The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964) The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) *½

     It’s a damn good thing this isn’t really supposed to be a sequel to The Mummy. If it had been, the already natural comparison between the two films would have become obligatory, and The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, barely adequate even as a stand-alone movie, would have become outright offensive. But as I said, it isn’t a sequel-- which would seem to make it either an uncredited remake or just a low-rent hatchet-job designed to squeeze a few extra pence out of anyone who was impressed by The Mummy.

     You know the drill. The place is Egypt; the year, 1900. An archaeological expedition searching for a long-lost royal tomb has found what they’re looking for, and the locals are less than pleased with the situation. This time, the head Egyptologist is a Frenchman named Dr. Dubois. He is accompanied by his daughter, Annette (Jeanne Roland, who would have nothing going for her had cleavage not become acceptable by 1964), and two other archaeologists-- Sir Giles Dalrymple (Jack Gwyllim, of Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans) and Annette’s boyfriend John Bray (Ronald Howard). As the movie opens, Dubois is fleeing across the desert, pursued by Bedouins. They catch the old man, stab him to death, and then cut off his left hand. Clearly, this will be of some significance later. But alas, that’s only because this is Loose End #1.

     The resident of the unearthed tomb is a prince called Ra-Antef (though most of the characters usually just call him Ra, which would have been an excessively presumptuous name even for a pharaoh), and as is typical for Egyptian tombs unearthed in the movies (in striking contrast to those unearthed in real life), his burial chamber has somehow escaped being plundered by 4000 years worth of grave robbers. Bray, Dalrymple, and Annette are sitting around the campsite, talking about their amazing discovery when two of their Egyptian laborers bring in Dr. Dubois’s body. It’s an unfortunate time for the old man to have been killed, if for no other reason than that his team’s liaison to the Egyptian government, an Inspector Hashmi Bey (George Pastell, who played Mehmed Akhim in The Mummy and the Indian scientist in Konga-- and by the way, regardless of what this movie’s creators think, “Bey” is not, or at least was not in 1900, a last name; it’s a title of minor nobility, similar to the English “Lord” or the Russian “Knyaz”), has just arrived to negotiate to keep the treasure of Ra-Antef in the country. Hashmi Bey has been authorized to offer £70,000 to Dubois, and Sir Giles is inclined to accept the offer. But there’s just one problem. Dubois’s expedition was paid for by an American, a certain Alexander King (Fred Clark, of Zotz!), who wants to have the treasure-- and the mummy as well-- shipped over first to England, and then to America, where it will tour the sideshow circuit, making King disgusting amounts of money. Hashmi Bey and Dalrymple both protest strongly when King arrives in Egypt to collect “his” artifacts, but it is all in vain. The Egyptian government is forced to content itself with the empty symbolic gesture of banning Dalrymple from working in the country from then on.

     The ship has scarcely left Egypt, though, before strange things start to happen. To begin with, mysterious thugs attack some of the members of the expedition (Loose End #2). Then the workers King hired to deal with the treasure begin to talk alarmedly of a death-curse on the mummy and its grave-goods. But most troublingly, Annette acquires an admirer, an amateur Egyptologist by the name of Adam Beauchamp (Terence Morgan, from the 1954 version of Svengali), who seems to know a little too much about Prince Ra-Antef and the circumstances of his death. I mean, come on-- this prince was obscure enough that not even the grave robbers knew about him, and Adam Beauchamp knows that he was killed in exile when his younger brother, Be, sent assassins out to get him? And he knows that the assassins cut off the prince’s left hand as proof that they had accomplished their mission? Finally, at King’s much-ballyhooed public opening of Ra-Antef’s coffin, the American huckster gets the shock of his life when the casket proves to be empty! (It wasn’t when he looked inside a few days before...)

     If you’re thinking that the enigmatic Mr. Beauchamp has something to do with the mummy’s disappearance, you’re absolutely right. Among the grave-goods, you see, was a stone amulet, not of Egyptian origin, upon which was inscribed a mystical incantation-- an artifact that was considered merely an ancient legend even in Middle Kingdom times. The mummified prince acquired the stone when he was forced into exile among the nomads of Libya by his jealous brother. The incantation carved on the stone, in case you hadn’t figured this out already, is formula for restoring life to the dead. So why, you ask, would Beauchamp want to bring a moldy 4000-year-old prince back to life? Because Adam Beauchamp is really Be, that’s why! When his father learned of his treachery against Ra-Antef, he cursed Be to eternal life, a curse which only Ra-Antef can lift by killing Be with his own hands. Ra-Antef was, of course, already dead when the curse was handed down, so I’m sure you can see the problem for Be, now that he has finally gotten sick of living.

     But Ra-Antef has better things to do than kill Be for the moment. In particular, he has a curse of his own to carry out, a curse upon those who have desecrated his tomb. The rest of the movie will have the mummy making the rounds of Dubois’s team, while Bray, Hashmi Bey, and an English policeman (The Vampire Beast Craves Blood’s John Paul) attempt to figure out what’s going on and put a stop to it. Meanwhile, Beauchamp/Be will attempt to woo Annette, whom he’d really like to have as his girlfriend in the afterlife to which both of them will shortly be departing, assuming the mummy does his job correctly.

     The main problem here is that The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is as dried out and lifeless as the mummy himself, and nearly as slow-moving to boot. Having already brought us The Mummy, which as far as I’m concerned can stand forever as the final word in old-school mummy movies, there is absolutely no reason for Hammer to have dragged this travesty-- which plays like a rejected first draft of The Mummy’s screenplay-- into the light of day. And the problem is only compounded by the absence of the latter movie’s two best features, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Note, too, how much heavier this mummy’s facial makeup is than the appliance that Lee wore in the corresponding role. In particular, notice the way this mummy’s eyes are almost completely hidden. It’s as though the special effects artists realized that the actor wearing the mummy suit lacked even the slightest trace of Lee’s ability to convey character through his facial expressions, and decided to take the cheaper route of simply heaping plaster of Paris on the poor man’s face. And while no one here is an especially bad actor (except for Jeanne Roland and that mummy guy, who can’t even be relied upon to remember that he’s supposed to be missing his left hand), neither can it be said that any of them do anything to make their performances stand out. When George Pastell is a film’s most charismatic actor, there’s trouble ahead. Indeed, the only outright positive thing I can think of to say about The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is that at least they didn’t stoop to using the shopworn device of having Annette resemble the millennia-dead girlfriend of either ancient prince. That would probably have been the final straw.

 

 

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