Universal Monsters: The Mummy’s Hand (1940)

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The Mummy’s Hand (1940) is not a sequel to Universal’s 1932 hit, The Mummy; instead, it’s a variation of the tale that introduces some of the stereotypes about the monster that we’ve come to know and love today. Unfortunately, it’s an inferior product in nearly every way.

Most egregiously, it plays like a test run for future Abbott & Costello movies. The leads, tall straight man Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and his squat, wisecracking sidekick Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford), yuk it up as “horror” unfolds around them.  They’re as poor substitutes for the real thing as Tom Tyler is for Boris Karloff as the mummy.

When you have a creation as great as Karloff’s mummy, even if visible for only a brief time, it’s criminal to give a cheap knock-off more screen time. Luckily, The Mummy’s Hand runs only 67 minutes.  Let me tell you, though, it’s an interminable 67 minutes.

The movie opens with a dying High Priest (Eduardo Ciannelli) passing the torch to his predecessor, Professor Andoheb (George Zucco). He relays the story of Princess Ananka and her lover, Kharis, who broke into her tomb after she died to steal forbidden tana leaves in order to bring her back to life.  For his crime, he was mummified and buried alive.

Well, that does sound pretty similar to The Mummy. However, it differs in modern day Egypt.  Andoheb is instructed to dissolve three leaves every night of the full moon to keep Kharis alive.  If Ananka’s tomb is desecrated, he’s to use nine leaves to revive him.  He must never use more than nine, though, or it will become a monster.

You know her tomb is going to be desecrated or there wouldn’t be much of a movie; however, it takes more than half the running time to get to that point. There’s way too much plot about Banning and Jenson hooking up with a magician, The Great Solvani (Cecil Kellaway) and his daughter Marta (Peggy Moran), to finance the archeological dig in the first place.

When Kharis/the mummy is finally shuffling ever so slowly through the desert, you’re cheering for him to kill the entire cast. The Mummy’s Hand is the first Universal mummy movie to depict the monster carrying a passed-out damsel in his arms.  It’s a shame that great image came from such a slight movie.

Another flaw is that Andoheb is really the bad guy, just ordering the mummy to do his bidding. As he places Marta on an altar, he tells her, “You’re so beautiful.  I’m going to make you immortal.”  He actually wants to use the tana leaves to make them both immortal.  It’s all rather sudden and has less meaning here when a single character like Imhotep from The Mummy is split into two characters.

Is it entertaining? Barely.  I have trouble when mixing comedy into horror unless the movie is primarily a comedy.  The characters aren’t comic relief because there’s nothing scary about the movie.  However, I suppose it would be a good one for the kids to watch.  As much as it offends me, it’s really quite harmless.

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