Updated: Aug 1, 2020
Although it spends the first 11 minutes using flashbacks to recap its inferior predecessor, The Mummy's Hand, the next 49 minutes of The Mummy's Tomb (1942) provides the best yet of the Universal Monsters mummy movies. Yep, it's only an hour long, which is probably just about right for a creature that shuffles along at a snail's pace, yet always seems to get its moldy hand on a victim.
This movie attempts to explain how it always happens. One victim is literally frozen in fear at its sight and another tries to run, but it's into an alley with a dead end. If you extend the normal suspension of disbelief a little, it could happen. It's harder to believe that an angry, torch-bearing mob could leave from one location and suddenly surround the rampaging mummy on three different sides.
I think the reason so much time is spent on the recap is that there's a little revisionist history going on. Remember that The Mummy's Hand was practically a poor man's Abbott & Costello movie. The flashbacks here focus on only the more dramatic moments; The Mummy's Hand is a return to the regular tone of a horror movie.
It's 30 years later and Stephen Banning (Dick Foran) has returned to the United States with Princess Ananka, but not Kharis, the mummy. He's completely serious in his badly applied old age makeup reciting the tale to his son, John (John Hubbard) and sister, Jane (Mary Gordon), all who are targets of Kharis in seeking revenge for the desecration of the princess's tomb back in Egypt.
Kharis is brought to the United States by Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey), Andoheb's (George Zucco) successor to the throne of "High Priest." After the recap and a fresh setup, it's basically the same movie as before, but with a less comedic tone. Heck, even when bumbling Babe Hanson (Wallace Ford) shows up in his old age makeup, it's for the funeral of his old buddy, Kharis's first victim.
The Mummy's Tomb is also a little more violent than not just for the other mummy movies, but for any of the Universal Monsters movies so far. The camera lingers a little longer on the murder scenes and the creature is more savage. It doesn't just grab someone's neck; it grabs it and shakes. Part of this may be the performance of first-time mummy actor, Lon Chaney, Jr.
Chaney gives his mummy more personality than any of the previous actors. He delivers more facial expression and is more agile and flexible. He still mainly walks with one stiff leg and one that bends, one arm tied to the waist and one swinging by his side as loose bandages trail in the wind behind him. The makeup still isn't as good as Karloff's, but the face has the illusion of one eye being a hollow socket.
I don’t think any mummy movie will be my favorite of the Universal Monsters, but by the time a man in the crowd shouts, "Get your torches," I'm enjoying The Mummy's Tomb as much as any other. It's as efficient as a movie can be telling its story, keeping the action going throughout. At the end, the creature of the living dead once again goes up in flames AND the leads still get married! The headlines read:
Romance Scored Triumph Over Terror Reign