Friday, 7 August 2009

Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)

Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is one of the least highly regarded of Hammer’s horror movies. This 1964 offering was one of a handful of films directed by Michael Carreras, son of Hammer’s founder Sir James Carreras. Michael Carreras had a very successful career as a producer but was less comfortable in the director’s chair. Carreras also wrote and produced the movie.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with the plot. It’s a mummy movie so you know the mummy will come back to life at some point and start wreaking havoc. Carreras does his best to build an interesting story around these inescapable elements. In 1900 an archaeological expedition has discovered the tomb of the son of the Pharaoh Rameses VIII. They receive a generous offer from the Egyptian government which wants the treasures to be permanently housed in a Cairo museum, but the American financier of the expedition has other ideas. He wants to emulate the success of his buddy P. T. Barnum. He is going to turn the relics of the unlucky Egyptian prince into a traveling circus. It goes without saying that at this point the inevitable curse begins to take effect on the members of the expedition.

Fred Clark is delightfully larger than life as the vulgar but enthusiastic American impresario. Unfortunately the rest of the cast is less memorable, and that’s one of the major weaknesses of this movie. Jack Gwillam as the leader of the expedition and Ronald Howard as his assistant and protégé do their best but they don’t have the necessary presence and their parts are somewhat underwritten. Howard (the son of Leslie Howard) also lacks the charisma requited for a romantic lead. Jeanne Roland provides the female element in the inevitable romantic triangle but she’s a little too bland. Terence Morgan is the third portion of the triangle. The script fails to give him enough to work with to make such an unlikely character convincing.

Carreras also lacks the instinct for pacing that allowed directors like Terence Fisher to get away with sometimes not entirely satisfying plots. On the other hand the movie looks fabulous. Production designer Bernard Robinson is the real star of the picture.

Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb has some surprisingly grim moments. I’m surprised the censor let them get way with some of the violence. Admittedly the violence is implied rather than explicitly shown, but what is implied is fairly blood-curdling.

The movie is included in the Icons of Horror boxed set and the transfer is, like that of the other three films, exquisite. The movie itself is not even good enough to qualify as second-rank Hammer but it’s not totally lacking in entertainment value if you’re prepared to lower your expectations sufficiently. In any case the other three movies are more than adequate reasons for buying this superb boxed set. You can’t really complain about a boxed set that contains three excellent movie and one that is barely passable.

1 comment:

Radiation Cinema! said...

Dfordoom: This movie, and The Man who Could Cheat Death, are two of my favorites of Hammer's lesser lights. As you say, Carreras lacked Fisher's timing and pace (as well as Fisher's innate sense of style), but his blunt approach has its own muted appeal.

Great, concise yet thorough post. Thanks for talking about this little-talked-about Hammer film. -- Mykal