“The Mummy’s Hand” was released in 1940, eight years after the ‘1932 classic starring Boris Karloff. Essentially one of the first re-boots in cinema history, ‘The Mummy’s Hand’ is an undeniably fun entry in the Universal Monsters library.
The Mummy’s Hand was not a sequel to the 1932 original starring Boris Karloff. In many ways, The Mummy’s Hand was one of the first reboots of its kind. Taking place at a time when Universal sought to redevelop their Classic Monsters properties, the bandaged creature was one of their premiere choices of monsters to re-introduce to audiences in an exciting, fun, scary, and positively B way. Opening in September of 1940, off of a budget of $80,000, The Mummy’s Hand would be the film to give us Kharis, tana leaves, and a legacy that would ultimately pave the way for 1999 and 2017’s version of The Mummy.
I’ve watched The Mummy 1932 many times and while I used to be more of a fan of the 1959 Hammer picture, I’ve now become a bigger enthusiast for the ’32 classic, directed by Karl Freund and starring Zita Johann. In watching The Mummy’s Hand, it was interesting to see Universal follow up their successful original with a film that virtually has no ties to it. Outside of a Mummy, a mystic pool, and an undying love for a princess, the Griffin Jay and Maxwell Shane written film is most notable in regards to being an “original” story in as far as one could describe The Mummy’s Hand as original. Yet in the 30’s to 40’s where audiences didn’t have the internet and social media to discuss every aspect of film, The Mummy’s Hand surely existed as a more independent and enjoyable film free of being tethered to the original.
The Mummy 1932 is a vastly superior film in almost every way. Boris Karloff’s performance as Imhotep/Ardath Bey is right up there with cinema icons such as Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. (who interestingly went on to play nearly every Universal Monster). The make up by Jack Pierce was ingenious in how we were given a film that focused on the quasi-reality of what it’d be like to have a Mummy walking among us as opposed to the bandaged iconography of the monster we now take for granted. The original classic is deserving of its place in the original legacy of Universal Monsters films and is, in many ways, the definitive Mummy movie.
The Mummy’s Hand, when compared to 32’s Mummy, in many ways is what many devoted fans saw 99’s Mummy as when compared to the 1932 picture. The Mummy 1999 remains as one of my favorite movies of all time, but it’s not to say that the decidedly more Indiana Jones take was not true to the spirit of the original classic. In several ways, The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz is much more like The Mummy’s Hand. In aspects such as the humor of the picture, the more lighthearted approach to horror, and the more adventure than thrills take very much brings to mind what Stephen Sommers gave audiences in May of 1999.
The plot of the William “Christy” Cabanne picture revolves around American explorers Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford) discovering the location of what they believe to be Princess Ananka’s tomb. They approach the Cairo Museum in search of funding, but are turned down by Andoheb (George Zucco) who much like Erick Avari’s Dr. Terrence Bay in 1999, pretends to accidentally destroy Steve and Babe’s Egyptian relic containing the location to the tomb.
English actor George Zucco playing Andoheb is one of the primary foils in The Mummy’s Hand as he’s revealed to be a member of a secret society of priests. In a semi convoluted plot, the priests main objective is the preservation of Kharis, the Egyptian buried alive after stealing the sacred tana leaves in an effort to resurrect the dead Princess Ananka. They have kept Kharis alive over years in a stasis of sorts so that the day Princess Ananka’s tomb is raided, Kharis is to kill all those who enter. As with any great B movie, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ultimately, Steve, Babe, and three new found members – Dr. Petrie (Charles Trowbridge), an American magician named Solvani (Cecil Kellaway), and his daughter Marta (Peggy Moran) travel to the Hill of the Seven Jackals (referencing 1932) and uncover the tomb. It’s Kharis’ tomb they discover and unbeknownst to them, Andoheb has been watching them. The idea of being spied on in a way that’s ultimately comedic when given thought plays to sincere hilarity in the sequel The Mummy’s Tomb. Here, in Hand, it’s played more straight and does actually add to Andoheb’s menace.
Again, as with any great B movie, Kharis is resurrected and begins to kill each member of the expedition. In true Universal Monsters fashion, The Mummy’s Hand is conveniently wrapped up within a tight final ten minutes that sees Steve rescue Marta, defeat Andoheb and Kharis, and have the entire team of main players return to America rich and happy.
The Mummy 1999, anybody?
The Mummy’s Hand is really quite a fun installment in Universal’s Mummy legacy and while some of the humor is dated, it makes for an extremely pleasing and family friendly movie (that will still, as Russell Crowe has said about 2017’s version, “scare the s*** out of you.”) Tom Tyler, best known for playing Captain Marvel, is Kharis and is the first actor to truly present the mummy as a physical threat. This is something that is later played up by Lon Chaney Jr’s impressively physical and burly performance. Tyler was actually an accomplished weight-lifter and the idea of a physical antagonist is something that would later be mirrored in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor with Jet Li as the title character, along with Sofia Boutella in 2017’s version opposite Tom Cruise.
For more on The Mummy’s Hand, please check out the excellent piece on it over at Shock! and stay tuned for more on Hand here at Universal Monsters Universe.
(Steven Biscotti – @reggiemantleIII)