Mummy’s Hand, The (1940)
Cast: Dick Foran, Peggy Morgan, Wallace Ford, Tom Tyler, George Zucco
Director: Christy Cabanne
Nutshell: ignorant western archaeologists invoke terrible curse for tomb desecration
“Entertaining blend of chills and comedy” – Maltin
“Effective horror makes this a cream-of-the-crop Mummy” – Blockbuster Guide
“has chills ” – Video Movies Guide
“uninspiring” – Time Out
“Entertaining” – Monster Movies
“entertaining” – Creature Features
Following the massive success of the original Boris Karloff Mummy film, a gleeful Universal studio’s realised that they had stumbled upon a highly lucrative franchise and set about planning several sequels to the classic original. The first of these to appear was The Mummy’s Hand which begins by showing us an wrinkled old high priest in Egypt who is about to keel over. He sends for his son to tell him about the “dark secret of Karnak” before passing away.
Well, apparently 3,000 years ago Princess Ananka died and was buried by her mourning father Aminophis and placed in a tomb. Ananka’s lover Kharis was so grief struck that he refused to believe that she was dead forever. Kharis then broke into the secret chambers and stole the secrets of eternal life and a clutch of tanaa leaves and tried to resurrect Ananka. While doing so he was caught by the Kings men and was condemned to be buried alive – after having his tongue cut off. He was buried along with a box of tanaa leaves – later his body was moved to a cave near Ananka’s tomb so that he would awaken if her tomb was ever desecrated in order to unleash untold devastation upon those who dared to intrude.
The old high priest tells his son that 3 tanaa leaves cooked into a potion should revive Kharis (the Mummy) but in order to get him to carry out vengeance for desecration of Ananka’s tomb, a dose of 9 leaves is required. However, if even one leaf more then 9 is given to Kharis it will have terrible consequences for he will turn into an uncontrollable and monstrous unstoppable killing machine.
Later, in bustling Cairo, a crew of typically brash Americans are gathering for an expedition to Ananka’s tomb where apparently there is a large fortune to be unearthed. The film follows what has become a blueprint plot for most subsequent Mummy films – it’s quite different to the original but has perhaps been more of an influence on the storylines of subsequent Mummy remakes than the original. Events unravel a little like this; there is a flashback to thousands of years ago and a discussion involving the princess Ananka and an obsessive lover who is caught doing something terrible and being punished by death and an eternity devoted to protecting the tomb of his beloved princess. Thousands of years later in the present day we have a bunch of western opportunists arriving in Egypt and naturally they stumble upon Ananka’s tomb, desecrating it and awakening the untold terrors that the curse of the Mummy will bring…same old story.
The Mummy’s Hand is somewhat sidetracked in the first half by an over emphasis on light hearted comedy courtesy of a moronic sidekick to the main man Stephen Banning. To make things worse, there is also a drunkard comical magician who joins the crew along with his pretty daughter (love interest) thus making this a most unlikely bunch of archaeologists in the hunt for Ananka’s lost jewels. Off they go, flouting all local customs and traditions along the way, forcing their way into the secret ancient tomb – all the locals flee in fear of the curse being unleashed but the westerners continue undeterred by the local mumbo jumbo. It’s all terribly familiar Mummy turf, but one ought to remember that this was the first time around for this particular plot. On the night of the full moon the westerners find the stash of tanaa leaves and make a potion from them not knowing about the horror that they will invoke if they use the leaves, especially more than 9 of them. The high priest shows up and proceeds to administer a potion of 9 leaves to the Mummy who then awakens from its slumber and begins its murderous mission of vengeance upon all those who desecrated Ananka’s tomb. An accomplice of the high priest plants vials of tanaa leaf juice in each of the living compartments of the “infidel” westerners so the Mummy can trace them and one by one eliminate them in the most terrible, brutal manner.
The Mummy’s Hand builds to a typically contrived climax as the high priest falls for the magician’s daughter convinced she is the epitome of princess Ananka. The movie is rather flat and shot without the style and imagination that one associated with horror of the classic era. This effort was later shown up hugely by Hammer’s superbly acted and stylish 1959 remake that starred the old firm of Lee and Cushing. Mummy’s Hand suffers for it’s over emphasis on crowd pleasing comedy for long periods of time and when it finally tries to inject some horror into proceedings in the second half, the tension just doesn’t build in the way that it did in classics of the era such as Mystery of the Wax Museum. There is little tension nor horror in evidence in this film and it comes across much more as a lightweight romantic-comedy in the vein of 1999’s remake rather than retain the Guignol horror element of the original or Hammer’s classic. This was only the very first sequel to the classic original and already it looks as though the scriptwriters were running out of steam. This film was followed a few years later by another sequel, The Mummy’s Tomb.