Thursday, June 15, 2017

It’s Saruman vs. Grand Moff Tarkin, or Thoughts on The Mummy

It’s safe to say that Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing built Hammer films with their on-screen partnership as Holmes and Watson, Dracula and Van Helsing and Frankenstein and The Monster.  In The Mummy (1959), they collaborated once again with Peter as John Banning, Victorian archaeologist and Christopher as the High Priest Kharis, cursed with eternal life for his forbidden love of Princess Ananka, conveniently reincarnated as John’s wife Isobel.
With a screenplay by by Jimmy Sangster, who wrote most of the Hammer movies you remember including X: The Unknown (1957), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958).  Most of the violence happens off-screen (this is 1959), while the overwhelming mood of terror and dread is built with music, performance and Christopher Lee’s screen presence.  A Hammer movie was also known for an almost microscopic level of detail when it came to interior design and costumes, an on-screen accuracy that inspired a generation of artists and filmmakers.  It wasn’t all castle and horses; it was little things like gas lighting and inkwells that contributed to the signature look of a Hammer movie. 

Christopher Lee’s imposing 6’5” height worked well for Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and Rasputin before going on to play Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973) and of course Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun (1974).  He continued to work steadily through the 80’s and 90’s, including a cameo in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999) before an entirely new generation discovered him as Count Dooku and another trilogy about giant eagles in New Zealand.

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