The Karnak Archives

The Mummy's Hand (Universal, 1940)

 

Lobby Poster--Universal mounted a major promotional campaign
for The Mummy's Hand. Described years ago by AMC's Bob Dorian,
the promotional gimmicks involved a man wrapped in mummy bandages standing in the theatre lobby handing out free "tana leaves" to movie patrons, and an ambulance which drove around town all day with a sign
reading: "Reserved for patrons of The Mummy's Hand!" It's interesting
to note that most of the mummy's face is obscured by an "occult mist"
in this poster. Universal didn't want the fearsome features of Kharis seen
too clearly prior to the film's release. Actors on poster are, starting clockwise with Kharis: Tom Tyler, Peggy Moran, Dick Foran, Leon Belasco, Wallace Ford, Charles Trowbridge, and George Zucco.

 

 


Lobby Card--
The horrified faces of
Dick Foran and Peggy Moran build
the suspense of The Mummy's Hand:
"What are they looking at?"
wondered
the cinema patron of 1940. And,
naturally, they just had to see the film
to find out.

Another Lobby Card--The film begins as Professor Andoheb (George Zucco) receives initiation into the priesthood of Karnak. He learns from the ailing, elderly High Priest (Eduardo Ciannelli) the secret of Ananka's tomb and the amazing fact that her guardian, Kharis...is still alive! As the older high priest dies, Andoheb swears to awaken Kharis should infidels seek to enter the tomb of Ananka. Meanwhile, a pair of "infidels" walking the streets of Cairo stumbles upon a clue to the whereabouts of the very tomb Andoheb has vowed to protect. Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and his comical partner Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford) show their evidence, a broken vase with inscriptions, to none other than Professor Andoheb, who also happens to be a respected authority on Egyptian art at the Cairo Museum. They ask for his financial backing to mount an expedition to search for Ananka's burial place. Not suspecting that he is the current guardian of the burial, they are surprised when Andoheb refuses to help. Further, Andoheb "accidentally" breaks the vase with the ancient texts giving the location of Ananka's tomb. But Steve and Babe are not discouraged. Accompanied by Professor Petrie (Charles Trowbridge), a stage magician named Solvani (Cecil Kelaway), and Solvani's daughter Marta (Peggy Moran), they travel to the desolate Hill of the Seven Jackals and begin to dig.

 

Dreadful Discovery--Soon, a grim discovery is made. A locket with photos of a very dour looking couple is found among a pile of dried human bones. Dr.Petrie identifies the couple as Dr. Gustafson and his wife, who had come to The Hill of the Seven Jackals years before to search for Ananka's tomb. They had apparently been killed by a landslide (caused, undoubtedly, by the Priests of Karnak.) The Egyptologists next uncover the entrance to a cave tomb, sealed with the Seal of the Seven Jackals. The native workers flee in terror when they see the direful curse inscribed on the seal, but Steve and his associates bravely enter the tomb. A mummy case stands portentously in the gloomy darkness against a wall. When opened, the excavators gasp in surprise. A withered mummy stands silently within--but it is not the mummy of the Princess Ananka, as expected. Instead, they confront the mummy of a man, in the most perfect state of preservation that any of them have ever seen. Dr. Petrie later examines the mummy, and discovers a horrible fact: the man so carefully wrapped by the ancient Egyptians three thousand years ago had been buried alive! Petrie shows Banning some leaves which he had found in a large urn in the tomb. He explains that they are tana leaves, but their function in the ancient embalming rituals is unknown to him.

                                                                     The Mummy Walks Again--That evening, as Petrie continues to examine
the mummy, he gets an unexpected visitor in the cave tomb: Andoheb! Now garbed in a long black robe, the sinister man seems to have appeared out of nowhere. He instructs Petrie to feel the mummy's wrist for a pulse, and Petrie gasps in disbelief when he detects a faint beating. Andoheb then tells Petrie to watch as he gives the fluid of nine tana leaves to the motionless mummy. "Nine tana leaves, Dr. Petrie," the robed Andoheb informs his puzzled colleague. "That wouldn't mean anything to you, but watch." Still holding the mummy's hand, Petrie's eyes bulge in horror as the pulse beat quickens. The withered hand begins to move, and suddenly grasps Petrie's wrist in a grip of unbreakable steel. The terrified man screams helplessly as the mummy raises up on the examination table, its other hand reaching for his throat, its dead vacant eye-sockets gaping with menace. "Let me go!" Petrie shrieks over and over, rousing the other excavators. Banning and Jenson rush into the tomb, but they are too late: Petrie is found strangled to death on the floor, mysterious traces of mold around his crushed throat, and the mummy is missing. 

 

HandMummy.jpg (117744 bytes) 


Meanwhile, Andoheb and Kharis have returned to the temple of Karnak, which is located on the other side of The Hill of the Seven Jackals. He instructs one of his henchmen to place vials of tana fluid in the tents of the unbelievers. He tells Kharis to go find them, and orders the mummy to kill anyone he encounters. The mummy obediently shambles off into the night, in search of more tana fluid and victims.

 

 

 

Kharis Strikes Again--While Steve, Babe, and the Solvani's are digging in the cave tomb, Ali, who has been left behind to guard the camp, hears a shuffling sound in one of the tents. He arrives just in time to run into Kharis, who quickly strangles the man and shambles back out into the night. Later, when the Egyptologists return to their camp, they notice that Ali is missing, but assume that he has deserted the expedition in fear of the mummy's curse. While jackals howl, the harried party of excavators discusses the mysterious occurrences of the past days. When Solvani and his daughter retire to their tent for the night, they discover Ali's body. Steve and Babe notice that Ali's throat is also marked with traces of mold, but can't figure out yet what this enigmatic clue might mean. Meanwhile, the Solvani's try to get some sleep. In the night, Marta hears a strange scuffling sound outside, and suddenly screams when she sees the living mummy looming over her father's struggling body, its shriveled hand grasping the old man's throat. Distracted by the girl's sudden scream, the mummy lets go of the still living Solvani, and scoops the fainting Marta into his arms. He carries her out into the night....

HandTemple.jpg (96799 bytes)
Awakened by Marta's screams, Steve and Babe rush into the tent and are quickly informed by the revived Solvani that a living mummy has kidnapped his daughter. They run outside just in time to see Kharis and Marta enter the cave-tomb. By now, they have surmised that the tomb is connected by a tunnel to a temple on the other side of the mountain. Banning goes to the tomb to search for the secret passage, while Jenson walks around the mountain to find the temple. 
Meanwhile, Kharis has deposited Marta on the temple altar and goes back out to track down the remaining men. Andoheb has the girl trussed up, and tells her he plans on injecting her with tana fluid to make her his immortal High Priestess. But he is suddenly interrupted by the sound of a gunshot outside. Babe has just shot at a prowling jackal, not suspecting that the sound of his firing gun has just saved Marta from a terrible fate. He sees the temple in the moonlight, and climbs the long staircase, gun in hand. At the top of the stairs, Andoheb suddenly emerges from the shadows. He shoots Babe in the arm with a concealed weapon. Babe fires back with better aim, and the seriously wounded Andoheb tumbles down the temple stairs. 
Meanwhile, Steve has found the secret passage in the cave tomb and tries to untie Marta. She screams as the mummy shambles into the cavernous room. Steve tries to shoot the mummy, but his bullets are ineffective. Kharis overcomes Steve, and grabs the bubbling container of tana fluid which Andoheb had earlier set to boil. Just then, Babe enters the temple, and Marta calls out that he should shoot the tana fluid container. Once more, Babe proves to be a good shot, and the container is shattered by a fast bullet. Kharis drops to the floor in a desperate attempt to lick up the spilled tana fluid. Steve sees a chance, and lifts a burning brazier from the temple floor. He slams the brazier down on the back of the prostrate mummy, who instantly bursts into flames. As the mummy burns, Steve releases Marta from the altar and Babe finally passes out, probably from loss of blood due to his gunshot wound.

The movie ends with Steve and Marta (who are now romantically involved) getting ready to embark from Egypt along with Marta's father and Babe. Steve is now famous and wealthy from his discovery of Ananka's tomb, and is returning to America where a prestigious job at the Scripps Museum now awaits him. He and Marta plan to marry and live peacefully in Mapleton, Mass. But, as we all know, something is still smoldering among the ashes in the temple of Karnak, something which waits, craving for revenge......


    The Mummy's Hand dispenses with the slow, lingering camera moves used in Karloff's The Mummy, and delivers an action thriller which is still entertaining today. It introduces viewers to the legend of Kharis, a retooled version of Imhotep's tragic tale from the earlier Karloff film. There are other alterations from Universal's first mummy outing, the most significant being the addition of the fez-topped priests of Karnak, with their simmering tana fluid and portentous dialogue filled with curses and thundering pronouncements about the Will of the mighty gods of Egypt. As Frank J. Dello Stritto has perceptively observed (in his article "The Epic Saga of Kharis the Mummy," Cult Movies, #15, pp. 36-38), the figure of Karloff's mummy is split in two in the Kharis films, with Kharis taking on the role of the bandaged Imhotep, and the burning-eyed High Priests adopting the pose of the fez-crowned Ardath Bey. These High Priests are members of a clandestine cult that has remained hidden for three thousand years. The idea of the malign secret cult, enduring through the ages, derives from numerous sources. Occult-oriented organizations, like the Rosicrucians and the Theosophists, promoted such ideas throughout the 19'th century, and popular expressions of this enduring notion can be found in the early 20'th century literary works of H. P. Lovecraft and the widely-read witchcraft and voodoo cult "exposes" of Margaret Murray and William Seabrook. It also seems significant that the priests of Karnak appeared in cinemas right at a time when public fears about secret German and Japanese spy rings were rampant. The thought of strange organized groups of foreigners, skulking about in the shadows performing nefarious acts, was very anxiety-producing during the years of WW II, and may explain some of the popular appeal of the Kharis series during the early forties. 
    The Mummy's Hand also jettisoned the supernatural trappings of reincarnation and the magic Scroll of Thoth which had played key thematic roles in The Mummy. Kharis is animated by a medicinal concoction, made from the omnipresent tana leaves. This switch may have reflected a growing distrust of the medical establishment, which, according to rumors coming from Europe at that time, had taken a decidedly diabolical turn, especially in Nazi controlled territories. Tana leaves, and the fluid brewed from them, also fit with a general trend observable during the forties of secularizing horrors. More and more of the supernatural was being explained in scientific terms. Both vampirism and lycanthropy were presented as curable medical conditions in Universal's later films, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. The mummy's reawakening from a chemically induced state of suspended animation was an early harbinger of this trend, which blossomed into the scientific paranoia of the fifties. 
    An interesting aspect of the general "look" of Kharis in The Mummy's Hand is the way his eyes were blacked out in the final prints of the film. Real Egyptian mummies don't have eyes since the eyes completely shrivel up due to the desiccating actions of the salts used in the embalming process. Artificial eyes were often inserted under the eyelids of mummies to give them a more life-like appearance. Apparently, the makers of The Mummy's Hand wanted Kharis to look eyeless, and some of the creepiest scenes in the film are the close-ups of the mummy's face which show vacant black holes where the eyes should be. This effect was not used in the later Kharis films. Although it was very effective in The Mummy's Hand, the disuse of the eye gimmick in later installments of the series allowed Lon Chaney, Jr., to use his eyes to give a greater range of emotional expressiveness to his portrayal of Kharis. 
    One aspect of the tana leaf legend was never followed up in any of the Kharis films. The High Priests were always emphatic in their warning that Kharis should never be given tana fluid prepared from more than nine leaves. Supposedly, he would become an uncontrollable homicidal maniac if given an accidental overdose of the tana chemical. In The Mummy's Hand, George Zucco, however, notes that Kharis would like to regain the use of his crippled arm and leg, and needs more tana fluid to do so. Tana fluid was a healing substance that could help someone overcome paralysis! And you didn't have to be a mummy to use it. Think of all the priests who wanted to inject themselves and their chosen girlfriends with the stuff in order to become immortal. Frank J. Dello Stritto, in the article mentioned above, poses the intriguing possibility that Kharis might not become a "soulless monster" if he drinks fluid made from more than nine tana leaves. Perhaps he would slowly regain the full use of all his limbs and eventually become more normal in his appearance, like Karloff when he adopted the identity of Ardath Bey in The Mummy. Perhaps the High Priests could no longer control him, and he would set up his own rival cult. Maybe the tana fluid overdose warnings are all hype promoted by the High Priests of Karnak to ensure that they remain top dogs!
    The lunar aspects of Kharis are also not followed up on in the later mummy films. George Zucco clearly states that the ability of the mummy to act wanes with the moon, making Kharis closely akin to the werewolf. But this intriguing feature of the Kharis legend is dropped after the first film. 

Read more about
The Mummy's Hand
at Universal Studios

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