Monster #32 - The Mummy


USA, 1940

A Universal Pictures Production
67 mins, black & white, 1.37:1 aspect ratio
Shot on 35mm film

Director - Christy Cabanne
Writer - Griffin Jay
Screenplay - Griffin Jay, Maxwell Shane
Cinematographer - Elwood Bredell
Production Design - Jack Otterson, Russell A. Gausman (sets), Vera West (costumes)
Make-Up - Jack P. Pierce (uncredited)
Special Effects - Syd Pearson
Editor - Philip Cahn
Music - Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner (both uncredited)

Dick Foran (Steve Banning), Peggy Moran (Marta Solvani), Wallace Ford (Babe Jenson), Eduardo Ciannelli (High Priest), George Zucco (Andoheb), Cecil Kellaway (Mr Solvani), Tom Tyler (The Mummy)

PLOT SUMMARY - Down on his luck archaeologist Steve Banning discovers a vase in Cairo that he believes could lead him to the ancient tomb of Princess Ananka. But unknown to him, his colleague Professor Andoheb is secretly also the High Priest of Karnak who holds the secrets to Kharis, a mummy guarding Ananka's tomb. Financed by a magician and his daughter, an expedition is launched to the grave site - where the awakended Kharis awaits them...

When Universal found itself with two immensely successful horror movies in 1931 - Dracula and Frankenstein - it was clear that more was to follow, and in 1932, the studio's new star Boris Karloff (billed as "Karloff the Uncanny") starred in The Mummy. Quite unlike Dracula and Frankenstein, however, The Mummy lacked a literary source, and this blank canvas was filled with an original story and screenplay by Richard Schayer and Nina Wilcox Putnam. The result was a movie full of what would become classic imagery and atmosphere.

The Mummy never quite reached the level of awareness of its two predecessors, yet still enjoyed a moderate box office success and spawned several follow-up movies from Universal - of which The Mummy's Hand is the first.

The movie is not an actual sequel, since the Mummy is now called Kharis (as opposed to Karloff's Imhotep) and is awakened by mystical leaves (and not a magic incantation from the life-giving "Scroll of Thoth"), but The Mummy's Hand itself saw three subsequent movies starring Kharis.


Poster advertising Universal's 1932 The Mummy with Boris Karloff

Whilst it is definitely the strongest of Universal's four movies featuring Kharis the Mummy, The Mummy's Hand does not compare too well to its predessor from 1932. Produced in May and June of 1940 on a modest budget of $ 80,000, the movie was shot using a number of cost-cutting measures, which included inserting stock shots taken from the original Mummy, using leftover studio sets from James Whale's film Green Hell, and featuring a musical score almost entirely lifted from Son of Frankenstein (Weaver, Brunas & Brunas, 1990).

  The result has its strong moments, but overall comes across as a fairly unbalanced end product which, even at a running time of just 67 minutes, takes forever to get into gear before ending on a stronger note.

Tom Tyler, who previously appeared mostly in Westerns, underwent an excruciating make-up process which took hours to complete and left him unable to speak (Weaver, Brunas & Brunas, 1990), but his screen presence - although menacing enough - lacked the impact and weight Karloff had given the role under similar circumstances.

First released in the USA in September 1940, the movie received mostly underwhelming reviews and, unlike most other Universal horror movies from the 1930s and early 1940s, was never reissued for theatrical release in the late 1940s and early 1950s (Weaver, Brunas & Brunas, 1990).

The Mummy's Hand has been available in various forms since the days of laserdiscs and VHS cassettes; I only got around to watching it after buying Universal's 2017 UK Bluray release (a double feature with the second Kharis movie, The Mummy's Tomb from 1942). The image and sound quality of this are excellent, given the age of the source material, and the 2k 1080p resolution provides for what is most likely the best quality release of this movie available.

Visually The Mummy's Hand is a solidly made film, but Universal are nowhere near at their best here, with The Mummy starring Boris Karloff being by far the better film - which somewhat begs the question why Denis Gifford chose this movie over the 1932 film.
The answer can be found in his Pictorial History of Horror Movies:

"[The Mummy] also revealed a waste: Karloff's mummified monster had walked in but one short scene. Griffin Jay, a writer of radio mysteries, elaborated that single sequence into a whole new mythos [for The Mummy's Hand]." (Gifford, 1973)

In other words: whilst the 1932 movie set the iconic theme and atmosphere, the iconic image of the bandage-wrapped Mummy constantly lurking towards its victims was introduced in The Mummy's Hand.

It also introduced the additional punishment of cutting out the perpetrator's tongue prior to embalming him alive, "so the ears of the Gods would not be assailed by his unholy curses". It became a firm element of the Mummy mythos and was shown in a graphic (for the time) scene in Hammer's 1959 colour remake with Christopher Lee as the Mummy - which is also based on the Kharis story, not the 1932 Imhotep setting.


Original 1967 Lobby Card for Hammer's The Mummy's Shroud
(personal collection)

All subsequent Hammer Mummy movies contain at least some plot elelements or visuals going back to The Mummy's Hand, making it just as influential a movie as the original Mummy from 1932. A good pick by Denis Gifford after all.
Monster Factor:

Overall Movie Rating:


Whilst it lacks almost all of the 1932 Mummy's finesse, mystery and haunting atmosphere of dread, The Mummy’s Hand is neither a good nor a bad movie. It has its strong moments once past the half-way mark and gives us the first haunting rendition of the bandaged mummy as a malevolent and menacingly creepy monster. Even though Universal are nowhere near their best here, and The Mummy with Boris Karloff is by far the better film, The Mummy’s Hand has in many ways defined how popular culture sees the walking terror from an Ancient Egyptian tomb. It has also strongly influenced the subsequent colour Mummy movies from Hammer.


Denis Gifford on The Mummy's Hand
in A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (1973)

"The Mummy's Hand (1940) was economical yet looked expensive, thanks to its use of the temple from Green Hell. It also used the entire foggy flashback of Karloff's incarceration (...) Im-Ho-Tep has changed his name to Kharis. No longer a High Priest, he is a Prince, in love with Princess Anananka. When she dies he steals not the Scroll of Thoth, but the forbidden Tana leaves, the juice of which will revive the dead. Caught, he is buried alive."


GIFFORD Denis (1973) A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, Hamlyn

WEAVER Tom, Michael Brunas & John Brunas (1990) Universal Horrors, McFarland & Co


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Page created 8 July 2023
Last updated 2 September 2023

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