Hammer’s 1959 version of The Mummy is being released in the UK as a Limited Edition Blu-ray by Second Sight Films on August 29, 2022. Special Features:
The main feature presented in the original UK theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and alternative full frame1.37:1
New audio commentary by film academic Kelly Robinson
Archive audio commentary by Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby
An Appreciation of The Mummy by David Huckvale
The Music of The Mummy
Unwrapping The Mummy
The House of Horror: Memories of Bray
The Hammer Rep Company
Original Promo Reel
Limited Edition Contents:
Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Graham Humphreys
Soft cover book with new essays by Kat Ellinger, Lindsay Hallam and Kevin Lyons plus production stills
Four collectors’ art cards
Meanwhile, here’s our previous coverage of the movie:
‘Its evil look brings madness! Its evil spell enslaves! Its evil touch kills kills kills!’
The Mummy is a 1959 British horror film directed by Terence Fisher and starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It was written by Jimmy Sangster and produced by Michael Carreras and Anthony Nelson Keys for Hammer Film Productions.
Though the title suggests Universal Pictures’ 1932 film of the same name, the film actually derives its plot and characters entirely from two later Universal films, The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb, with the climax borrowed directly from The Mummy’s Ghost. The character name “Joseph Whemple” is the only connection with the 1932 version.
In Egypt in 1895, archaeologists John Banning (Cushing), his father Stephen (Felix Aylmer) and his uncle Joseph Whemple (Raymond Huntley) are searching for the tomb of Princess Ananka, the high priestess of the god Karnak. John has a broken leg and cannot accompany his father and uncle when they open the tomb.
Before they enter, an Egyptian man named Mehemet Bey (George Pastell) warns them not to go in, lest they face the fatal curse against desecraters. Stephen and Joseph ignore him and discover within the sarcophagus of Ananka. After Joseph leaves to tell John the good news, Stephen finds the Scroll of Life and reads from it. He then screams off-screen and is found in a catatonic state.
Three years later, back in England, Stephen Banning comes out of his catatonia at the Engerfield Nursing Home for the Mentally Disordered and sends for his son. He tells him that when he read from the Scroll of Life, he unintentionally brought back to life Kharis (Lee), the mummified high priest of Karnak. He was sentenced to be entombed alive to serve as the guardian of Princess Ananka’s tomb as punishment for attempting to bring her back to life out of forbidden love. Now, Stephen tells his disbelieving son that Kharis will hunt down and kill all those who desecrated Ananka’s tomb…
The Mummy is a remake -– the result of Universal making a fortune with Hammer’s Dracula and throwing their archives open for the company to plunder in search of new material. However, Sangster’s screenplay dips liberally into Universal’s entire, mostly lamentable Mummy series, cherry-picking the bits that work and discarding the rest. Most notably, it rejects most of the original film, which only featured the bandaged title character in the opening scenes. By the time this film was made, audiences had a good idea of what a mummy movie should feature, and central to that was a marauding mummy.
The Mummy aims for a more epic feel than Hammer’s Frankenstein or Dracula, eschewing the gothic trappings for an atmosphere that is perhaps closer to later fantastical costume dramas such as She. This attempt to bring a touch of class to the film is only semi-successful – the lengthy flashback sequence at the centre of the story certainly tries to be grand, but the budget really doesn’t allow for it, and the funeral procession feels rather scant, truth be told, with props that look decidedly unsolid. Luckily, the rest of the film more than makes up for it. Uniquely in the Mummy genre, this is a film that throttles along, with three or four impressive action set pieces and a story that defies its own thinness. Terence Fisher’s solid, if unimaginative direction keeps the action moving and overcomes the wordiness of Sangster’s screenplay.
Central to the success of the film is Lee’s portrayal of The Mummy. For audiences used to seeing Lon Chaney Jr shuffling along in pursuit of people who could escape him simply by walking at a steady pace, this must have been a revelation. We first see Kharis as he emerges from a swamp, covered in mud and glistening in the moonlight, and right away it’s an imposing sight. It’s not just Lee’s height and stature, though of course, this is impressive – no hunched-over figure here. More significantly, this is a Mummy who moves at speed and has immense physical strength – seeing him tear out the bars of the asylum windows, smash through locked doors and more or less run across the room reveals this to be, uniquely, a mummy that seems a genuine threat. It must have had the same impact as the first time people saw zombies run.
But there’s more to Lee’s performance than sheer brute force. While being buried under monster make-up again must have felt like a step back after Dracula and The Hound of the Baskervilles (and perhaps the flashback scene was also a sop to Lee allowing him dialogue and a regular appearance), his performance here is remarkable. Simply through his eyes and his physical stance, Lee is able to display determination, malice and pathos – his Mummy is, in the end, a tragic figure more than the mindless killer we see in other films. It’s easy to believe that this role could be filled by any stuntman (a belief Hammer clearly shared, given the casting in subsequent films in the series, Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb and The Mummy’s Shroud), but Lee’s performance here shows how wrong that is.
Cushing, conversely, has very little to do for much of the film. While he gives his usual committed performance, John Banning is a fairly bland character who spends much of the film spouting exposition. There is none of the fire and intensity of a Dr Frankenstein, Van Helsing or Sherlock Holmes in this character, sadly, though we get touches of it in the scenes where he battles Kharis one-on-one – these moments are not up to the dramatic climax of Dracula, but they’re not far short and show the chemistry and physicality that Cushing and Lee brought to the roles.
As the real villain, Pastell is suitably evil, though his character is at least allowed to be more rounded than you’d expect. When he argues with banning about the ethics of tomb robbing, you can’t help but think that – murderous mummy rampage aside – he might actually have the moral high ground. Yvonne Furneaux is very beautiful but is given little to do other than let her hair down (apparently, neither Banning nor Kharis can recognise the resemblance to Ananka when it’s tied up!) and then be carried off, swooning, by the Mummy.
Although generally considered the lesser of Hammer’s original trilogy, The Mummy remains a fantastic film – pacey, dramatic and exciting, it is uniquely the only Mummy movie from either the Hammer or Universal series that can be called great (I’m not counting Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb here, of course!).
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA
Buy The Mummy Blu-ray + DVD 3-disc set from Amazon.co.uk
The Mummy was released in the UK on 25 September 1959.
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