Saturday, October 27, 2018

Stubs - The Mummy (1959)

The Mummy (1959) Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux. Directed by Terence Fisher. Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster. Produced by Michael Carreras. Runtime: 88 minutes. UK Color Horror.

Hammer Film Productions is probably best remembered for a series of horror films that it produced between 1959 and 1974, including such films as The Quatermass Experiment (1955), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959). These films would be popular in the United Kingdom as well as the US and would inspire such filmmakers as Roger Corman and American International Pictures, that would also produce their own horror films based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe.

The studio, however, had gotten its start as the home studio for comedian William Hinds, who founded the company using his stage name Will Hammer as the inspiration. Its first film was indeed a comedy, The Public Life of Henry the Ninth (1935). The studio fell on hard times and went bankrupt in 1937. However, the distribution company Hinds had formed with Enrique Carreras, a former cinema owner and émigré from Spain, survived.

Hammer Film Productions made a comeback in 1947 with the British crime film Death in High Heels. In 1951, Hammer and Exclusive signed a four-year production and distribution deal with American film producer Robert Lippert. The two companies would distribute each other’s films as a result.

In 1955, Hammer began filming The Quatermass Experiment, the studio’s first venture into the horror genre. The film was so popular that a sequel was begun. But The Quatermass 2 ended up becoming the film The Curse of Frankenstein, based on a screenplay by American screenwriters  Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky. While it adhered closely to Universal’s Son of Frankenstein (1939), additions and edits managed to get past copyright issues. The film brought together director Terence Fisher with actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, a trio who would drive much of Hammer’s success in the horror genre.

Hammer decided to take on another monster icon, Dracula, but copyright issues were harder to avoid with Universal. A legal agreement between Hammer and Universal was not completed until March 31, 1958 – after the film had been shot. The agreement, however, allowed Hammer to remake other Universal horror films, which lead to The Mummy (1959).

Principal photography on the film began on February 23, 1959, and ended on April 16, 1959. The film was originally released on September 25, 1959, in the UK receiving general release on October 23, 1959. The film, made on a budget of £125,000, was released in the US in December of that year.  While the title suggests the 1932 film, the story is more an amalgamation of plot and characters from Universal’s The Mummy's Hand (1940) and The Mummy's Tomb (1942), with the climax borrowed directly from The Mummy's Ghost (1944), all sequels to the original film.

The film opens in Egypt in 1895 where archaeologists John Banning (Peter 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.

Stephen Banning (Felix Aylmer) and Joseph Whemple (Raymond Huntley) are archaeologists.

Sometime prior, John has a broken leg and is laid up. He refuses to get it set properly and will forever after walk with a limp. Because of his injury, he cannot accompany his father and uncle when they open the tomb.

John Banning (Peter Cushing) is also an archaeologist, but a broken leg keeps him from the dig.

But before they enter, an Egyptian named Mehemet Bey (George Pastell) warns them not to go in, lest they face the fatal curse against desecrators. Of course, Stephen and Joseph ignore him and discover within the sarcophagus of Ananka. Joseph leaves to tell John the good news, leaving Stephen alone inside the vault. While rummaging around, Stephen finds the Scroll of Life and naturally reads aloud from it as he translates it. Outside, members of the archaeological team hear his screams and Joseph rushes back into the tomb only to find Stephen in a catatonic state.

Before the entourage returns to England, the entrance to the tomb is dynamited. Bey stays behind to discover the body of Kharis (Christopher Lee), the mummy that Stephen had brought back to life by his readings.

Three years later, back in England, Stephen is being cared for at the Engerfield Nursing Home for the Mentally Disordered. The doctors figure he’d had a stroke and would never recover. However, he does and sends for his son. When John goes to visit him, Stephen tells him that when he read from the Scroll of Life, he unintentionally brought back to life Kharis, the mummified high priest of Karnak.

Meanwhile, Bey, a devoted worshiper of Karnak, comes to Engerfield under the alias of Mehemet Akir with the intention to wreak vengeance on the Bannings for their desecration of Ananka’s tomb. He hires a pair of drunken carters, Pat (Harold Goodwin) and Mike (Denis Shaw), to bring a crate of artifacts to his rented house. Inside the crate, however, is the slumbering Kharis.

But the two men's driving causes the crate to fall off the wagon and sink into a nearby bog. Bey, surprisingly, isn’t upset. Later, Bey returns and, using the Scroll of Life, exhorts Kharis to rise from the mud. He then sends him to murder Stephen Banning. Like a bloodhound, Kharis knows where to find Stephen.

Mehemet Bey (George Pastell) uses the Scroll of Life
to bring Kharis (Christopher Lee) back from the grave.

Meanwhile, Stephen is put into a padded room and told that no one can hear him. If he needs anything, he has to ring the bell in the room. No sooner is he left alone than Kharis breaks into his room, through an outside window. Rather than ring the bell, Stephen tries the door, which is locked. Too late he decides to try the bell, but before he can ring it, Kharis wrings his neck instead.

Kharis uses the Scroll of Life to try and bring Ananka (Yvonne Furneaux) back from the dead.

The next night, John reads the legend of Ananka to his uncle. The legend tells of the high princess, Ananka (Yvonne Furneaux), who dies while traveling. Rather than taking her back home for burial, Kharis has her body prepped and a chamber built where they are. There is an elaborate and lengthy process at the end of which her tomb is sealed. But Kharis, who is love with the princess, reads from The Scroll of Life in an effort to bring her back from the dead.

As punishment, Kharis' tongue is cut out of his mouth and ...

However, his desecration is discovered and his punishment includes having his tongue cut out and being buried alive near the princess’s sarcophagus.

Kharis is mummified alive and left to stand guard by Ananka's tomb.

Soon after reading him the legend, which Joseph dismisses, he is killed by Kharis. John tries to stop the murder and manages to shoot Kharis at close range, but it is too little too late. Joseph is dead and Kharis escapes.

Police Inspector Mulrooney (Eddie Byrne) is assigned to solve the murders, but he is skeptical about the details John tells him. Mulrooney deals only in "cold, hard facts” and does not believe John's incredible story about a killer mummy, even when John tells him that he is likely to be Kharis' third victim.

As Mulrooney investigates, John notices that his wife Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux) bears an uncanny resemblance to Princess Ananka. Gathering testimonial evidence from other individuals in the community, Mulrooney slowly begins to wonder if the mummy is real.

Bey sends Kharis out to kill John Banning.

Later, Bey sends the mummy to the Bannings' home to kill John. However, when Isobel rushes to her husband's aid, Kharis sees her, releases John, and leaves. When Kharis returns, Bey mistakenly believes John is dead and prepares to return to Egypt.

Police Inspector Mulrooney (Eddie Byrne) finally believes John's story.

Mulrooney tells John that the mysterious man who had hired the drivers to deliver the lost crate lives nearby and is thought by villagers to be an Egyptian. Despite Mulrooney’s advice to the contrary, John goes to pay him a visit. Bey is obviously surprised to learn that John is alive. Their conversation turns to religion and Bey condemns John for archeology’s desecration of Egypt’s holy places.

After John leaves, Bey leads Kharis in a second attempt on John's life. Mulrooney is trying to protect John, but the mummy knocks him out. Meanwhile, Bey takes out another man guarding the house. Kharis enters the house and finds John in his study. John tries to fight back, but Kharis starts to choke him.

Kharis notices how much Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux) resembles Ananka.

When Isobel hears John’s screams, she runs into the house. Kharis at first doesn’t recognize her but at John’s urging she lets down her hair. Seeing her as his beloved Ananka, Kharis lets John go. Bey orders the mummy to kill her, but he refuses. When Bey takes it into his own hands to kill her, Kharis kills him.

Isobel swoons and the mummy picks her up and carries her back to the swamp with John, Mulrooney and other police in pursuit. John yells to Isobel to tell Kharis to put her down. After he reluctantly puts her down, the police open fire, causing Kharis to sink into the swamp, taking the Scroll of Life with him.

Christopher Lee plays Kharis, a role in which he never speaks.

If you’re looking for heart-stopping terror, this Hammer Gothic Horror doesn’t have that quality. Rather it is about the atmosphere and the interactions between the characters. The latter is helped by the acting, which for the most part is pretty good. While Christopher Lee is one of the co-stars, he has the unenviable role of the Mummy, meaning for most of the film he never speaks and is covered head to toe by bandages. Even when he is allowed to be in character, Kharis the high priest, he still is shown silently with narration over his acting.

Peter Cushing plays John Banning in The Mummy.

Peter Cushing plays a British aristocrat pretty well. Though I doubt this was a really challenging role for him, he does make me want to see more of his work. Cushing started out on television and acted in a significant number of Hammer films, horror as well as other genres. He is, however, perhaps, best remembered by modern audiences for his role as Grand Moff Tarkin in the original Star Wars (1977).

French actress Yvonne Furneaux plays Isobel and Princess Ananka (above) in Hammer's The Mummy.

Yvonne Furneaux has a pretty one-dimensional character to play. There’s not much to Isobel except that she resembles Ananka. It’s hard to tell from this role if she’s a good actress or not. She would go onto a significant role in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) the following year.

My favorite actor in the film is Eddie Byrne as Police Inspector Mulrooney. There is something so British about his portrayal. He gets to be a by-the-books sort of policeman but still comes around to believe the very odd story that John tells. It’s a small role, but he brings a lot of life to it.

One of my biggest complaints is a lack of logic that seems to propel the story forward and to its conclusion. If everyone related to the incident with Ananka dies before reaching civilization, how is there such a well-documented legend? How does Kharis know where to find his victims? I can understand the revenge, but he has never seen Joseph nor John but he apparently knows them on sight.

He also seems to be oblivious to manmade weapons, surviving multiple gunshots and a spear run through him but, in the end, he apparently succumbs to a volley from the police in the swamp. If bullets don’t harm him, how do they kill him?

Why is he taking Isobel back to the swamp in the first place? That makes no sense unless he’s trying to kill her? And where does he get the Scroll of Life that he takes with him to his watery grave? The scroll appears in his hand right at the very end, did he have it in his pocket? Does a mummy have pockets?

The Hammer version of the Mummy isn’t bad but it is an example of the old adage, don't remake good films. The original The Mummy (1932), starring Boris Karloff, may have its own flaws, but by comparison, it is a much better film than this. If you have to watch a Mummy film this Halloween season, stick with the original Universal version. The Hammer one only makes you realize how good the original is.

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