AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY [REGION ‘A’] AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 83 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Egypt 1900. Archaeologist Professor Dubois is murdered in the desert and his hand cut off. Along with John Bray, who is engaged to Dubois’s daughter Annette, and Sir Giles Dalrymple, he’d just discovered the lost tomb of Ra-Intef, a prince who was murdered by his brother Be. Contrary to the wishes of Dalrymple, who want to put the mummy in a museum, and local Hashmi Bey who warns of dreadful consequences, the expedition’s financier, showman Alexander King, wants to make lots of money from showing off Ra and his treasures around the world. During their return to London, Annette is drawn to the mysterious Adam Beauchamp, who is very interested in the legend of, while somebody seems intent on preventing King’s plans from going ahead….
You’ll have no doubt notice that my synopsis of the first third of The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb doesn’t mention its mummy coming to life, and that’s because it doesn’t do so until just over two thirds of the way through, which is an awfully long time unless the first two third are extremely suspenseful, something that is not the case with this movie. Seriously flawed, but kind of interesting, it’s nowhere near as good as Hammer’s first mummy outing, but isn’t as bad as its reputation [which seems to have grown a little anyway]. Its story, which deserves at least a bit of praise for ringing a few changes on the mummy formula and not just rehashing the Universal movies again, isn’t very well organised, Michael Carreras’s script needing perhaps some fine tuning by other hands. There’s usually something absorbing going on, but it’s sometimes a little confusing, while the structure of the piece means that the final third feels very rushed. The budget feels even lower than normal, giving some of the film a tatty look despite the best efforts of cinematographer Otto Heller, and the papier mache looking mummy isn’t very good at all, but there are some strong scenes and some good ideas. Watching it in its full widescreen ratio on DVD, the film came off far better for me than it did on my old TV copy, based on which I used to deem it very poor indeed.
Plans for a sequel to The Mummy [though actually there are no connections between the two pictures except for George Pastell playing virtually the same character] initially resulted in Hammer thinking up a treatment involving a 20 foot mummy rampaging through Cairo and battling aircraft. This would have required a budget way beyond Hammer’s grasp, though imagery of a large mummy holding a normal sized woman was retained for the British poster. Director Michael Carreras wrote the eventual script under the pseudonym Henry Younger, slightly adjusting for BBFC concerns about the graphicness of some dismemberments and….a shot of a beetle on the side of a roast pig! Without much of the usual Hammer crew, The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb was shot at Elstree, for reasons unknown. Playing Ra was studio stuntman Dickie Owen, Hammer not considering it worth hiring a big star to perform under loads of bandages. A prosthetic temple and cheeks were applied to his features when the first makeup test didn’t look too good, and he had to be cut free of his face bindings when he fell into the water whilst shooting the climax as they impaired his breathing. The film was released in a double bill with The Gorgon which did fairly good business, though it went to become one of the lesser seen Hammer horrors.
The titles occur over a reasonably ominous sequence where the camera enters and pans round Ra’s tomb, then we go straight into a bit of violence with Professor Dubois tied to two stakes by some villainous Arabs and getting stabbed, his daughter Annette then finding his severed hand in her bed. The actual finding of the tomb has already occurred and would have been nice to see, though it’s shown, with some footage taken from the title sequence, partially later on when Alexander King introduces his show. He’s your typical clichéd vulgar American, and has some amusing moments like when he says to a belly dancer after her show “You ever learn to do that to ragtime, give me a call, we’ll make a fortune!”, then takes money out of his billfold and proceeds to insert it between the belly dancer’s bikini bottom and her waistline. Perhaps King spent more time in strip joints than in ragtime dance clubs. Anyway, Michael Ripper is soon found dead [Boo!…though it serves him right for belching in the tomb and blaming it on the mummy], the tomb is ransacked and the list of items stolen, and a man tries to kill Annette. Her saviour is Adam Beauchamp, who in an amusing bit soon after starts to seduce Annette while her fiancé is present.
There’s some time spent on this love triangle, and we eventually get the expected Ancient Egypt flashback [looking a lot cheaper than before], but the middle section sometimes feels like it’s marking time rather than building up to some mummy action, though most of what happens is still to do with the plot which becomes surprisingly involved if not very well organised. Beauchamp’s climactic revelation that he’s Be, doomed to wonder the earth for eternity like The Wandering Jew for murdering his brother until his brother can kill him, would have served the film better if it had been placed earlier on. It would also have been nice if the script had allowed the character a bit of sympathy rather than be totally villainous. Then again, a few things don’t really sense throughout. Though I’ve watched this movie four or five times over the years, I’ve never been totally clear on the matter of the amulet of resurrecting the dead, which seems to suddenly be in Annette’s possession with no explanation. It’s eventually established that Hashmi Bey is not the one using the mummy, but then why does he suddenly repent to Ra and ask to be punished by death….in a scene that would have been highly effective if we didn’t amusingly see several policemen standing around and not making any attempt to stop Ra from killing Bey whatsoever. The final sewer showdown between brothers should carry some emotional weight and doesn’t because it’s so rushed. I think that Carreras being the director meant that he didn’t focus enough on the script, even if it had the right ingredients.
Still, he stages the majority of the mummy scenes very well despite being lumbered with an unimpressive avenger who is accompanied by hugely over the top breathing sounds which have the opposite of the intention that was obviously desired. The tomb being empty on the first night of King’s show is nicely built up to and executed even if it’s obvious what we’re going to see, and the mummy’s first live appearance, showing up suddenly out of fog at the top of a lengthy flight of steps to knock King to his doom, packs quite a punch. Hammer’s mummy films tend to have the bandaged menace killing his victims in a variety of ways rather than just strangling them, and the statue head bashing and head crushing with foot which occur here have a real air of brutality about them despite the fact that we’re shown very little of the action. Carreras overall does rather well as a director, with some nice devices like panning round rooms and groups of characters, and the photography of Otto Heller is well up to the standard of the more usual Hammer cinematographic masters, with good use of colour, especially green, throughout, though he and set designer Bernard Robinson were clearly hampered by budgetary restrictions here, especially in the studio shot desert scenes where little attempt is made to make them look convincing.
The two male leads [who are both much older than the heroine] are a little flat, and Burmese/English [despite her name] Jeanne Roland, though a stunner, is miscast, something they tried to compensate by dubbing her with a French accent, but the accent is so think that you can’t always understand what she’s saying. Fred Clark though is great as King, a quite interesting character really, being greedy and exploitative but also somewhat childlike. He’s also often funny, funnier than the more obvious comic relief from two workers. Carlo Martelli’s score reuses a part of Franz Reizenstein’s great score from The Mummy twice, but because his own style and orchestration is quite similar, this doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. The score is exciting and vivid in the typical Hammer manner, if not that memorable. Some nice love music for the romantic scenes too. Coming across much better for me now then when it used to, The Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb remains relatively minor Hammer horror and makes a few major mistakes, but it still entertains throughout. And with some work on the script it could have been quite something.