Strangely enough, it took Universal eight whole years to get around to making a sequel to 1932's THE MUMMY with Boris Karloff. But in 1940, they finally came up with THE MUMMY'S HAND, which, as it turned out, had nothing to do with the original story.
This time, a couple of down-on-their-luck archeologists, the dashing Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and his pudgy comedy-relief sidekick "Babe" Jenson (Wallace Ford) are about ready to give up and leave Egypt when they stumble upon a clue that leads them to the ancient tomb of the Princess Ananka.
But the tomb is guarded by the undying mummy of Kharis, who, like Im-ho-tep, was mummified alive for sacrilege. In lieu of the Scroll of Thoth, however, Kharis is kept alive by the fluid of boiled tana leaves, given to him over the years by a succession of High Priests who are dedicated to preserving the sanctity of the princess' tomb.
By this time, Karloff had better things to do than shuffle around wrapped head-to-toe in gauze, so actor Tom Tyler took over the title role. Better known as the title character of one of the greatest serials ever made, 1941's THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL, as well as a prolific Western star, Tyler brought an eerie presence to the role of the homicidal Kharis.
In the movie's trailer and in some of the wider shots of the film itself, Tyler's eyes are menacing and expressive, yet in his close-ups they're masked to appear solid black. Some prefer this and consider it scarier-looking, but I think he looks much more impressive without the special effect.
This time the Mummy remains mute and leaves his wrappings on, thank goodness--no fez for Kharis--as will also be the case in the subsequent sequels. Tyler also sports actual Jack Pierce facial makeup in his closeups, whereas Tyler's successor Lon Chaney, Jr. would appear solely in rubber masks fashioned for him by Pierce.
Other precendents for the future films are set here as well. THE MUMMY'S HAND begins with an old priest handing down his knowledge and responsibilities to a successor, and relating the history of Kharis and Princess Ananka through flashbacks from the first film.
And finally, there's the inherently lovelorn and amorous nature of these new-model High Priests of Karnak, who just can't seem to keep their hands off the leading ladies.
George Zucco sets this precedent in motion by developing a high-school crush on the captive Peggy Moran and planning to give her and himself the old "hot tana-leaf injection" in a lavish set left over from James Whale's GREEN HELL (which adds immeasurably to the film's production values.) Will Steve and Babe show up just in time to stick a fork in his scheme?
Actually, the fact that these ace archeologists have failed until the last minute to discover a huge Egyptian temple on the other side of the hill from where they're encamped doesn't speak much for their abilities. Even their discovery of Kharis' tomb is the result of a lucky accident after Andoheb tries to kill them with dynamite.
With THE MUMMY'S HAND, the series was already double-bill fodder with a running time of only 67 minutes. Even so, the expedition doesn't even reach the desert until the halfway point, and the Mummy makes his initial appearance several minutes after that.
But the comedy bits and character scenes leading up to this point are fun, and once the action gets started it never stops. The cast is fine and the film as a whole is a polished, competent effort that stands on its own as one of the most likable horror films of the forties.
Read our overview of the entire original Universal Mummy series