The Mummy (1932)

The Mummy (1932) – Two reviews into my retrospective of the Universal Monster films, I haven’t yet mentioned one of the people largely responsible for their classic iconography: Jack Pierce. Well, third time’s the charm. Jack Pierce was the leading make-up guy at Universal after Lon Chaney (Sr.) walked off the set of The Man Who Laughs. Pierce stepped in and gave Conrad Veidt his hideous grinning visage (which, fun fact, provided the inspiration for the Joker in Batman comics). Pierce’s contributions to The Mummy are invaluable, as he transformed horror superstar Boris Karloff into the bandages ghoul seen above. Oddly enough, that shot is not in the actual film. Karloff, in his mummified form, is not ever fully viewed (just close-ups of his face or his hands). This creates an air of mystery in that opening scene. Actually the storyline of The Mummy bears quite a strong resemblance to Universal’s earlier Dracula, but with elaborately designed Egyptian sets. David Manners and Edward Van Sloan even star, serving the same functions as leading man and wise professor respectively.

A 1921 expedition to Egypt finds the tomb of Imhotep (Karloff), a high priest, along with the Scroll of Thoth which purports to be able to raise people from the dead. A curse is written on the box containing the scroll warning people not to open it. But people in movies are stupid. Imhotep wakes up, takes the scroll, and walks off, leaving the only witness insane from the shock. In 1932, another expedition to Egypt is proving mostly fruitless. An Egyptian man named Ardath Bey (Karloff, so guess he really turns out to be) points the archaeologists towards the tomb of Egyptian Princess Ankh-es-en-amon. The find causes a sensation but mysterious deaths surround the exhibit. Bey (who if you haven’t figured it out by now is the Mummy) begins to entrance a young woman named Helen (Zita Johann), who is the doppelgänger of Ankh-es-en-amon. Imhotep and Ankh-es-en-amon were star-crossed lovers, which led to Imhotep being mummified alive. Now he will use whatever dark magic is at his disposal to bring Ankh-es-en-amon back… using Helen’s body…

The Mummy does drag more than others in the Universal Monsters series, but its atmosphere and mythology carry it a long way. Cut from the film was a lengthy sequence involving the relationship between various reincarnations of Imhotep and Ankh-es-en-amon, all of which ended badly. When this got cut Zita Johann, a firm believer in reincarnation, was pissed. Her relationship with director Karl Freund was already pretty strained. Freund was an experienced cinematographer, but hadn’t directed actors before and that’s apparent at times. The cast is professional enough that they do all right (though it’s that very theatrical style of acting that a lot of older films have). Karloff (be all accounts a perfectly charming English gentleman) is damn creepy as always. His Ardath Bey make-up is just a lot of wrinkles but it still gives him an unusual look and his eyes have a malevolence in them that help define the character. Imhotep isn’t as sympathetic as Frankenstein’s monster or the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but he still embarks on his whole mad quest in the name of love. He’s been hurt and that hurt drives him to a very dark place. Stephen Sommers attempted to bring that to his 1999 remake (with Arnold Vosloo as Imhotep) but that was more an Indiana Jones-style action-adventure film than this one. This version is going more for a haunting tone. It is somewhat, though not completely, successful.

One Response to “The Mummy (1932)”
  1. Rueben says:

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