The Mummy's Shroud
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By far the most significant studio for horror films in the 1960s, Hammer Films began as a diverse British production company dabbling in everything from mysteries to comedies. At the end of the 1950s, they finally found their niche with the smash success of three vibrant, Technicolor revivals of monsters ignored since the heyday of Universal Pictures: Horror of Dracula (1958), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and The Mummy (1959). All three starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and were directed by Terence Fisher, an audacious director whose eye-popping use of color and composition created intense, gothic nightmares which inspired everything from American AIP drive-in programming to the first great wave of Italian horror.
While an attempt to revive the werewolf resulted in only a single (but excellent film), 1961's The Curse of the Werewolf, the Dracula and Frankenstein franchises proved durable into the '70s with a new entry almost every other year (and with Lee and Cushing returning as leads for most of the films in each respective series). On the other hand, the concept of the mummy proved far more difficult to extend beyond its initial appearance. The Western fascination with Egyptology which took hold with the discovery in 1922 of Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen's tomb by Howard Carter continued to hold strongly in England and America, but the idea of a mummy returning in film after film presented two major obstacles: the primary villain remained wrapped in cloth, meaning an actor like Lee would be unlikely to subject himself more than once to such a role; and no anchor character apart from the mummy himself had been established to create any sort of identifiable link from one film to the next, while the mummy himself by necessity had to be obliterated at the end of each film.
Although Universal never managed to surmount these problems in the 1940s, Hammer soldiered on with the idea and eventually created three more mummy films which present an interesting case study in how to tackle a faceless Egyptian monster with no discernible personality. First came The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb in 1964, which essentially rehashed the initial film's premise with a larger cast, bigger budget and the luxury of Techniscope. Three years later, another resuscitated Egyptian monarch rose from the dead in The Mummy's Shroud (1967), which became part of a package of Hammer titles released abroad by 20th Century-Fox. In this case it was usually shown on a double bill with Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) and advertised with the admittedly unique tagline, "Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet!" The fourth Hammer mummy offering, 1971's Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, attempted a radical rethink of the formula by eschewing the familiar monster's appearance in favor of a glamorous Egyptian queen but, despite its numerous admirable qualities, was the last in the series.
Ironically, Hammer proved to be slightly ahead of the curve as the following year saw the launch of the globally popular Treasures of Tutankhamen tour, which launched at the British Museum and became a major worldwide touring attraction until 1979. The result spawned another wave of Egyptian curse films both on television and the big screen (including 1980's The Awakening, a remake of Hammer's last mummy film), but Hammer itself remained curiously uninterested.
Heavily inspired by the real King Tut scenario, The Mummy's Shroud places its action in the early 1920s as an archaeological team searches for the tomb of Pharaoh Kah-To-Bey, a mysterious boy leader whose guardian, Prem, saved him during a violent revolution. "At this point I think we need to remind ourselves we're living in the twentieth century," goes one key line of dialogue as the interloping British team ignores warnings from the locals, and each member is picked off one by one as retribution by the freshly-awakened mummy of Prem inside (played by Cushing's regular stuntman, Eddie Powell, who went to handle much of the title role in 1979's Alien). The local Muslim authorities prove unsympathetic to their plight and forbid them to leave using such foolproof reasoning as "Two of your colleagues have been murdered. I see no reason why there should be a third."
The lead roles this time are handled by Hammer veteran André Morell as Sir Basil Walden and John Phillips (Becket, 1964) as the nefarious Stanley Preston, both longstanding character actors with a lengthy string of film and TV credits. The nominal female lead is Scottish actress Elizabeth Sellars, also a character actress best known for 1954's The Barefoot Contessa. The youngest of the male leads, the role of Paul Preston, was filled by David Buck, a TV actor and frequent voice talent best known from one of Disney's best-remembered small screen productions, Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1954). Meanwhile the younger, secondary female star, Maggie Kimberly (who plays Claire de Sangre), essentially disappeared from the screen after one more appearance in 1968's Witchfinder General. Other recognizable participants include Catherine Lacey (The Sorcerers, 1967) as a hammy fortune teller, regular Hammer performer Michael Ripper who gets the most spectacular death scene via defenestration, and most memorably, Roger Delgado (the first major villain on TV's Doctor Who) as the doom-spouting local expert on all mummy matters. Rumors also persist that the film's opening narrator is actually an uncredited Peter Cushing; while the cadence is similar, the voice sounds an octave too high. As most of the participants are now deceased, it's a mystery which may never be firmly resolved.
Longstanding British stage and screen performer Morrell had been acting in feature films since 1938 (most notably in 1950's So Long at the Fair), but it wasn't until his portrayal of Colonel Green in David Lean's classic The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) that he gained true international recognition. He quickly became an in-demand actor in his native country, winning the lead role one year later in the first TV version of Quatermass and the Pit (1958) as well as the lead in The Giant Behemoth (1959) and two key Hammer films, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959, playing Watson to Cushing's Sherlock Holmes) and Val Guest's The Camp on Blood Island (1958). He starred in several films per year afterwards, most notably as Sextus in Ben-Hur (1959), and more Hammer films in addition to this one including She (1965), The Plague of the Zombies (1966), and The Vengeance of She (1968). Afterwards he largely appeared in television productions, working steadily until his death in 1978.
Though Hammer utilized either Terence Fisher or Freddie Francis for the majority of its Dracula and Frankenstein offerings, the mummy cycle is quite different as it never used the same director twice. The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb was one of the few directorial efforts from the studio's most prolific producer, Michael Carreras, while Blood from the Mummy's Tomb was handled by the very talented Seth Holt (who died during production, leaving Carreras to handle the few remaining scenes). The Mummy's Shroud's director, John Gilling, cut his teeth on numerous low-budget thrillers since the late 1940s but caught Hammer's attention with his astonishing The Flesh and the Fiends, one of the best horror films from the watershed year of 1960. Unfortunately his talents were underutilized for five years in Hammer films (and blatant imitations) like Shadow of the Cat (1961) and The Pirates of Blood River (1962) before he finally scored in 1966 with two top-tier Hammer classics, The Reptile and The Plague of the Zombies, both intelligent studies of the perils of colonialism manifested in the English countryside.
The Mummy's Shroud finds Gilling a bit out of his element with the action shifted to a not-quite-convincing Egypt, but he manages some striking touches like unexpected handheld camerawork and an earthy color palette (in radical contrast to the past two mummy films) which erupts in startling bursts of color during the memorable darkroom murder (in which a photographer is assaulted with acid) and the poetic finale. Unfortunately this proved to be Gilling's final major theatrical release as his attentions turned to television, where he directed numerous episodes of The Saint, The Champions, and Department S. This film also signaled the end of another era as it was the final production to be shot at Bray Studios, Hammer's regular home for over sixteen years. While the studio remained productive for ten more years, the atmosphere was never quite the same.
Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys
Director: John Gilling
Screenplay: John Gilling (writer); John Elder (story)
Cinematography: Arthur Grant
Art Direction: Don Mingaye
Music: Don Banks
Film Editing: Chris Barnes
Cast: André Morell (Sir Basil Walden), John Phillips (Stanley Preston), David Buck (Paul Preston), Elizabeth Sellars (Barbara Preston), Maggie Kimberly (Claire de Sangre), Michael Ripper (Longbarrow), Tim Barrett (Harry Newton), Richard Warner (Inspector Barrani), Roger Delgado (Hasmid), Catherine Lacey (Haiti).
by Nathaniel Thompson