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When Hammer Films first set out to remake the great horror stories of the 1930s, the producers of those classics, Universal Pictures, threatened to sue to prevent them from using anything in the original movies. The threat was first raised over The Curse of Frankenstein (1957). Hammer got around it by sticking solely to material from Mary Shelley's source novel, which was in the public domain, and nothing from the 1931 Boris Karloff film version. Likewise, when the studio made its first vampire remake, Horror of Dracula (1958), the script had to be adapted exclusively from Bram Stoker's novel and contain no element introduced in Universal's 1931 film starring Bela Lugosi. By the time of The Mummy (1959), Hammer had reached an official agreement with Universal to remake their horror movies, allowing the use of the original title and certain characters; this was a lucky break, since there was no source novel. The names, however, among them Stephen Banning, Kharis the Mummy, Joseph Whemple, and Princess Ananka, came from both the 1932 version starring Boris Karloff (as the Mummy Imhotep) and Universal's own reworking of their original material, released as The Mummy's Hand (1940). Confused yet? Well, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964) won't clear any of that up, since the Mummy here is Ra-Antef and none of the other characters from Hammer's first entry in the series appear.
Unfortunately, this sequel also lacked the stars of the earlier Hammer mummy movies, the studio's two most important actors, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and the studio's A-team of director Terence Fisher and writer Jimmy Sangster, all of whom (along with art director Bernard Robinson) provided the continuity and great appeal of the studio's highly successful and long-lived Frankenstein and Dracula series. Although Robinson is on board again to oversee the distinctive Hammer look, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb, and its further follow-ups The Mummy's Shroud (1967) and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971) had to make do with lesser known actors. Audiences didn't seem to mind too much, even if returns weren't as high as those for the Lee-Cushing franchises, and reviewers, while noting the routine nature of the story, had to admit the studio had gotten "this kind of scary hokum down to a grisly art."
The story follows the mayhem and murder that ensue when the tomb of Pharaoh Ra-Antef is unearthed in 1900, activating an ancient curse, as tomb excavations in such movies are wont to do. Thanks to the sponsorship of an American showman, Alexander King, the mummy and his artifacts are taken on tour where things start going awry; this includes the revelation that one of the expedition members is really the mummy's brother and cursed with immortality after killing the pharaoh. He is hell bent on having his resurrected sibling kill him and the woman he has fallen in love with so that they may live together in eternal peace.
Although The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb was not given the top-drawer treatment of the first Hammer mummy project, producer-director-writer Michael Carreras, son of studio chief James Carreras, was frequently able to make enjoyable pictures on lower budgets without name stars. He was helped here by Otto Heller's wide-screen cinematography, a challenge Carreras relished. "You have to be careful in getting the set-ups," he told an interviewer, "particularly when we had to shoot five to six minutes a day. If you move your camera about, you can bring twenty different people into frame in the same shot." Heller, of course, was no hack, having been the director of photography for Ealing's Alec Guinness comedy The Ladykillers (1955), Laurence Olivier's Richard III (1955), and Michael Powell's horror classic Peeping Tom (1960). Following this production, he shot The Ipcress File (1965), for which he won a British Academy Award, and Alfie (1966), earning another BAFTA nomination.
King, the American showman, is played with typical bluster by Fred Clark, the tall, bald character actor best known for comic roles in any number of American television shows and such films as How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956).
The cast also includes Terence Morgan as the mummy's scheming brother. Morgan had been on screen since the early 1940s and played Laertes in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948), which also featured future Hammer star Peter Cushing. His beautiful love interest is played by Jeanne Roland. Publicized as a French "sex kitten," Roland was rumored to be a Burmese woman Michael Carreras had met at a party. "I thought she was ornamental," Carreras later said. "That's all she was meant to be." Roland also played small decorative roles in a couple of James Bond movies, You Only Live Twice (1967) and the 007 spoof (1966). The Mummy is played by Dickie Owen, who turns up in a non-mummy role in the sequel The Mummy's Shroud.
The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb was filmed between February and May 1964 and was released that October as a second feature in support of The Gorgon (1964), a higher-budgeted release directed by Fisher and starring Cushing, Lee, and Hammer scream queen Barbara Shelley.
Director: Michael Carreras
Producer: Michael Carreras
Screenplay: Michael Carreras (as Henry Younger)
Cinematography: Otto Heller
Editing: Eric Boyd-Perkins
Production Design: Bernard Robinson
Original Music: Carlo Martelli
Cast: Terence Morgan (Adam Beauchamp), Ronald Howard (John Bray), Fred Clark (Alexander King), Jeanne Roland (Annette Dubois), Dickie Owen (Ra-Antef).
C-80m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Rob Nixon