The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb



Notes: Columbia Pictures, but probably a tv movie originally. 98 minutes.
Howard Carter: Robin Ellis
Miss Sarah Morrissey: Eva Marie Saint
Lord Carnarvon: Harry Andrews
Princess Vilma: Wendy Hiller
Jermash Sebastian: Raymond Burr

Produced: Peter Graham Scott
Directed: Philip Leacock
Written: Herb Meadow
Based on Behind the Mask of Tutankhamen by Barry Wynne
Music: Gil Mellé

Summary: A narrative voice acknowledges the dimension of “legend” or “story” that generates from every great event such as the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. Howard Carter finds a medallion with the inscription: “Death will come swiftly to those who disturb the tomb of the king.” [The box reads: “Death shall come on swift wings to him that toucheth the tomb of the pharaoh.” And a later discovery gives another version.]

Meanwhile, an October 1922 seance at Lord Carnarvon’s involving his wife and daughter has Princess Vilma the medium giving warnings in an otherworldly voice. The door blows open and the dog is weirded out. Carnarvon is skeptical of this event and of Carter’s archaeological enthusiasm after six years of financial investment. A female thief steals an obscure papyrus fragment from Carnarvon’s collection.

Back at the site in Luxor, Carter resumes digging, chases and hires a kid who claims to have found, not stolen, a relic, and dubs the kid “Fishbait.” Meanwhile, with a scarab device, fat bastard Jermash Sebastian kills the woman who stole the papyrus fragment. He takes it and the second fragment of papyrus which now together offer an inventory of ancient treasures.

Disturbing a nest of scorpions kills one of Carter’s workers and Miss Morrissey, a reporter, tries to generate a flap about the curse. Fishbait finds stairs to the entrance to the tomb.

His wife tells George (Carnarvon) that he should not go to Egypt (and there’s some weird deal between them alluded to). Daughter Evelyn will accompany him though.

Sebastian sits with Carter and threatens his expulsion from Egypt. When Carnarvon arrives the seance medium warns him of doom. But the tomb is opened and it’s a media event. Carter looks in to see the riches; but Carnarvon sees frightening masks and the faces of statues. Carter’s glorious announcement is interrupted by the death of his snake-bitten foreman.

Sebastian tries to stir up trouble with Ministry of Antiquities agent Ahkmed over Carter. To stave off trouble, Carter spends the night in the tomb, and Fishbait sneaks in, almost getting killed by a knife during what seems like an earthquake. Carnarvon sends his daughter home since she is smitten with Carter. Carter is miffed about credit going repeatedly to Carnarvon, so that at an establishment of drink and bellydancing, he makes a spectacle of himself, ranting at the Egyptian people and smashing what at first seems to be a priceless statuette. Sebastian rats to the Ministry agent Ahkmed again.

Carter insists that the artifacts be transported by airplane, but his new foreman is Sebastian’s lackey and bribes the pilot. With the inventory finished, Carter breaks into the next room, the shrine. Oo. Ah. Carnarvon waxes philosophical about destiny as Carter sees the inscription: “Death comes on swift wings to those who disturb the pharaoh’s tomb” (a third version).

Carnarvon and daughter go to a dinner party, but he says has nicked himself shaving on the left cheek, it won’t stop bleeding, and he looks ill. As he collapses, Vilma says, “He was warned.” A dog howls. The doctors say he has an insect bite on his cheek which has become infected and he’s dying. On his deathbed he hears an otherworldly whisper, “Why did you disturb me? … Death is not an end but a welcome beginning, as you will soon know.” As he dies, six separate power plants in Cairo conk out and his dog in England, James, collapses and dies.

Daughter Evelyn is leaving and won’t be back. She tells Carter, “You live only for the past out here.” So the reporter Morrissey makes a move on him while back at the site the tomb door closes on the sleeping Fishbait. The next morning the two find him suffocated.

As Hassan, the new foreman, plans the smuggling of artifacts out of the country on the plane, Sebastian blames Carter to the Ministry for this pending crime. Carter’s car chase to the plane is to no avail. The plane has been sabotaged and goes down in a firy explosion soon after taking off. Reporter Morrissey figures it all out in the back seat after seeing Sebastian and the minister present at the take-off, and she even surmises what the papyrus fragment theft was all about. Back at the site, though, Carter has been locked out pending investigation into the crash. They nevertheless weasel in and the race is on to open the sarcophagus with everyone else now locked out. Sebastian has the generator cut, but they have a lamp. Minor help receive minor injuries in trying to raise the lid, but they manage in time. The gold death mask ostensibly is what Sebastian was after, and supposedly Carter revealing it here foiled his plan — the whole world would know of the treasure, instead of it being in the possession of one man.

Mention is made of a wound on the boy king’s left cheek: by an insect bite? The narrator also asks again about the curse: “legend or reality? fact or fantasy?” Akmed became a director of antiquities but collapsed and died later. Princess Vilma failed to predict the Depression and died in poverty. The wife of Carnarvon remarried. Evelyn never went back to Egypt, married, and had a long life. Sebastian lived in comfort and security. Sarah Morrissey went back to her job. Carter lived his life in the Valley of the Kings — a living curse?

Commentary: It’s difficult to tell the factual from the rubbish, and from the historical rubbish (what was rubbish but at least was invented at the time). Anyway, if being “cursed” can amount to a long life of comfort and security, get me a pickax. This would have been a good tv movie in 1980 if I’d seen it then with a bag of Doritos and a batch of sloe gin fizzes.

Mummy Films