Thursday, February 9, 2012

#542. The Mummy (1959)

Directed By: Terence Fisher

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux

Tag line: "Torn from the tomb to terrify the world!"

Trivia:  A door that Christopher Lee must crash through was accidentally bolted by a grip before the scene is shot. Lee's shoulder was dislocated when he broke down the door, but the shot remains in the movie

Having already tackled both Frankenstein (1957's The Curse of Frankenstein) and Dracula (Horror of Dracula in 1958), Hammer Studios took the next logical step by updating the 1932 Universal classic, The Mummy, and who better than their two most proficient actors, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, to take the helm, with Lee once again hidden behind layers of make-up, and Cushing doing whatever it takes to destroy him.

During an expedition to Egypt, archeologist John Banning (Cushing) inadvertently desecrates the tomb of an ancient Egyptian Princess named Ananka, an act that brings her mummified lover, Kharis (Lee), back to life, looking for revenge. To this end, Kharis follows Banning to England, but the appearance of Banning’s young wife, Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), ignites the creature's passion, reminding him of a love he lost long ago. 

As you might expect (especially since it's a Hammer production), The Mummy looks great. What's more, director Terence Fisher also relies on a little creative lighting to enhance key moments in the film. When Banning’s father (Felix Aylmer) and uncle (Raymond Huntley) first enter the newly discovered burial chamber of Princess Ananka, the area is adorned with many of the usual Egyptian props, like a statue of the God Anubis, and hieroglyphics filling just about every inch of wall. Yet despite the ornate decoration, it all feels a bit sparse (especially when you consider it's supposed to be the final resting place of a Princess). So, to distract from the empty spaces, Fisher cast a green light over the sarcophagus, bright enough to draw our attention directly to it.

But the film's most striking scene is undoubtedly the flashback sequence, set thousands of years in the past, which reveals exactly how the mummy came to be. Once a High Priest, Kharis had fallen in love with the Princess, a love so strong that he broke sacred law by attempting to resurrect her from the dead. Aside from the sequence's impressive set pieces, Fisher also fills us in on a little history, giving the audience an insider’s view of the mummification process. The design team did a magnificent job making this scene, and others, look spectacular. Rarely do these individuals receive the recognition they deserve, so let me correct that now by mentioning Bernard Robinson, who handled the Production Design on The Mummy, and Don Mingaye, the Assistant Art Director. Charles Davis was the Master Carpenter, Molly Arbuthnot the Wardrobe Supervisor, and Andrew Low the resident Egyptologist. 

The combined talents of Cushing, Lee and Fisher may have made The Mummy an interesting film, but they didn't do it all by themselves.

1 comment:

tjpieraccini said...

I like The Mummy a lot, but I do think the actual emergence of Kharis (again in flashback) is not well-handled, overall. The shot of the Mummy coming up behind Banning Snr lacks both subtlety and dynamism (although it is followed by a very effective close-up cut from Banning to the face of Kharis). The Karloff version (where you see almost nothing) is more effective. Hammer were never going to take that approach, but I do wish some kind of middle ground had been found...