Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Mummy’s Hand: Tom Tyler the movie monster

‘Tis the season for a Tom Tyler horror film, even though he starred in only one of this genre, “The Mummy’s Hand”. Playing a movie monster is a demanding role, often requiring many hours of sitting perfectly still in the makeup chair, as Tom had to, appearing as a 3000 year old mummy, having been buried alive as a punishment for having stolen the sacred tanna leaves which guarantee immortality.

It certainly took a lot of makeup to make Tom Tyler look ugly and scary at the same time. His facial profile was perfect for the mummification process, his classic nose and strong jawline showing off nicely beneath the makeup. It was Tom’s stature and physique that made him so intimidating as a movie monster, though, muscular arms with big hands stretched out when he walked, Tom appeared as if he was going to attack anyone who got in his way – and he did, as the script required.

Jack Pierce was Tom’s makeup man, and it took a total of six hours every morning to apply the makeup on the filming days when Tom’s role required him to be in front of a camera. According to an article in The Morning Call, Allentown, PA, June 18, 1940, the makeup procedure was described as following: thin slivers of cotton were placed on Tom’s face, neck and hands, followed with saturation of the cotton with spirit gum, creating the wrinkles in Tom’s skin. Once the solution dried, Pierce then painted Tom with a grisly gray paint, then flecked with clay particles. When it came to Tom’s natural dark brown hair, Pierce rubbed clay and glue to make it look like gray plaster, as if it was artistically carved by one of the Masters. The dry clay on the hair and scalp was really uncomfortable for Tom, often creating an itchy sensation which could not be resolved.
Sometimes he did ask Pierce if he could have a smoke, to help him relax during the process. Being laden beneath the heavy makeup and restrictive bandages meant that Tom could only work a total of three hours a day due to the increasing discomfort of being in costume. For a super scary special effect, Tom’s eyes were “blacked out” using a camera technique in some scenes which made him even more frightening: seemingly liquid eyes that shone in the dark, moving like ocean waters being forced apart to reveal a monstrous form of sea life. Once filming for the day ended, it took an hour and a half to remove the makeup from Tom, and Jack Pierce dissolved the face makeup in acetone, which could not have been good for Tom, given its nature to burn sensitive areas like the nasal passages, eyes and lips. Hopefully Tom washed his face afterwards with soap and water to neutralize the effect of acetone, which is more commonly used in removing nail polish.

When the time came to eat lunch after sitting in the makeup chair, Tom often ate with Pierce, for the rest of the crew and cast could not watch Tom, looking truly hideous in his mummy makeup, while conversing and eating. What actor or actress would want to risk throwing up while filming on the set? But Tom Tyler being himself, would never make a fellow actor or actress feel uncomfortable to the point of nausea as the result of his monster makeup.

Outside of a few grunts, Tom’s role as the mummy had no spoken dialogue, and in the first chapter of the movie he is seen as the living Pharaoh Kharis, minus the monster makeup but wearing full Egyptian regalia from head to toe. In the story, Kharis’ tongue is removed before he is wrapped in bandages, his face slowly disappearing under the white cotton strips while his eyes were wide open in shock, the last time the viewer sees Tom Tyler’s natural face before the magical transformation of mummification. As with “Stagecoach”, the powerful expressions that Tom conveys in “The Mummy’s Hand” are worthy of being critically acclaimed. When it comes to knocking off victims in the movie, all it takes is one hand wrapped around a man’s neck to strangle him, an act pulled off very realistically by Tom.

One can only guess that Tom Tyler was both curious and thrilled about being part of Hollywood’s movie monster history, for by the time he was filming “The Mummy’s Hand” he was not yet cast as a superhero; he was a B-western leading man. No doubt he enjoyed getting to make the female lead, Peggy Moran, faint when her eyes fell upon him at first sight when she awoke from being asleep in the tent and being carried off to his tomb in the mountain. It is not quite as romantic as being swept off her feet while Tom is on horseback, as Tom did with many a leading lady, but such a scene remains something to boast about during his versatile film career.





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