Review: THE MUMMY (1959)

Hammer Film Productions takes on yet another classic horror character with THE MUMMY, a 1959 kick at the sarcophagus that is a reworking of a few of Universal’s MUMMY sequels. The movie is directed by Terence Fisher with a screenplay by Jimmy Sangster, while Jack Asher handles the cinematography. The flick deals with some interesting elements, like the concept of defiling a foreign culture and the notion that said foreign culture would come for its ponderous, bandaged reprisal.

The action begins in Egypt in 1895, with Stephen Banning (Felix Aylmer) and his son John (Peter Cushing) searching for the tomb of Princess Ananka. Much to the chagrin of Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), the Bannings locate the so-called Scroll of Life. Something goes awry, however, and Stephen is thrust into a catatonic state and thrown in a nuthouse. John tracks the case and discovers that his father is telling the truth about what he senses. What’s more, Mehemet Bey surfaces with a mummified priest (Christopher Lee) – the guardian of the princess’ crypt – and all hell breaks loose.

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Mehemet Bey first arrives on the scene with a warning: don’t mess with Egyptian customs. Nevertheless, the Bannings are determined to seek their archeological fortune. They are, in essence, grave robbers and their act of insolent desecration does not go unnoticed by the spirits of ancient Egypt. This is the stuff of profound lore, with some kind of mystic historic world casting its revenge at modern society and all its scientific trimmings. Fisher’s film zeroes in on this, with Cushing’s character arguing for the potential legitimacy of myth.

But THE MUMMY naturally suggests that the myth is real. In this instance, it’s played by Lee and bound up in the muck and mire of antiquity. It comes crashing through doors and can take more than a few bullets. It is a force that only finds weakness in Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), who so resembles the eminent princess that it stops the mummy in his tracks. This, the flesh and blood power of bygone customs and its kinship with modern beauty, is what smartly slays the beast. Fisher understands this and lights Furneaux accordingly, setting alight the passing of countless others in the process.

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