Night #6: The Mummy (1959)

3_the-mummy-40x60-1959

Seems I’ve spent the better part of my life amongst the dead.”

Directed By: Terence Fisher

I figured if I was going to watch one then I might as well watch one of the (many) others. Seriously, if you look up “Mummy” in IMDB you’ll have a whole lot of ‘Curse Of…’ and ‘Rise Of…’ etc. One year, when I’m completely out of ideas, I’ll do 31 nights of Mummy movies.

Can’t wait.

This time though I skipped ahead to 1959 and far away from Universal were a little studio in England who were breaking into the horror business. By 1959 Hammer Studios had already made The Curse Of Frankenstein and Dracula and both were pretty big hits. Both also starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, a double act that for me rates up there with one of the best on film. Though this is essentially a remake of yesterday’s The Mummy, it actually steals a bunch from the two sequels The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb. 

Of the Mummy movies I’ve seen, which admittedly isn’t all that many, this probably ranks up there as the best one. The sets are bigger, the script is better and the technicolour look is fantastic. In this day and age we see a lot of muted colours and saturation, presumably because it makes it more ‘realistic’ or something, but technicolour – particularly when it looks like this – is so much more vibrant and enjoyable. Even though the hokey ‘Egypt’ sets are in a studio somewhere in the English countryside, it’s bright and garish enough that it doesn’t matter. As it turns out, a bit of colour goes a long way.

What’s a little strange is that while the titular character is essentially the villain, he’s also just the sub-villain really. It would be as if they named Die Hard after that blonde German guy who comes back at the end. The real villain is Mehemet Bey (George Pastell) who seeks revenge on the desecration of his ancestor’s tomb. This got me thinking that essentially he’s in the right, he’s just going about it in a really bad way.

You see, at the start there’s an expedition in Egypt (of course). Bey approaches them and asks them to leave the tomb alone but they talk about how they have the right permits etc. So they head into the tomb, wake up a Mummy, discover a princess and a whole bunch of whats sure to be valuable relics. Then they just take it all. Later on Bey brings this up and asks that did they never consider that what was just a bit of history for them was more sacred for him and the people like him? I should give points to the movie for bringing this up since they almost never do, but the movie essentially handwaves it. Cushing explains that without people like him doing their job, the greater world would not know the story of the Egyptians. I can see both sides of it myself, but it’s clear that the movie sides with Cushing.

Like I said, Bey goes about it all in the worst way. He prays to their God, reads from a scroll and just sends Lee out to kill people, which he’s very good at. Then, just when I thought we’d escaped it, we get a last minute reincarnation routine that I could’ve done without. Cushing’s wife appears from nowhere, and wouldn’t you know it, she bares a startling resemblance to the Princess that was buried in the tomb and whom Lee had been guarding (It’s actually a very long backstory that seems to take up at least half the running time, and features the unfortunate sight of Lee in Egyptian face).

There’s always a joy in watching Cushing. He was the consummate professional and from what I’ve seen never phoned it in. Also, a younger Peter Cushing looks like an older Michael Fassbender. It’s uncanny. Lee is also good caked under bandages with just his eyes showing. He manages to put it to good effect and even wrings some pathos from it later on in a scene that’s surprisingly poignant.He’s also a surprisingly physical mummy who doesn’t know about doors and seems to just bust through windows every time he wants to make an entrance. I’m not saying its bad, it just makes it expensive to be his friend.

All in all it’s certainly not the best movie that Hammer put out, but it’s still a good one and well worth your time over any of the others. Hammer themselves put out another two sequels (And in the grand tradition of these movies, they are completely unrelated to this one) which are probably a bit schlockier – the third one actually doesn’t have a mummy in it at all – but if in doubt, always go with the superior remake.

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