Christy Cabanne, 1940
Starring: Dick Foran, Peggy Moran, George Zucco, Wallace Ford, Tom Tyler
Directed by prolific silent film director Christy Cabanne (who at Universal did he piss off to land this job?), The Mummy’s Hand is a follow up, though not a sequel, to the Karloff film The Mummy. With a mostly different plot and new characters, this is the first of four films to focus on the mummy Kharis, determined to protect and resurrect his ancient love, the Princess Ananka, at any cost. This was followed by the increasingly worse and randomly named The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost, and The Mummy’s Curse.
A lengthy prequel introduces us to Andoheb, an Egyptian priest who is intended to replace the dying High Priest of Karnak. The High Priest tells him the story of Kharis, a priest who loved the Princess Ananka and attempted to restore her to life after her untimely death, using the sacred and forbidden tana leaves. For this Kharis is punished and damned to eternal life, buried alive with his tongue cut out. The High Priest explains that it is now Andoheb’s job to guard Kharis and the tomb of Princess Ananka, and he leaves instructions on how to revive the monster if her tomb is opened. Two American archaeologists, Steve Banning and his wisecracking friend Babe Jenson, discover an ancient vase in Cairo that leads them to Ananka’s tomb.
Andoheb, now secretly High Priest, is also a director of the Cairo Museum and hopes to stop them. Banning and Jenson meet a wealthy American magician named Solvani who agrees to fund their expedition, though his lovely young daughter thinks they are up to no good. They set out towards Ananka’s tomb accompanied by Solvani and Marta, his daughter. First they find Kharis, who is accidentally awakened and slowly begins a killing spree across the camp. Andoheb further complicates things by attempting to inject himself and Marta, who he has a crush on, with the tana leaf serum so that they can become immortal, but she is rescued just in time and Andoheb is killed. Banning attempts to deal with Kharis and prevent him from drinking any more of the tana liquid. A la Frankenstein, fire destroys the monster and the archaeologists are able to take Ananka’s tomb triumphantly back to the U.S.
There aren’t a whole lot of positive things I can say about The Mummy’s Hand. It is essentially a low budget adventure-horror film intended to keep the Universal horror train churning along and is only recommended for die-hard Universal or Mummy fans. If you’re going to watch any of the four Kharis films, this is probably the only one that doesn’t descend into utter ridiculousness. There are certainly some imaginative differences between The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy, namely the fact that the high priest Andoheb has his own secret society dedicated to watching over Kharis and his Princess. They manage to infiltrate Steve’s group of workers, leaving behind an effective feeling of paranoia absent from the first film. Aside from some basic horror elements, this is mostly an action film with a monster and focuses on treasure hunters who raid the wrong tomb and are hunted by an undead monster who dispatches them one by one.
The most unfortunate parts of The Mummy’s Hand are the comedic elements provided by Babe (Wallace Ford). Not only is his delivery grating, but his frequent comic interruptions ruin any chance the film has at attaining moments of real suspense or horror. It is certainly a far cry from the moody terror of The Mummy. The character of the mummy and high priest, which were combined in Imhotep (Karloff) in The Mummy are here split into Andoheb (George Zucco) and Kharis (Tom Tyler). Fortunately Universal regular George Zucco (the 1939 remakes of The Cat and the Canary and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and many others) brings charm to Andoheb, the high priest who also doubles as the museum curator and has a network of spies at his disposal. Though Kharis doesn’t appear till the second half of the film, Universal make up legend Jack Pierce does an excellent job with the shuffling, bandaged creature, particularly with his black, empty eyes, a clever post-production effect. It is unfortunate that Tyler (a regular Western actor) was replaced by Lon Chaney, Jr. for the remaining sequels, as he is more effective that Chaney’s lumbering (and probably drunken) gait.
The romantic lead, Marta, who Kharis inexplicably wishes to sacrifice (again, deviating from the plot of the first film to The Mummy’s Hand’s detriment) is played somewhat blandly by Peggy Moran and I can’t help but feel that she is totally wasted here and basically shoehorned into the plot. Instead of the Mummy believing her to have a connection with his lost love, she is just a random woman. It feels like she was written in solely for the scene at the end of the film when Kharis carries her off to kill her. As visually appealing as this is, it’s just not enough to justify an entire character or her barely existent romance with Steve (Dick Foran), which is limited to a kiss and one or two lines of dialogue.
Though the film is quick paced and will probably delight anyone who was upset at the lack of mummy in the first film, it does not take itself seriously, as The Mummy did, and can only be enjoyed for its sheer ridiculousness. Universal was clearly beginning to give up here, as some plot elements are recycled from The Mummy, and footage from other films is reused such as the opening flashback scenes, which are taken from The Mummy, and the impressive temple shots, which are stolen from James Whale’s (Frankenstein) adventure film Green Hell.