Monday, 2 September 2013

Restored version of The Mummy at British Museum

Hammer's The Mummy Restored

In contrast to last night's Dracula (thanks for the lecture Christopher Frayling) the introductions before The Mummy were very interesting. No less than the Head of British Museum reminds us of late night classic horror double bills on BBC2 on summer Saturday nights. He goes on to list the history of Mummy related  curses and legends in the Museum itself. The British Museum at one time had its own tube stop and the Egyptian residents were thought to be haunting the tube tunnels at night.

One particular Mummy at the BM has its own history of tabloid legends, with a suspicion that the curse around it had had prompted a sale to a New York museum - abandoned when the ship the move it - The Titantic - was lost.

A film writer with a history of Mummy films behind him reminds us that the definitive version is still the restrained 1932 version and that Hammers the Mummy must have been released just a few years after Suez Crisis.  In the UK people must have had an abrupt reminder in taking Egyptians seriously.

On this viewing, and I loved it when shown as part of those infamous late night BBC2 double bills in the Hammer's The Mummy crawls along like a long dead Egyptian thing for a long time. It reminds you that Hollywood can do ancient Egypt a lot better than British film ever has. Though to be fair Hollywood probably does Ancient Egypt it better than the Ancient Egyptians did it themselves.
Hammer's problem is that little rep film studio that only just gets Central Europe in the 1880s right is going to struggle with Ancient Egypt 2000 years ago.

Along with all that Hammer's the lurid hyper reality of colour and music has dated much more than the Universal horrors. They are arguably more influential however, certainly on modern film, as the fast cutting action climaxes (sometimes worked out the actors themselves in the case of Dracula) seem far more contemporary than the rest of the movie. The Mummy ends with some intense shotgun action and some possibly intentional humour as Cushing's explorer fumbles with the keys to a fragile looking glass gun cabinet as Lee's monster bares down on him.

By this point the movie, which had spent 45 minutes dragging it's bandaged leg across the screen, is lurching at  your throat.

Yvonne Furneaux, the female lead, is barely in the film and given little to do but, when Christopher Lee sets eyes upon her and recognises her as his long lost Ananka it is an undeniably powerful moment up there with the best of the studio. It easily justifies the hour or so of wobbly build up and from that moment the tragedy and action blow away the cardboard mystery and the film races to an strong climax. Kudo's to Lee and  Furneaux here, from nowhere they come to steal the movie right away from the rest of the cast.

Yvonne Furneaux not only looks like Ananka but also strongly reminiscent of  Rachel Weisz, playing a much better version of the same character in the more action orientated 1990s version.

This gives me a chance to plug something that needs more attention. If you, like me, are missing Rachel Weisz in a Egyptian setting, and can't even bare to see the third Mummy film because her role was recast..

..which undermined a central part of the narrative for that entire series -  a beauty so immortal ...we'll just get some other actress to play it..

...You should really check out AGORA, because it is a good movie, describing the fate of the Great Library of Alexandria.  And Rachel Weisz is very good in it.

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