb. Unwittingly, Banning and Babe present evidence of Ananka's whereabouts to the current High Priest, Andoheb (George Zucco), whose day job is as a professor at the Cairo Museum. Clued in to the infidels' plans, Andoheb wakes up Kharis (cowboy actor Tom Tyler, whose shambling performance was helped by his arthritis) and commands him to kill those who would defile Ananka's tomb. Second-tier character actors are throttled to death, and a traveling magician (Cecil Kellaway) and his obligatory pretty daughter Marta (Peggy Moran) join the fray. When Andoheb turns his attentions to Marta in hopes of making her his mate for all eternity thanks to those tanna leaves, thereby violating his sacred duty, Kharis decides to take matters into his own bandaged hands.

    Along the way, stock footage from the 1932 original is recycled with Karloff removed, Banning and Babe come across as a poor man's Bud & Lou, and Tom Tyler does his best with a role that must have been frustatingly limiting. No real violence happens on screen, of course, and Hand would receive a "G" rating by today's standards (though the shots of Kharis with his eyes blacked out have a nice shudder factor). Naturally Kharis is destroyed and Banning and Babe are pleased to remain alive for the sequel — or are they?

    *          *          *

    Kharis, Banning, and Babe return in The Mummy's Tomb (1942), which transplants the action to the alarmingly unEgyptian hamlet of Mapleton, Massachusetts. Inexplicably, thirty years have passed since the events of The Mummy's Hand, though by all appearances it's still the 1940s. The dying High Priest of Karnak, Andoheb (Zucco again), passes the mantle of responsibility for Kharis' mummy to Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey), who sets up shop in Mapleton as the cemetery's new caretaker. Bey has brought with him Kharis, now played by Lon Chaney Jr., who loved playing the Wolf Man but hated playing the Mummy and wondered why Americans were spending money to see this stuff. Kharis is Bey's tool to bring long-delayed vengeance against the Banning expedition and family. And sure enough, our triumphant heroes from Hand, Banning and Babe (Foran and Ford again, aged via makeup), are disposed of quite unheroically, just like everyone else who gets within Kharis' reach. So the new hero is Banning's grown son (John Hubbard), who doesn't seem much bothered by the brutal murders of his entire family in the house where he is staying alone and unprotected.

    Of course there's plenty of stock flashback footage from Hand, another romantic subplot, and brewed tanna leaves. Again a High Priest fatally falls for the hero's girl, who gets carried off by Kharis, and out comes the beloved Universal tradition of a torch-bearing mob — in modern Massachusetts yet copped from footage from Frankenstein ('31). The Mummy's Tomb is shorter, more briskly paced, and slightly more effective than its predecessor if only due to the lack of embarrassing "humor." The directing is humdrum and the script buckshot with ludicrous components. The good citizens of Mapleton, Massachusetts either exist in a perpetual drugged stupor or else killer mummies and ancient curses are as common there as fedoras. Obvious day-for-night shots make Kharis' requisite full moon a script necessity. With all that, though, it is entertaining and in '42 broke box office records for the year. This is Chaney's first appearance as Kharis and Universal dropped the "Jr." from his name in this and future productions. The Kharis series is on its way up, with the moldy old lover miraculously avoiding obvious destruction to get more to do in the sequels that followed, The Mummy's Ghost and The Mummy's Curse.

    *          *          *

    This double-feature disc is a fine presentation of two movies that are in fair-to-good shape but not digitally scrubbed in any way. Visually and aurally they're far from "pristine," though for prints that have seen a lot of action over the past 60 years their unsurprising flecks, scratches, and collateral wear don't create much distraction. Detail is adequately sharp and the black-and-white contrast is good, particularly in Tomb, where the deep blacks are impressive. Both are in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Few compression artifacts are evident. The audio has more problems here than on others in this Universal Classic Monster series but by and large it's clear and clean enough in its original limited-range monaural (Dolby Digital 2.0). Audio tracks come in English and Spanish, plus English captions and French subtitles.

    Each film's theatrical trailer is on board, plus several click-through screens of nifty Production Notes, Cast & Filmmakers biographies/filmographies, and promo material for the Universal Horror Double Feature Series. Keep-case. (Note: the main menu screen reverses the movies' chronological order. Paired left and right, The Mummy's Hand is on the right.)

    —Mark Bourne

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