PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE MUMMY (1959)
That’s Christopher Lee as Kharis the Mummy-— well, as Kharis before he becomes a mummy— about to get his tongue cut from his mouth in the Hammer Film THE MUMMY (1959).
Hmm. Having your tongue pulled out with a set of tongs, to then be severed from your mouth with a sharp blade. Very nasty.
While my favorite movie Mummy remains Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis in the Universal Mummy movies, I do like Christopher Lee here in this version from 1959. Like so many other Christopher Lee performances, this one was largely overlooked when this film was initially released. Sure, fans have always liked Lee, but critics have been less than kind. Want further proof? Lee is largely recognized today more for his longevity in the movies than for his acting chops, which is too bad, because he’s a darn good actor. If he weren’t, he would have stopped making movies years ago.
Sure, at first, Lee was overshadowed by Hammer’s other star, Peter Cushing, who also stars here in THE MUMMY. But more importantly, Lee’s strength, especially in his role here as the Mummy and earlier as the Creature in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN
(1957) is his ability to do more with less, and in the case of these monster roles, to incorporate his pantomime skills. Even when playing these brutal monsters, Lee makes his mark by doing the little things. The strength of a Christopher Lee performance is its subtlety, and this often gets lost on critics.
For example, once his tongue is cut from his mouth, Kharis is mute, which means as the Mummy, Lee has to perform without saying a word, and he doesn’t disappoint. He does so much with just his eyes, the way they dart to the left and right for full dramatic effect. Sometimes it’s just a quick shake of his head, or a gaze of longing as he sees the reincarnated body of his long dead love for the first time.
Lee is terrific as Kharis the Mummy, and he does it all here without saying a word. Of course, in the flashback sequence in THE MUMMY, Lee does speak dialogue as the human high priest Kharis, before he commits blasphemy by trying to resurrect his dead girlfriend, the Princess Ananka. Yup, even back in ancient Egypt, men were getting in trouble over women. Lee is great in these speaking scenes as well, until, of course, as we see in today’s Picture of the Day, he loses his tongue, in a not-so-pleasant manner.
Think going to the dentist is bad? Look once more at this picture, and think again!
Thanks for reading!