The Mummy (1959) | The Hammer horror classic casts its aura of menace in HD

The Mummy 1959 Blu-ray cover

In 19th-century Egypt, a team of British archaeologists locate the tomb of Princess Ananka, but disregard local custom and plunder it. The men soon regret their arrogance when, back in England, they are tracked down by Kharis (Christopher Lee), a mummy who has been brought back to life by religious zealot Mehemet Bey (George Patell) to avenge the desecration of the tomb. After his father and uncle succumb to Kharis, John Banning (Peter Cushing) prepares to do battle with the mummy. However, he hasn’t counted on his wife Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux)’s resemblance to the Princess, which threatens to confuse the vengeful Kharis…

Yvonne Furneaux in The Mummy

Having injected new blood into Universal’s Frankenstein and Dracula in the late-1950s, Hammer were given the remake rights to their library of classic horrors. First up was The Mummy, in which screenwriter Jimmy Sangster fused the 1932 Boris Karloff version with elements from Universal’s The Mummy’s Hand (1940), The Mummy’s Tomb (1942) and The Mummy’s Ghost (1944).

Christopher Lee in The Mummy (1959)

Swathed in bandages, Christopher Lee makes a powerful, fast-moving mummy, using just eye movements to project real menace and pathos. For a third time, he is paired with Peter Cushing, who puts in a cultured, physical performance as the heroic archaeologist sporting a gammy leg. Together, Lee and Cushing formed horror’s finest teaming that would continue for another 16 films for Hammer.

Christopher Lee in The Mummy

The 15-minute flashback sequence in which Lee’s Kharis is buried alive when his forbidden love for Ananka is discovered was a real shocker back in 1959 as it involved a scene in which Kharis’ tongue is ripped out. Shots of the offending appendage were filmed but it never did make the final ‘cut’.

Thanks to director Terence Fisher’s canny colour palette and camerawork, The Mummy achieves a macabre aura of menace that the 1940s films never quite captured. And big kudos goes to Jimmy Sangster’s script, whose biting remarks on colonialism and commercialism are just as relevant today.

Peter Cushing in The Mummy (1959)

The warmly saturated colours of this 1950’s Technicolor adventure really come to the fore in the new digital re-mastering, making this a worthy companion to last year’s Hammer horror releases, The Curse of Frankenstein and Dracula. The Mummy is presented here in its original UK theatrical 1.66.1 aspect ratio and looks terrific, especially on the big screen. I got to see this in the forecourt of the British Museum as part of the BFI’s Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film season in August, and it was truly a marvellous experience. The film really comes alive.

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in The Mummy (1959)

With Hammer experts Marcus Hearn and Jonathan Rigby on board (they also supply the audio commentary), the exclusive content will be of enormous interest to die-hard Hammer fans. Hearn’s Unwrapping the Mummy contains some wonderful anecdotes from some of the people behind the scenes, including sculptor Margaret Robinson, the widow of production designer Bernard Robinson; The Hammer Rep Company finds Jonathan Rigby lending his fruity tones to a featurette about the character actors who were the backbone of Hammer horror; and The House of Horror: Memories of Bray, is a 45-minute documentary tracing the history of Hammer at the Berkshire studio between 1951 and 1966,  and features reminiscences from veterans Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews and Jacqueline Pearce.

Also included in the 3-disc double play release is an alternate full frame 1.37.1 aspect ratio version of the film; Terence Fisher’s little-seen 1952 crime drama Stolen Face starring Lizabeth Scott, a World of Hammer episode featuring Peter Cushing, HD archive/stills gallery, an original industry promo reel restored to HD and collector’s booklet.

The sarcophagus of Ananka

The sarcophagus of Ananka, which toured the US and the UK on the film’s release, now resides in the basement stores of the Perth museum in Scotland.

This classic Hammer horror is a must see.


About Peter Fuller

Peter Fuller is an award-winning print, radio and television journalist and producer, with over 30 years experience covering film and television, with a special interest in world cinema and popular culture. He is a leading expert on the life and career of Vincent Price and actively promotes the actor's legacy through publications, websites and special events.

Posted on October 13, 2013, in British Film, Hammer-Amicus-Tigon, Must-See and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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