October 29, 2011

How Christopher Lee Made Me Cry for My Mummy!


The Mummy
starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, and Felix Aylmer
directed by Terence Fisher
Hammer Films (1959)

I have never found the Mummy that horrifying. He's just not a scary cat, you know, he's always been the toilet paper zombie to me. Well, Christopher Lee has helped change that.

I was trying to think of a classic monster movie to watch for the Monster Movie Marathon, and when someone on Twitter suggested Hammer Films, I figured it was a good idea. I've not seen any of the Hammer films, at least not that I can recall. Chances might be good I saw a couple in college, but watching old movies then involved drinking games, so memory retention ain't that great. So, I hit up my local library and found The Mummy.

Now, one of the things I always hear about Hammer films is how great the set designs are for the historical backdrops. It's true, despite being dated by today's standards. The staging for the Egyptian excavation and the small England town may very well have been filmed on the same sound stage, but each really had that golden age of film feel. The costumes were something else that I found exceptional in the film, but I'll go into that a bit later.

So, Peter Cushing plays a globetrotting archeologist, bedridden with a broken leg, while his father and uncle lead the dig that uncovers the lost tomb of Princess Ananka. As the old codgers are about to go inside the tomb for the first time, they're warned to abandon what they're doing by a dapper stranger in a fez. Of course, old white men of the time aren't in the habit of heeding the local ethnic community, so they kindly tell him to sod off and carry on with their exploration. Inside, they find an astonishingly tidy crypt ornamented by various artifacts and the tomb of Princess Ananka. It becomes apparent very quickly why Cushing's character is laid up: so he can't save his father from an encounter with whatever was waiting for him in the tomb.

Turns out it was the Mummy, a condemned priest entombed with the Princess to protect her for eternity, as punishment for his amorous feelings for her. I was really worried this would be the point where the movie would go right off its own rails, and Christopher Lee would look like a lumbering drunkard who fell into a janitor's closet and came out swathed in toiletries. Fortunately, the costume design was near perfect. There's an inexplicable menace to see that thing just standing there. Maybe it's Lee's height and physical stature, or perhaps it's the eyes as close-ups on his face carry the torment and near-instinctual malice to anyone who offends the object of his love.

An interesting factoid about the film surrounds a scene where Cushing's character fires a gun at the Mummy after it breaks into his home. The Mummy is unphased as it trudges off, getting shot in the chest and back, but Christopher Lee actually suffered burn marks from the squibs used for the effect that left marks for weeks. Ouch! Talk about staying in character. If I got burned like that, I don't think I could stay in character--more likely I'd lay down a tirade on every stage hand within shouting distance.

The movie ends on a bit of a predictable note, but it's all built up to the final scenes very well. Lots of drama, lots of suspense, and even a bit of romance for good measure. If the other Hammer films are this good, then I need to track them down.

2 comments:

  1. Love this movie, as I do most of the Hammer Films. I think I've seen all of the Dracula movies they did as well as quite a few others. TCM actually played a lot of them last October.

    Anything with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in it is worth the viewing. I loved them separetly, but together they were excellent.

    Great review!

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  2. You haven't seen Christoper Lee's Dracula? My my you have catching up to do. I'm not a big fan of the Hammer style, but this Dracula remains the best of the Hammer movies, IMO. Go here: http://tbdeluxe.blogspot.com/2011/08/great-screen-draculas-christopher-lee.html

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