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You've been around to Molly Grady's again...
on 15 April 2009
Following Hammer's initial success with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958), Universal, the spiritual home of the classic horror film, afforded Hammer the opportunity to overhaul their entire back-catalogue of monster movies in the same vein. In response, between 1959 and 1962 Hammer made several horror films, that, whilst not exactly remakes of Universal's movies, owed something to them in one way or another. The first of these, The Mummy (1959), is one of the very few Hammer movies that is directly inspired by the Universal canon, and, unlike their strikingly original versions of the Frankenstein and Dracula myths (which bore almost no resemblance at all to the Universal versions), it is almost entirely made up of elements and motifs from the earlier series. Despite an unusually good cast for a Hammer film (Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are joined by Felix Aylmer, Raymond Huntley, and French actress Yvonne Furneaux), and some typically late-1950s' Hammer boldness in terms of upping the ante with the sex and violence of the story, the film remains a mere pastiche of incidents and plotlines from the Universal series (the Mummy's name, the reason for his rampage, and the notion of him finding a re-incarnation of his ancient love are all taken from the older films). Whilst the film's catalogue of back-breakings and tongue-slicings might have seemed gruesome when it was first released, when viewed today it lacks the freshness of the best of the early Hammer horrors. The tone is uneven, with the middle portion of the film devoted to an unnecessarily lengthy flashback to ancient Egypt (which fails to convince, despite the relatively exotic good looks of Lee and Furneaux), whilst the comic relief is perhaps a little broader than is usual, even for Hammer. Director Terence Fisher has trouble keeping up the pace of the story, and the film really only springs to life during the athletic brawls between Cushing and Lee; even the Mummy's eventual destruction by a load of gun-toting villagers is something of an anti-climactic damp squib (and is yet another Universal device). Furthermore, the performances seem a little stifled; despite several longing looks in Furneaux's direction, Lee can't really do much with the silent, impersonal Mummy (and his awkward, unsteady walk is actually quite comical), whilst Cushing is somewhat bland and boring as an archaeologist marked for death; only in his one scene opposite religious fanatic George Pastell does he seem genuinely interested in what is going on around him.
The most telling thing about Hammer's version of The Mummy is the current certificate of this DVD release; whilst the old `X'-ratings of most Hammer horrors have been down-graded to `15' or even `12' as the decades have gone by, The Mummy is one of the very few that today sport the lowly `PG' tag.