Probably the most famous portrayal of a mummy was Boris Karloff’s appearance in Universal’s 1932 classic “The Mummy.” Universal would make several more mummy films, but, contrary to what many believe, they were not sequels to the Karloff original. Rather, these films were a whole other series focusing on a different mummy called Kharis. Kharis was played in some of the later films by Lon Chaney Jr, but not in today’s movie…the first in what would become a four film series. It’s 1940’s “The Mummy’s Hand.”
As the film begins, we meet Professor Andoheb (George Zukor), who is visiting a high priest (Eduardo Ciannelli) at a sacred Egyptian site. The priest is dying and he is turning the care of the site over to Andoheb. The site is the tomb of a princess called Ananka. Ages ago, a man named Kharis stole sacred tana leaves in an attempt to resurrect her. When he was discovered, his penalty was to be buried alive. Regularly administering a liquid made from the leaves keeps him alive…but give him an overdose and he will regain movement and defend the tomb from those who may disturb it.
We then meet archaeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and his goofy sidekick Babe (Wallace Ford). They are down to their last few dollars, which Steve insists on spending on a broken vase he finds at a street merchant’s stand. He believes that the markings on the vase point the way Princess Anaka’s tomb. Another archaeologist, Dr. Petrie (Charles Trowbridge) agrees, but their colleague, Professor Andoheb, of course, disagrees. In an effort to throw the others off the course, he bumblingly drops and destroys the vase.
But that doesn’t deter Banning. He and Babe end up meeting an American magician, the Great Solvani (Cecil Kellaway), who is willing to invest in the expedition. His daughter Marta (Peggy Moran) is sure he’s blown his money, especially when Andoheb plants rumors about scam artists trying to fund an expedition. So, she insists that she and her father go with on the expedition.
The expedition ends up struggling to find any evidence of the Princess’s tomb, however they do stumble upon the mummy of Kharis (Tom Tyler). While Dr. Petrie examines Kharis, Andoheb suddenly appears and shows Petrie that the mummy has a pulse. He then gives the creature more of the tana leave solution. The creature awakens and promptly murders Dr. Petrie.
Since the creature needs the solution to be able to move, Andoheb places viles of the magic juice around the camp. This sends the mummy on a killing spree as he tries to find them. This leads to the obligatory sequence in which the mummy abducts the lone female member of the party…as she’s clad in a flowing white evening gown, of course. Now it’s up to Steve to rescue the girl and stop the mummy.
It takes a little time for “The Mummy’s Hand” to give us some good ole mummy action. However, Andoheb is the real villain of the piece. Even before the mummy factors into the story, Andoheb ends up being a great bad guy. He’s sly and conniving, a perfect role for Zukor and his intimidating features. Tom Tyler also does a great job as Kharis. Granted, mummy’s don’t usually have the depth of a monster like Dracula or even the Frankenstein monster. But there’s an undeniable fire behind Tyler’s eyes that makes him both a menacing and somewhat sympathetic character.
While Karloff’s Mummy film was more of an A production, this is more of a B film. The sets are impressive if not especially elaborate. But, the mummy makeup is quite impressive, allowing a lot of the actor’s features to come through.
It may not be the iconic Karloff version of The Mummy, but “The Mummy’s Hand” is a worthy addition to the long line of films featuring an undead Egyptian menace. I enjoyed the film a great deal, and am anxious to check out the other three films in the Kharis series.