Mummy’s Hand, The (Universal 1940)
By 1940, over at Universal sequels were all the rage. The Mummy’s Hand went into production on the back of successful follow-ups to their Dracula, Frankenstein and Invisible Man franchises. After a hiatus of eight years, it was time to reboot the irresistible tale of the ancient Egyptian star-crossed lovers.
In the original The Mummy (1932), Karloff had brought us a rather stately incarnation in the form of the sun-dried Ardath Bey, which allowed for the merest glimpse of the Mummy himself in the opening moments. Lacking all of its predecessor’s finesse and mystery, The Mummy’s Hand manages to supplant style with substance and gives us the first haunting rendition of the bandaged bad boy as a malevolent and menacingly creepy monster.
Grip of death: Dr Petrie (Charles Trowbridge) is about to discover the strength of The Mummy’s Hand (Universal 1940), as Kharis (Tom Tyler) is restored and egged-on by Professor Andoheb (George Zucco).
With the necessary formulaic approach of Mancunian editor-turned-producer Ben Pivar, The Mummy’s Hand leaps Phoenix-like from the potential ashes of the B-picture low budget doldrums into a sparkling, funny, frightening adventure romp aimed straight at the Saturday matinee kids. Director Christy Cabanne made full use of his meagre $80,000 budget and two-week shooting schedule with intelligent usage of stock footage from The Mummy, cleverly interspersing close-ups of handsome 36 year old cowboy star Tom Tyler with long shots of Karloff. Other economies came in the guise of a score almost entirely lifted from Son of Frankenstein (1939) and working his contract players to the bone in what was often a gruelling 22 hour working day.
Air supply: Peggy Moran cools down Tom Tyler between takes for The Mummy’s Hand (Universal 1940)
It worked; The Mummy’s Hand wrapped just a few days over its unrealistic schedule and a mere $4,000 over budget, and is without doubt the best of the Kharis series, and indeed the only one to imbue the character with a truly fearful evil, rather than the lumbering brutishness of the later Chaney pictures.
Instrumental to the film’s ability to hold itself aloft of its merciless cost cutting is the vibrant and stellar cast. Although infused with a sense of Boy’s Own hi-jinx rather than outwardly obvious horror, The Mummy’s Hand plays its comedy competently and carefully, with Dick Foran and Wallace Ford tastefully interpreting the laughs in Griffin Jay and Maxwell Shane’s taught screenplay. Peggy Moran is strong and sassy as the shrewd heroine, Cecil Kellaway is delightful as Brooklyn magico The Great Solvani and Tom Tyler excels as the resurrected Kharis, lurking in haunted forests and dark alleyways like some 3,000 year old Grim Reaper. But the show is stolen by the deliciously dark George Zucco, resplendent in fez and robes as the stoically faithful Andoheb, ferociously determined to protect the sacred tomb of the Princess Ananka from sacrilegious bounty hunters.
Menacing Mummy: Tom Tyler brought a truly malevolent evil to the role of Kharis in The Mummy’s Hand (Universal 1940). The brutish, lumbering gait was down to more than mere acting; Tyler was already in the grip of arthritis at just 36 years of age.
In among the churned out fodder of the new, dispassionate Universal top brass’s monster machine, The Mummy’s Hand stands fresh and tall as an example of how to make an enduring horror movie without the usually requisite resources of A-picture paradise; it is the only entry in the series, save for Karloff’s briefest menacing of Bramwell Fletcher, in which the Mummy is a real Hollywood monster, long before the verisimilitudinous and predictable plot lines of the three subsequent instalments.