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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The Mummy (1959)


Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Yvonne Furneaux
Distributor: Second Sight Films


Certificate: PG
Release Date: 29 August 2022

The hidden tomb of the Egyptian Princess Ananka is discovered by John Banning, his father and his uncle. However, John cannot enter the tomb because of his injured leg. His father suffers a seizure inside and blabbers insanely about a mummy and the theft of the Scroll of Life. His father is eventually institutionalised, but even here he is not safe because an Egyptian who had warned them not to enter the tomb has animated Kharis, protector and ultimately avenger of the tomb's desecrators...

This 1959 film was Hammer's third major monster movie, after The Curse of Frankenstein and the excellent Horror of Dracula. At only 60 minutes, this example must have been the shortest of their releases. That's not necessarily a bad thing; the script is short and to the point, and even caters for a flashback to the princess's pilgrimage, death and laying to rest. Some, however, may argue this particular scene is a little long, as it utilises a large percentage of the over-all running time.

Christopher Lee (who else?) is seen as Kharis performing the rituals and sealing the tomb. It transpires that Kharis was in love with Ananka and secretly desecrates the tomb himself in an attempt to revive her using the Scroll of Life. For the crime he is bandaged-up and stuffed in a cupboard for all eternity, guarding her resting place and ready to punish other desecrators.

Lee is simply superb as the mummy of the title, emerging spectacularly from a bog after an accident in transportation, and staggering/lurching menacingly but unsteadily, obviously not used to this walking lark. His performance as the Mummy is very convincing, considering he never utters a single word (a little difficult, I should imagine, having had his tongue cut out). A marvellous acting performance, displaying certain emotions with only his eyes.

The scene where he breaks into a cell in the sanatorium from outside has the appearance of being well-choreographed. It's quick and brutal. The camera stops short of showing the mummy exit by getting a leg-up the wall to the high window, which would have been so humorous I'd have paid good money to see it. I think this is the most convincing look and portrayal I've seen of a cinematic mummy. The Mummy/Mummy Returns and the Tom Cruise version of more recent years have no style in comparison. The gothic period setting additionally aids the overall impression.

Peter Cushing was the consummate professional in every part he played for Hammer films and beyond. Although he pretty much has the central protagonist role here, the short running time and the fifteen minute flashback means than Lee steals much of the limelight – both as the mummy and the priest in love with Ananka. The wonderful Michael Ripper is always worth a mention. He appeared in more films for Hammer than any other actor: in excess of 30! His bit parts are always a delight to behold. In this one he plays a poacher.

As I’ve watched this film several times over the years, reviewed the DVD release way back in 2004 and the previous Blu-ray in 2013, let’s concentrate on the special features. The 2-DVD 1-Blu-ray format of last time is dispensed with in favour of a single Blu-ray Special Edition from Second Sight Films. There is a Rigid Slipcase depicting New Artwork by Graham Humphreys, a Soft Cover Book with New Essays, and Five Collector’s Art Cards. Again, the movie is available in the aspect ratios of 1:66:1 and 1:37:1. There is New Audio Commentary by film academic Kelly Robinson, and a previously available commentary by Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby, who are Hammer experts/historians.

Unwrapping the Mummy – The Making of a Hammer Classic, is an entertaining previously available documentary, as is The Hammer Rep Company (which describes the bit players who returned time and again), and the excellent The House of Horror: Memories of Bray, another documentary following the rise and fall of Bray Studios (this is the extras highlight for me; 45 minutes, and the family atmosphere just shines through). The World of Hammer Episode included last time around is dropped in favour of the new mini-documentary The Music of The Mummy. There is a Stills Gallery and the Original  Promo Reel. Lastly, there is An Appreciation of The Mummy by David Huckvale.

You could pick holes in this like any movie: Why does John Banning repeatedly place himself in harm’s way? Why do the character continue shooting at the mummy when they immediately recognise it is having no effect? If Banning’s wife is the image of Ananka whom Kharis secretly loved, why does he not whisk her off from the start, rather than waste time killing the desecrators of the tomb? But these are trivial matters. The truth is The Mummy is one of Hammer’s better projects. It is beautifully filmed, with sumptuous sets and bold, lavish colours – to the extent of lighting scenes to depict atmosphere (greens within the tomb and red water reflecting death, for example). So, there is plenty to please the enthusiast. In fact, this should take pride in any horror or mainstream film collection.


Ty Power

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