The Mummy (1932)

  • directed by Karl Freund
  • starring Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Leonard Mudie, Edward Van Sloan, Arthur Byron
  • The mummy of a high priest, Im-ho-tep, comes to life and walks away in search of his long lost love.

“It was not only this body I loved, it was thy soul.”

This film had a noticeable lack of scares and was essentially a love story, featuring great performances from Boris Karloff and Zita Johann. The makeup, the ruthless stare, and how Imhotep stopped at nothing to reclaim his lost connection with Anck-es-en-Amon helped inch it towards the horror column, and I’m sure it played that way at the time, but it did feel watered down because the worst of his actions occur off-screen only. Where Dracula had the audacity to take his horror campaign to his victims bedrooms and clearly had not a single positive value to him, Imhotep at times came off as aloof, disinterested, and not very dangerous. He also came off as lovesick, and it’s never a scary experience when you find yourself here and there rooting for the guy to achieve what he’s after. But it was Johann’s deeply troubled yet graceful and exotic performance as the generation-spanning Anck-es-en-Amon and Helen Grosvenor that helped tip the scales back to a more traditional “monster must die” emotion while watching. She was a definite highlight and it’s a shame she took on just a few roles after this one.

I haven’t seen Frankenstein yet, so I’m very curious where that fits in because what stood out most of all to me was how closely the structure of The Mummy was to that of Universal’s other horror classic, Dracula. There were many bits of Egyptian lore that the producers were able to use but no actual story, like those other films had with Bram Stoker’s or Mary Shelley’s, from which to draw. Instead director Karl Freund, who was the cinematographer on Dracula, clearly took a page or two from his previous work–the film begins with an establishing scene similar in tone and in what it sets up; the main character then takes up business with those that are investigating him and is hidden in plain sight; there is the scene where he’s interrogated and revealed; another professorial role for Edward Van Sloan; and at the core of everything is a woman, the major pawn in the game who has suitors on both sides. Helen ultimately ends up as the bait on the hook as well, all while she tries to complete the picture of who she was in her previous life. It was an interesting movie in terms of its time jumping and identity struggles, and I really loved the style choice of reverting to classic silent era staging and cinematography in the scene where Imhotep recalls the events leading up to his mummification. It actually amplified the many other aspects of the film that were obviously inspired by the silent film style not just on the production side, but the acting side as well. I have many positive marks for The Mummy, just maybe not on the horror scale.


About classixquest
all the things I should have seen

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