Monday, October 06, 2014

Mummy Monday | The Mummy's Hand (1940)

Who's In It: Dick Foran (Black Legion), Peggy Moran (King of the Cowboys), Wallace Ford (Freaks), Cecil Kellaway (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?), George Zucco (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, House of Frankenstein), and Tom Tyler (Stagecoach, The Adventures of Captain Marvel).

What It's About: A down-on-his-luck archeologist (Foran) and his partner (Ford) discover a map to an important tomb and convince a fellow American (Kellaway) and his daughter (Moran) to finance an expedition. Unfortunately, the tomb is guarded by an evil priest (Zucco) and a living mummy (Tyler).

How It Is: Not so much a remake of the 1932 Mummy as it is a reboot of the concept. It uses the same backstory for the mummy's creation. In fact, it reuses the same footage from the flashback scenes of The Mummy, replacing Boris Karloff with Tom Tyler in the parts where we get a good look at his face. But as you can tell from the plot description above, that's where the similarities end.

The Mummy's Hand was 15 years before Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, but there's a strange, Abbott and Costello schtick going on between Foran and Ford's characters. Foran's the straight man, while his partner Ford is a short, chubby, cowardly goof named Babe, which even sounds like the name of a Lou Costello character. Hand isn't a comedy, but it has a lighter heart than the Karloff film. Kellaway's character, for instance, isn't just a guy with money; he's a successful stage magician who loves showing off tricks and baffling his audience. Especially Babe.

The plot is lighter too. Moran's character isn't the reincarnated soul of the mummy's lost love and the mummy doesn't actually have a lot to do. He doesn't even speak, thanks to an addition to the backstory where his tongue was cut out prior to his mummification. The real villain of the piece is Zucco's priest, who's willing to use the mummy as a murder weapon to protect the tomb's secrets. Late in the movie, Zucco falls in love with Moran and tries to immortalize her and himself as the mummy keeps the good guys at bay. Instead of the gothic romance of Karloff's Mummy, The Mummy's Hand is mostly an adventure story.

That makes it more fun in a lot of ways, but also frustrating. I like Tyler's silent, shambling mummy. He's exactly what people think of when they imagine mummy movies. And maybe this is sacrilegious, but I like him better than Karloff's version. What's frustrating is that since he's just a weapon used by Zucco, he's really not important to the story and only even appears after a half-hour, which is significant in an hour-long film.

Another frustrating element is Moran's character. Especially after the way that Zita Johann's character so successfully looked after herself in the Karloff movie, it's hard to see Hand's only female stand around useless except when it's time to be kidnapped and rescued.

Rating: Three out of five mute, meandering monsters.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

Its curious how so many people remember the sequels of the big monster movies. Like how the Frankenstein monster walked with his arms out and shuffled around, but he didn't do that until Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

Here we get the now famous bandaged zombie walk mummy and introduces more of the treasure hunter adventure comedy elements that would be used in the 90s reboot series.

Michael May said...

I'm guessing it has everything to do with the Universal monsters' resurgence in the '60s. The people who were kids at the time of the original movies were old enough to make new material with those creatures to share with a new generation of kids.

My theory is that since they were taking what they remembered as children and making new stories for yet more children, they went with the simplest, most cartoony versions of the monsters.


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