By 1940 and the reawakening of Universal's classic mummy monster after eight sequel-less years, the original Borlis Karloff-style mummy that could pass for a human as soon as he got his bandages off was long gone, and the mindless, staggering hunk of old bandages was the new norm. Comedy had also found its way into Universal's classic monster movies, perhaps as a counterweight to whatever horror the sight of a filthy shambling mummy supposedly inspired. Still, there are certain elements of 1932's The Mummy to be found here; in fact, a significant amount of footage from that earlier movie is used during some of the early scenes of The Mummy's Hand. We watch the burial of the princess Ananka and witness the horrible fate bestowed upon her lover (Kharis as opposed to Imhotep) for attempting to steal the one thing that could bring the princess back to life. In this case, it is not the Scroll of Thoth that has the power to resurrect the dead, it is the fluid of Tana leaves. Kharis has his tongue cut out and is buried alive, but - and this is a pretty big but - he never really dies. For some unexplained reason, the high priests of Karnak, whose temple stands opposite the mountain tombs of Kharis and Ananka, keep the mummy alive with steady doses of Tana fluid. Thus the mummy waits for the time when someone dares to disturb the tomb of his beloved, in which case the high priest gives him the fluid of nine Tana leaves, enough to give him the strength to dispatch those who defile Ananka's grave but not enough to give him complete strength and true immortality.
As the movie opens, down-on-his-luck archeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and his comic sidekick "Babe" (Wallace Ford) think they have discovered the location of the fabled tomb of Ananka. Despite the subdued hostility of the respected Professor Andoheb (George Zucco), they are determined to investigate the site for themselves. Low on funds, they manage to find an unlikely patron in "The Great Salvoni," a magician whose daughter supplies the required love interest for the story. Work at the excavation site produces unexpected results, including the deaths of a few of the men, and our heroes eventually come to realize that Kharis the mummy is responsible for the attacks. The pretty young lady naturally finds herself in great danger before all is said and done, and the rest is fairly obvious.
The Mummy's Hand offers some new twists of its own to mummy lore, but these twists don't serve its purposes all that well. The story is just a little too far-fetched, I feel, and the ultimate conclusion far from difficult to figure out early on. Still, it's an entertaining film to watch, and the comic relief worked well without ever crossing the line into silliness. I'm not sure why the mummy's hand is so important, though, and it seems to me that the easiest way to avoid the legendary hand is to avoid the mummy altogether. I might add that while I am a George Zucco fan, I really don't think he was a great fit for the part of the high priest of Karnak, but the cast as a whole worked together quite well. While Kharis the mindless mummy (portrayed here by Tom Tyler) lacked the character and menace of the original Karloff mummy, it is this B movie grade mummy who would haunt the dreams of many an impressionable young monster fan back in the day as he shambled his way through this and three additional Kharis the mummy films.