Horrormania: The Mummy’s Hand (1940)

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(From now until Halloween, the Canadian Cinephile will be taken over by pure, unadulterated FEAR. No, I’m not commencing an Adam Sandler marathon. I will be reviewing some of the most spine-chilling, bloodcurdling horror movies, with this year’s trip covering those freaky films released prior to 1970. There will be a special focus on Universal’s classic monster pictures, so bring your hot cocoa. It’s going to be a dark and scary ride. Sort of.)

Directed by Christy Cabanne, The Mummy’s Hand is a follow-up to the 1932 film The Mummy. It’s hard to consider this 1940 motion picture as a sequel to The Mummy, as there aren’t many ties to the predecessor. It even changes the focus from the titular character to a floppy sort of adventure-comedy outing that just so happens to feature an Egyptian backdrop.

The Mummy’s Hand is a dated buddy comedy wherein the women are helpless damsels and/or unseen dames named “Poopsie” and the men are swashbuckling good ol’ boys afraid of the suspicious natives. This reworking of the Mummy mythos brims with clichés, but some good character acting from George Zucco sets this above the dustbin.

The film opens with Zucco as Andoheb, an Egyptian summoned by the High Priest of Karnak (Eduardo Ciannelli). Andoheb is told of the existence of the mummy Kharis (Tom Tyler), who can be brought back to life with tana leaves during the cycle of the full moon. Archeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and his pal Babe (Wallace Ford) is also in Egypt. They find an ancient vase and hope to explore a tomb.

Steve and Babe enlist the help of the magician Solvani (Cecil Kellaway) and his daughter Marta (Peggy Moran) to head out into the desert to search for the tomb. Along the way, Andoheb tries to stop them and the mummy is brought to life to maraud through camp. Andoheb even snags Marta, which sends Babe and Steve out to get her back.

The main villain of the piece is Zucco’s Andoheb, with the mummy mostly used as a useful weapon. The mummy’s mythology is pressed into the service of the plot, serving as an incidental detail rather than a major thrust. This turns Tyler’s nondescript antagonist into a monster of the week rather than a layered, important fixture and that hurts the film.

Steve and Babe are prototypical 1940s adventure heroes, with Babe coming up with the comic relief and Steve playing the white bread hero. Naturally, Marta falls for Steve after a few entanglements. And naturally, Babe and Steve spend an awful lot of the movie exchanging what’s supposed to be playful banter. Their desert-dry “conversations” actually drag The Mummy’s Hand back to the tomb.

With the mummy a non-threat and Steve and Babe non-heroes, it falls to Zucco to make this movie tick. Luckily, he’s up to the task. His character is over-the-top and pleasantly mad, demonstrating the real menace to the heroes and coming up with all sorts of tricks to keep the lads from finding the tomb and discovering the secret of the tana leaves.

Regrettably, Zucco’s not enough to help The Mummy’s Hand overcome its many faults. It’s closer to the 1999 remake than Karl Freund’s predecessor, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. Brendan Fraser’s pulpy Rick O’Connell has a lot of Steve Banning in him, to be sure, and Cabanne’s film lays some adventure movie foundations without proving very audacious.

But there are many dubious scenes that underline the picture’s lack of aptitude, like when the boys get their guns out and start shooting anything that moves or when Marta curiously shoots a heart into the wall to prove she’s a good shot and never picks up a gun again. It’s too bad Moran is left to lurk on the sidelines in The Mummy’s Hand, but such is this movie’s treatment of women.

At best, this is a forgettable adventure film with some horror elements. At worst, it’s a slovenly and second-rate mummy movie that makes little use of its supernatural antagonist. The characters are dull, the action is inadequate and the plot moves at a snail’s pace despite having so little ground to cover. As such, it’s best to leave The Mummy’s Hand in the desert where it belongs.

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