Mummy, The (1959)
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux
Director: Terrence Fischer
Nutshell: Quite simply the best Mummy movie of them all
Reviewed by: Dr. Ali Khan
“Awe inspiring” Time Out
“Captures the murderous ferocity” Creature Features
Hammer resurrected the Mummy saga with their retelling of the tale after Universal had launched the character back in the 1930s. The storyline is familiar enough. A group of British archaeologists discover and enter the tomb of the Princess Ananka. Inadvertently they also bring back to life Ananka’s doomed lover and eternal protector – the Mummified High Priest, Kharis.
The Mummy’s quest remains to destroy those that desecrated the tomb of the Princess. In this he is assisted by a faithful Egyptian subject who transports the Mummy to England where the separate team members have now returned.
Hammer’s version has rightfully come to be acknowledged as a classic in its own right. For so many years Hammer’s films remained at the receiving end of some less than complimentary critical remarks but more recently their place in the development of horror films has come to recognised, and rightly so. This remains one of their most complete films and is directed by Hammer’s most accomplished director – Terrence Fischer.
Fischer had already done a brilliant job with Hammer’s redefinition of Dracula and Frankenstein (in Curse of Frankenstein) and the retelling of this classic was equally impressive. By now Hammer had begun to develop their distinctive style and much of this was due to the continuity in their production team. Bernard Robinson, Hammer’s production designer created in The Mummy, the look that was to define Hammer for years to come. The glittering ancient tombs, the misty countryside, the dark, steamy swamps, the wonderfully old world Victorian houses of aristocrats are all in evidence in the Mummy.
There is also clever use of colour with blues particularly evident in the Egyptian flashback scenes and greens predominating when the monster is on screen. Despite some not too well painted sets the film is generally a well-photographed film and this accentuates the brooding menace and atmosphere of the film. In creating atmosphere the film is also helped by an excellent musical score. Fischer does an excellent job in injecting ‘urgency’ into the otherwise lumbering creation of the protagonist. His Mummy crashes through doors and windows and moves with chilling purpose when required to.
The killings and attack scenes are particularly energetic. But Fischer never discards atmosphere at the expense of action. The Mummy’s resurrection from the swamp is a wonderful scene and the creatures approaching shadow before it crashes through the window is brilliantly executed. The appearance of the Mummy is also a departure from the loose bandages that viewers had become use to. Now caked in mud, the Mummy is a much sleeker and more imposing figure. It helps to have Christopher Lee’s large frame fitting into the bandages.
Much of the new physical and dynamic nature of the Mummy can be attributed to Lee being the ‘man behind the mask’. Peter Cushing is as brilliant as ever – polished, professional and simply irreplaceable. Another flawless performance from the master. The two are well supported by George Pastell who plays the Egyptian Mehmet Bay and Yvonne Furneaux who has a small but key role as Cushing’s wife and the reincarnation of Princess Ananka. The Mummy is Hammer at its best and what else can you expect when you have Cushing, Lee and Terrence Fischer together. A must see for classic horror fans and a delight for Hammer’s followers.