The Mummy (1959)

“He who robs the graves of Egypt dies!”

Joel’s rating: 2 and 1/2 Egyptian royal seals

Joel’s review: So, quick history. This is one of many horror films that British Hammer films made in the ’50s and ’60s based loosely around the Universal monster movies of the ’30s and ’40s. The earliest of these films (based on Frankenstein and Dracula) tried to not be directly influenced by the earlier Universal movies, but by the time Hammer made The Mummy, they had a working deal and could directly utilize the older movies for inspiration.

In this particular version, Peter Cushing plays John Banning. John is part of an archeological team digging in Egypt, a team that includes his father and uncle. The team makes a huge discovery, the tomb of an Egyptian princess Ananka. However, his father, who is leading the team, while alone in the tomb, sees something that scares him so badly that he loses his mind. Three years later, the father is still mentally ill, in a paranoid delirium and fretting that something is out to get him.

Suddenly, he comes to his senses, and he and his son talk about what originally happened. His father had discovered and read the ancient Scroll of Life, and a guardian mummy had come to life! John has a hard time believing his father’s story, but event unfold that point to the unbelievable, that a living mummy stalks the night.

I remember watching this movie as a kid and teenager and liking it, but I haven’t watched it in a couple of decades, so I decided to revisit. I would love to say that it is a great film and very exciting… but I can’t. I’m not saying that it’s bad, but it does miss something that can be found in the Hammer versions of Dracula and Frankenstein that Cushing and Christopher Lee also starred in.

While I love a good movie that takes time to build, this one has a few too many scenes with a lot of talking, just exposition. Yes, a very British filmmaking thing at the time. Some of the exposition is fine, but some scenes drag on. But Peter Cushing is Peter Cushing, and his acting does make some of this worth watching. There is also a certain amount of plot convenience going on, things that happen suddenly to move things along. They aren’t the worst I’ve ever seen, but I did roll my eyes once or twice saying, “Wow, that was fortunate for them!”

When the movie kicks in, though, it has some highly effective scenes. I remember watching the original Universal Mummy movies and thinking that the creature didn’t have much screen time and didn’t seem that threatening. Well, Hammer tried to change all that! Christopher Lee, for one, stands a head taller than anyone else in the cast, and in the mummy outfit, he looks intimidating. Almost every role I have ever seen him in, he commands every scene he is in, and it is no different here.

With no words (except in flashback form of what happened in ancient times), he moves much faster and with more determination than the previous film mummies. In his first major scene, this mummy violently tears its way through metal bars and a window grating to get to his target. Later in the film, we see a potential victim using a rifle and blowing holes into the mummy, and the monster keeps coming. For a movie in 1959, the scenes are very well done. Christopher Lee expresses so much in his eyes and body movements here, reminding me of Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster back in the ’30s.

Simply put, it is a pretty good movie if you don’t mind slower pacing and some talky scenes. But anyone who doesn’t have a taste for older movies like that, The Mummy may not be very exciting. But I’ve always been one that will watch almost anything that Christopher Lee is in, and the good parts of this particular film outweigh the bad for me.

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