Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)
Dir. by Michael Carreras
Written by “Henry Younger” (actually a pen name for Carreras; apparently British film union rules don’t allow a single person to be credited as writer, director and producer, fuck you very much Orson Wells.)
Starring Terence Morgan, Ronald Howard, Fred Clark, Jeanne Roland, George Pastell
Five years after the release of THE MUMMY,* would you believe it happened again? Another team of racist, grave-robbing Brits uncover another tomb of another mummy with another convoluted backstory for us to flash back to, resulting in another string of Mummy-related murders orchestrated by another unfortunate ethnic stereotype and complicated by another Victorian British woman who happens to exactly resemble another ancient Egyptian queen. How can the same thing happen to the same artistic medium twice?
CURSE is functionally a remake of its predecessor, differing in some minor cosmetic ways but essentially replaying the events of THE MUMMY under cover of a new title cynically crafted to evoke the movie that put Hammer on the world stage, CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. In some ways, the plot is probably an improvement on THE MUMMY -- it’s overall a somewhat better structured tale with a more interesting villain. But if it doesn’t have the disjointed narrative of the original, it also lacks its charismatic cast and iconic imagery, resulting in a retread which isn’t improvment enough to justify its existence.
We have essentially an identical setup here: a veteran British archeologist (Jack Gwillim, PATTON, CLASH OF THE TITANS, MONSTER SQUAD), his younger partner John Bray (Ronald Howard, THE BROWNING VERSION, but probably more famous as the son of GONE WITH THE WIND’s Leslie Howard) and the beautiful french daughter (“introducing Jeanne Roland”, “Bond’s masseuse” in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) of some guy who got his hand cut off in the prologue, all find a mummy’s tomb. Just like before, their shifty Egyptian workers are none too keen on this find, particularly Egyptian government agent Hashmi Bey (presumably an identical twin of THE MUMMY’s Mehemet Bey, and again played by unfortunate Cypriot actor George Pastell in the devilish ethnic role) who warns them earnestly against the dangers of stealing these priceless artifacts from their native soil, only to again be dismissed in the rudest and most racist manner possible by our purported heroes.**
Yes, even with 5 years in between then, the beloved racism from the original is back, and more blatant than ever. Our nominal protagonist Bray is such a passive wussy that he barely even notices his fiance is being aggressively seduced by a mysterious Frenchman (Terence Morgan, CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER) whom she met while he was heroically defending her from a vicious hired goon who had already knocked Bray unconscious with the world’s most unenthusiastic karate chop. When he does notice, all he can say is, ‘Oh… uh. I guess I’d better go.’ But he does manage to find the passion to denounce his Egyptian workers as ungrateful, untrustworthy thieves, and ignorant, superstitious murderers, often to their faces (he punches a worker who does not, in his opinion, set a cot down gently enough). Credit to Pastell for looking genuinely shocked and hurt by these tirades, although I get the sense the movie isn’t really much on his side, a feeling somewhat supported when he dies (off-camera) in the most gruesome manner I’ve probably ever seen in a Hammer movie, and the only reaction anyone has is a nonchalant, even somewhat cheerful, “well, that proves our theory [that the Mummy will probably kill someone]!” Also, they have Michael Ripper in brownface as a drunken Egyptian servant named “Achmed,” which might be a tad culturally insensitive, although come on, what ethnicity wouldn’t be delighted to have their own Michael Ripper? I bet all those Egyptian Michael Ripper fans were really jazzed for even this brief fantasy of him as one of their own. Also on the plus side, this movie probably has the most black people I’ve ever seen in a Hammer film. On the minus side, they’re all slaves, so that probably doesn’t really count.
The movie’s two highpoints are the places it diverges most from the original. The first is its crazy twist, in which someone has designs for the Mummy which you would only be able to predict if you watched the movie to the 25-minute mark and they bizarrely telegraphed it by casting one of the modern characters in the requisite Ancient Egypt flashback, but of course they wouldn’t do that, it would make no sense to ruin it that way and then pretend it was a surprise later. Anyway, no problem, it does make for a pretty interesting dramatic hook, though of course one which is also completely unexplored. The other highpoint is that this time the expedition is being funded by a boorish American showman (Fred Clark --woah, SUNSET BOULEVARD and WHITE HEAT!) who wants to shamelessly exploit the Mummy in a traveling carnival, which surely makes sound financial sense but ultimately does not work out too well for him for other reasons. This gives the English a chance to be scandalized just as much as the Egyptians are, but moreover it gives Clark --a charismatic, cigar-chomping John Huston lookalike-- a good opportunity to add a little color to an otherwise bloodless affair of polite Victorian British academics. He’s a fun, dynamic presence and breathes life into the movie every time he’s on-screen, so naturally he’s also the first to die. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. As a bonus, he also explains how turkish delight got its name (Fred Clark named it because it’s Turkish and someone says it tastes delightful), and also he has a rascally monkey that eats some. Never let it be said that I’m above being charmed by a monkey doing people things.
I like those aspects, and I have to compliment director Michael Carreras (regular Hammer producer and occasional director/writer, including of the pretty solid early Hammer thriller MANIAC), production designer Bernard Robinson (THE MUMMY, THE DEVIL RIDES OUT), and cinematographer Otto Heller (THE LADYKILLERS, PEEPING TOM) for crafting quite a handsome production. The Mummy’s Tomb is even more impressive and elaborate this time around, and bedecked with an abundance of meticulously detailed re-created artifacts, many of which are obviously inspired by the ones in the real King Tutankhamun’s tomb. And the rest of the film is artfully lit and sumptuously photographed, even if it lacks the iconic images of Terence Fisher’s original. But all that can’t save the thing from a rather dull, plodding pace and a rather dull, plodding monster. I’ve been complaining for years that a lot of purported Mummy movies don’t actually have any wrapped mummies in them, but I’m beginning to see why. A mummy is basically just a zombie that can’t bite; all it can do is lumber slowly towards people and strangle them. Really seems like he should be easier to avoid than everyone acts like. And, fortunately because I am a bronzed, swoll up, well-toned adonis of a fellow, I can feel perfectly comfortable and not at all hypocritical noting that stuntman and sometimes-actor Dickie Owen’s physique doesn’t quite match up to Christopher Lee’s imposing buffness in the original. In fact, he looks a little on the portly and dumpy side. He’s a stuntman and goes topless for a while in the next sequel, so I think he’s just one of those strong guys who has a naturally husky frame, not a model’s body. But come on, look at this:
Those wrappings definitely don’t do anyone any favors.
Anyway, despite having an actual mummy, a mildly more interesting narrative, and a striking production, there’s not a lot to save this one. It’s uneventful, pretty racist, too shamelessly a retread of the original movie from just five years earlier, and with too few lessons learned in that time about how to strengthen this premise. That wouldn’t stop them from giving it another try three years later, of course. These Mummies really just want to stay dead, but the fuckin’ English, they can’t seem to resist reviving them.
*In both real time and in-movie time, as the original is set in 1895, and this one is set in 1900.
**Members of the Bey family also menaced our deloved white protagonists in the original Universal Mummy series, including one played by John Carradine of all fool people (that’s in THE MUMMY’S GHOST, which seems like a contradiction in terms to me. Is it a Mummy or a Ghost? If it’s a ghost, it’s just the ghost of a person, right? Being a mummy or a ghost are both possible but mutually exclusive outcomes of being undead. Even if you were alive and then died and then became a mummy and then died a second time and became a ghost, it’s still just a ghost, not a “Mummy’s Ghost.” You wouldn’t say “the corpse’s ghost,” would you? Cut out the middle man!)
COMPENDIUM OF HAMMER'S MUMMY CYCLE:
1959: THE MUMMY
1964: CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB
1967: THE MUMMY'S SHROUD
1971: BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB