The Mummy (1959)

Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Eddie Byrne, Felix Aylmer, Raymond Huntley, George Pastell, George Woodbridge, Harold Goodwin, Denis Shaw, Willoughby Gray, Michael Ripper

Directed by Terence Fisher

Expectations: High. The Mummy was my favorite Universal horror film as a kid.


For the final film of my four film Hammer series, I decided to go with the hallowed tale of The Mummy, a standby favorite monster of my childhood via the 1932 Universal film starring Boris Karloff. What was always interesting to me about that film was Karloff’s vulnerability and the fact that while he was killing people and generally doing wrong, he had a reason to do so that was understandable. He was a sympathetic monster and coupled with the copious Egyptian motifs, I was powerless to the power of the mummy.

So going into Hammer’s take on the tale, there was a pretty high hill to climb. Unfortunately, I can’t say what I’ve said in all the previous Hammer reviews, that “This one is even better than the Universal version!” I stand firmly by the original, and while I did greatly enjoy Hammer’s film, I thought it was slower than it needed to be. When your monster is a shambling corpse wrapped in ancient bandages and caked with thick swamp mud, you do get something of a pass, but I can’t excuse away all of the film’s crawling pace.

Similar to my thoughts on their Dracula, I am intimately familiar with the general story, so it’s not as interesting to me as it should be to a first time viewer. That is not to say that Hammer’s film directly follows the path of the Universal film though, on the contrary it only follows the general framework of that story. Where it deviates, it succeeds, but not enough to make me go apeshit like The Curse of Frankenstein or The Curse of the Werewolf. Perhaps if this was called The Curse of the Mummy (and what better film for a title with “The Curse” in it?), I would have enjoyed it as much as I did those.

The Mummy was filmed in stunningly colorful Technicolor and it is an absolute joy to take in. Every shot is filled with rich colors and wonderfully constructed and dressed sets. This may very well be the winner of the art design prize among the four Hammer films I’ve reviewed over this month, as these sets, particularly the Egyptian tomb, are incredibly realized. It is important to note how each one of these Hammer films looks and feels completely different from one another. They all share incredible art design and sets, but they all feel unique and special. If there is set sharing going on (and I’m sure there is), they hide it extremely well. As a Shaw Bros. fan, I don’t mind seeing the same set in nearly every film, but it is impressive to see just how unique Hammer can make their films on a limited budget.

The cast is once again excellent as expected. Peter Cushing plays yet another dashing hero, and Christopher Lee plays yet another tortured monster. They both throw a different energy into their respective roles than what has been seen in previous films, making The Mummy feel like a variation on a theme. Peter Cushing has a few moments in the intro to the film where he plays off of his elderly father, revealing a youthful adventuring spirit to the character that doesn’t add much to the overall film, but it impressed me in the moment. Christopher Lee gets less time to shine, with most of his screentime coming under the mummy’s muddy bandages, but he does well as the monster and as the priest in the flashback. When he first comes out of the swamp, he looks incredibly tall, reminding me why he always played the monster!

By far the most interesting and engaging scene of the film is the Egyptian flashback to ancient times, when Christopher Lee still had supple flesh and burning love for a pretty girl. The flashback to Ancient Egypt was always my favorite scene of the Universal film, and as much as things change, they stay the same. This flashback actually does beat Universal’s, as the stunning sets and color cinematography are nothing short of fantastic. The Egyptian funeral rites are shown in lavish, fun details and the viewer is walked through the scene by a knowledgeable narrator who informs us what we are seeing as if it were a National Geographic special. That may not sound like a flattering description, but trust me, it works perfectly.

The Mummy is probably the closest in feel to a Universal horror film, and as such I thought it was less than it could have been. Make no mistake, there’s some fantastic scenes contained here that make the film fun and rewarding, but as I’m so familiar with the story, it was somewhat slow and boring for me. I did enjoy the mummy’s skills in entering scenes though, usually busting right through double doors in one swift swipe of his bandaged arms. And I would be remiss not to mention the mummy’s makeup. It looks incredible and holds up considerably well. The Mummy is still an effective, solid version of the tale, and one that classic horror fans should definitely check out for themselves.

Come back tomorrow as I take a look at another episode from Showtime’s Masters of Horror series!

2 comments to The Mummy (1959)

  • I remember watching this as a kid (yeah, as a KID, okay mom?!) and thinking it was all a bit…. well… fake. I haven’t watched this in years, though… perhaps it’s time for a look once more. I miss Peter Cushing…..

    • Peter Cushing is awesome, no doubt. I didn’t think it looked all that fake, but maybe I’m more forgiving to old makeup than you are. There’s a couple times when the mummy gets shot in the chest, his bandages ripping and dust flying out from the wound, that I thought looked great! And his big reveal in the swamp was awesome! Lemme know if you do watch it again.

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