The Mummy (1959)
An early Hammer horror effort, and the first of four in their “Mummy Cycle”, this one leaves me weak in the knees. The color is fabulous. The spooky-factor, perfect (although hardly “nerve-shattering shock!” as advertised on the poster). The ensemble cast, including Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, and George Pastell, is on point. The eyecandy – costume, studio sets, and the gorgeous Furneaux – exquisite.
There are liabilities: the blackface. The story. It isn’t that the story is poor, just clumsily told. For instance: there is an inexplicable three-year window of inactivity which is repeatedly referenced, but never satisfactorily accounted for. Also, we learn the mummy’s origins through a clumsy narrative – Cushing shares the legend of Princess Ananka’s death and interment to a peer. During an inspector’s series of interviews, previous minor characters get to share the screen and tell their bit again – in one case, for the third time. Furneaux, playing both the long-dead princess and Cushing’s early-20th century wife, is entirely wasted in the film, shown only a couple times so the mummy can try to carry her off at the end. Bereft entirely of humor – except for one drunk driving scene – the film lacks a little life.
But I DON’T CARE. The merits outweigh the problems. Also: there’s a great scene towards the end where the mysterious villain Mehemet Bey archly explains to our scientist how wrong-headed, arrogant, and ignorant the British are by marching into tombs and disrupting them. That was pretty satisfying!
Christopher Lee, as both a pre- and post-mummy Kharis, is relegated to acting with his eyes here, and this is enough. He is more than brutish monster – not bothering with menacing anyone, just smashing through a window and strangling your ass – because once he lays eyes on the woman he thinks is his princess, he becomes something else: a creature capable of love.
I ain’t gonna lie, I found it all a bit romantic.
Hammer Horror fans, Lee and Cushing fans, have to watch (or likely, re-watch) this film. A solid hit out of the park for anyone who loves 50s and 60s monster movies!