Pharaoh’s Curse (1957)

Pharaoh's_Curse_(1957)‘A blood-sucking mummy…that kills for a cat-goddess…unleashing 4,000 years of horror upon this century!’

Cairo 1902: the natives are restless and threatening to overthrow the colonial British government. A team of soldiers are sent to the Valley of Kings to bring back an Anglo-American archaeological expedition, whose activities are bound to be unpopular with the locals.

Drab, lacklustre b-flick that follows the familiar pattern established by Universal Studio’s ‘Mummy’ series in the 1940s. We are spared the High Priest and his Tana Leaves, but instead get a beautiful Egyptian woman who appears out of the desert to accompany hunky Captain Storm (Mark Dana) and his small and rather unimpressive rescue expedition. Also along for the ride is the lead archaeologist’s wife (Diane Brewster) and within 30 seconds, we have all the significant personal character interactions mapped out for the next 66 minutes.

The production is competent, but desperately uninspired. Death Valley stands in pretty well for the Egyptian desert and we have the usual supporting cast lining up one by one to be knocked off once the ambitious George N Neise invokes the ancient curse. There’s some soul transmigration to give us the monster (the only vaguely original thing in the film), but he appears to be rather like an old man in a night shirt, which isn’t particularly scary. Even worse, the cast of victims are introduced so briefly and have so little character development that we can’t even remember who they are, let alone care about their fate.

A quick glance through the professional history of cast and crew reveal something in common – lots and lots of Television. Director Lee Sholem did make some features – most notably the first two Lex Barker ‘Tarzan’ pictures and ‘Superman and the Mole-Men (1951)— but excursions on to the big screen were rare by this point in his career. Hero Mark Dana did lots of TV guest slots and a few movies but this was his only lead. He’s not bad; just not very memorable, although he’s not exactly given a lot to work with by Richard H Landau’s flimsy script. Landau wrote mostly for TV (‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’, ‘The Outer Limits’, ‘The Green Hornet’ – the list is pretty extensive!) but also penned a half dozen features, including ‘Up Periscope’ (1959) with James Garner (pretty good) and ‘Frankenstein ’70’ (1958) with Boris Karloff (pretty dreadful). He also scripted the film version of ‘The Quatermass Xperiment’ (1955).

Pharaoh's_Curse_(1957)

‘Sorry, sah! But you know how it is… we were just going to have a quick snifter in the officer’s mess, and before we knew it…’

Probably the most interesting presence here (and quite often the only thing worth looking at) is Ziva Rodann (here billed as Ziva Shapir). Her character is as ‘one note’ as all the rest, but at least her exotic looks and presence give the role some weight. Rodann went on to be Nefertiti to Victor Buono’s marvellous King Tut on the ‘Batman’ TV show in the 1960s, before she retired from acting and returned to Israel.

A pedestrian effort that plods along reasonably enough but fades from the memory as quickly as footprints in the desert.

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