The Mummy (1932)
A love that defied time drives a beautiful girl to her doom!
Year of Release: 1932
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 73 minutes (1:13)
Director: Karl Freund
Boris Karloff ... Imhotep
Zita Johann ... Helen Grosvenor
David Manners ... Frank Whemple
Arthur Byron ... Sir Joseph Whemple
Edward Van Sloan ... Doctor Muller
Bramwell Fletcher ... Ralph Norton
Noble Johnson ... The Nubian
Boris Karloff's role in the 1932 version of The Mummy has become a landmark in the annals of screen history. Karloff plays Im-Ho-Tep, the mummy, who is accidentally revived after 3,700 years by a British archaeology team. In a flashback we find that he was a high priest who was embalmed alive for trying to revive the vestal virgin whom he loved after she had been sacrificed. Now, dressed in the garb of a modern-day Egyptian, he sets out to find his lost love, mistaking Helen Grosvenor for her in the process, and terrorizing the members of the expedition who must find a way to stop him.
The Mummy, remindin' us never to try datin' out of our castes, cause ultimately you'll just end up incurrin' the wrath of the gods for tryin' to keep your relationship on the up-an-up. An you know where that gets ya? No, you don't, cause you end up bein' pitched into an unmarked grave by guys dressed up like the door greeters at Caesar's Palace. As if that ain't reason enough, when you finally get resurrected an reunited with your main squeeze, she acts like she don't even know you. Think she cares about the permanent gauze rash from the mummy wrappins an the infected casket sores? Nuh uh. No, she's off floozin' it up with some simp whose idea of romance is to get four inches from 'er face an tell 'er he's gonna make 'er love 'im. Forget that noise. Always marry an ugly woman, they never break your heart. Or if you're a mummy an don't have a heart, they won't break the garlic an sawdust that got stuffed into the cavity that once contained your heart. An speakin' of gettin' ever closer to death, the older I get, the more I've noticed how folks seem to hit a certain age an immediately decide to boycott anything the least bit fun. Like when you turn 18 for instance, well, that's it for throwin' rocks at the girls. By 25 it's somehow "undignified" to nail a bleacher seat an a coupla bicycle pegs to a skateboard an ride it like a bobsled down offa the hills where the rich people live into the middle of town. Survive to see 33 an you're officially a freeloader for takin' summer break off from work, an by the time you hit 40, well, that's when mud holes stop bein' an all day amusement park an become a vehicle hazard. By 50 I imagine most folks don't even think it's funny to tip over porta-potties while their friends're inside tryin' to force out last night's baked macaroni. We don't really buy into all that crap around these parts, though. We figure you're only as old as the doctor constantly reminds you after you fly off the handle bars of your buddy's Schwinn an break three ribs. That's why every year about this time Billy Hilliard, Sadie Bonebreak an I like to rake up a big pile of leaves an do cannonballs into 'em from the roof of the wood shed. Now, a lotta people, they'll land on a hidden car battery, or miss the pile entirely an call it quits, but not us. No, I'm quittin' cause Apollo buried a dead goose in the pile a coupla days before we had our jump planned, an when I landed on it all the trapped gasses caused it to explode gangrenous critter crud all over the three of us. Billy an I hadda hose off in the yard in sweater weather after Sadie refused to share the shower, like anybody's thinkin' anything even remotely sexual when all parties involved're covered in putrefied fowl shrapnel. Anyway, Billy an I aren't allowed to roof dive anymore or else Sadie won't let us ride in her Ramcharger anymore. I still say she's overreactin', I mean, if Apollo rolls in a big ole cow pattie she thinks that's cute, but we accidentally squish the guts out of a corpse an splatter it to the four winds an that's suddenly over the line. Women're completely unreasonable sometimes.
Anyway, after we all got cleaned up enough to prevent mosta the geese's pieces from dribblin' onto the furniture, we parked our butts in the livin' room to check out The Mummy. Course, at that point the topic of why I continue to do write ups for these moldy oldies when I don't seem to care much for 'em came up. Well, it's like this; most people think of Christmas as the special time of the year where you get together with family an do all that traditional sentimental claptrap an reminisce about the good times you've had. At least until your brother-in-law's spoiled rotten kid starts screamin' about how they got a slightly more economical version of the iPhone than all their friends have an ruin everyone's holiday. Christmas is fine an all, but October is the month where genuine sentiment really comes into play for us socially irredeemable types, an tradition plays an important part for us too. That's why I'm talkin' about The Mummy this week instead of somethin' with a little more chainsaw action, because if we don't take the time to look back at where we've been, we tend to forget how much the present sucks. I hope that wasn't too mushy for everybody, but sometimes you just gotta let your heart do the talkin'. So to salute those pioneerin' weirdos who were willin' to brave the social stigma surroundin' bringin' the dead to life, I'd like to present some of the things I learned as a direct result of their willingness to be pelted with rotten eggs an fruit by irate mothers. First, if there's one thing a Brit can't resist, it's a chick who can sing baritone. Second, never invest too much money in a coffin before the person's actually dead. They might end up pissin' you off before their time comes an force you to cut back on the frills at the last minute. An third, when your ex-boyfriend won't leave you alone, sometimes the best way to end the harassment is to pray for Isis to reduce 'im to a pile of ash.
But like I was sayin' earlier about how lookin' back on these older flicks reminds us of where we've been, I'd like to take the opportunity to expand on that a little more, since this particular flick provides us with a textbook example of somethin' that's pretty well vanished from our modern society; the personal code of conduct. In these modern times, where presidential candidates refuse to release their tax returns, it's nice to look back on a simpler time, when even an evil resurrected mummy bent on revenge had the courtesy to respect the sanctity of a man's home. Sure, Boris coulda just force choked those Brits to the ground an reclaimed his scroll, but then what kinda guest would he have been? You didn't just go bustin' into a man's study because you were indestructible, cause once you did, you'd be shunned at community gatherins an whispered about incessantly by gossipy middle-aged women every time you went into the Woolworths. Kinda hard to imagine now, but in those days folks had what was called a "gentleman's agreement," which were iron clad. It's kinda funny really, cause there's that line in the bible about how you ain't supposed to judge, lest ye be judged, but when you get right down to it, society was always on its best behavior when everybody was constantly keepin' everyone else under surveillance to make sure they weren't Communists or hippies. Course, now that I think about it, I'da never survived in those days, so that generation can go ahead an kiss my hinder.
The movie begins with Egypt spinnin' around on a little turntable an a printed translation of a buncha hieroglyphics from inside a tomb that translate roughly to "you can't keep a good guy down, an when we return from the grave we'd better find all our stuff where we left it." Then we watch these three Brits arguin' about which one of 'em is the most fascinated an curious about the mummy they've just unearthed, while runnin' through the ancient Egyptian forensics in their heads tryin' to figure out if the guy was important, or whether he just accidentally suffocated in his bandages durin' some kinda sleazy Egyptian bondage ritual. Either way, seems this particular spool of gauze was discovered with a creepy lookin' overnight bag with an inscription carved into it that warns anyone who might be thinkin' about openin' it that they'll end up in deep jackal doo-doo if they try it. So, while the two professors (Joseph an Muller) are outside debatin' whether to heed the warning or go rifilin' through the mummy's wardrobe lookin' for any incriminatin' "I Heart Sodom" t-shirts they tell their flunkie not to go an Pandora things up, but he does it anyway cause he's the kinda greedy idiot who always turns down the dinette set to find out what's inside the mystery box on Let's Make a Deal. After he unravels this roll of ancient toilet paper an reads off its contents, the mummy (Boris Karloff) sits up in his Serta sarcophagus, swipes the scroll, an scares the kid into a fit of hysterical laughter that can only be cured by administering marathon therapy sessions of Small Wonder. 11 years later, Joe's son (Frank) is down to Egypt tryin' to follow in his father's sand people prints, when Boris drops by the administrative pup tent an gives Frank a relic he claims he discovered while tryin' to find a path free of land mines en route to Fuad Ramses' catering service, thus suckering Frank into hirin' a buncha destitute Arabs to toil in the sun all day until they finally strike mold. Eventually, Frank's expedition unearths enough historical relics that the guy from Pawn Stars is willin' to pay a full $100 for the collection, an Frank puts all his antiques aboard the first Greyhound camel caravan bound for England. Then, once they've flown in some interior decorators from Cairo to help 'em unpack an set up the new Egyptian wing of their museum, Joe runs into Boris while he's starin' longingly at one of the mummies in the exhibit like John Madden eyeballin' a dessert cart, an Joe tries lurin' Boris over to his house with promises of archeology stories an claims of facial creams that can smooth his skin out so it'll look a little less like a vinyl LP of "Time is on My Side" by the Stones.
Unfortunately, Boris can't make it, cause he's got plans to take over the mind of a mental patient (Helen) in the care of Dr. Muller an use 'er to assassinate The Bangles for their unflattering portrayal of Egyptian traipsing. But that don't really pan out on account of Boris forgettin' to leave a key under the mat for her when she zombies her way over to the museum, an she ends up gettin' hauled back to Frank's place where Joe realizes she's mumblin' to 'erself in a language that nobody's used since Jesus was knee-high to a grasshopper. So, given that this's more or less impossible, Joe makes it his new mission to discover how she's able to hide the unsightly bags an wrinkles she aughta be rife with if she's 2000+ years old, while Boris is back at the museum bein' discovered by some minimum wage security guard an bein' forced to strangle the fool of the Nile for gettin' into his business. Then Muller heads over to Frank's place to collect Helen an get 'er back to workin' off her psychiatric debt in his kitchen, Joe tells Muller about how Helen was tongue talkin' with 'er contemporaries from Troy an they get a phone call an hafta drive down to the museum to collect an old scroll found next to the the tour guide who got pharaowned by Boris. Meanwhile, Frank's supposed to be keepin' an eye on Helen, only by the time Joe an Muller get back he's keepin' his tongue on 'er, an so Joe hasta pry 'em apart like a coupla frozen burritos. Then Boris shows up an does that mind control deal with his fingers that Paul Hogan uses on the buffalo in Crocodile Dundee an makes 'im kiss the ring like they do in The Godfather, at which point he heads upstairs an does the same thing to Helen an gets 'er so infatuated with 'im that she starts swoonin' like Belinda Carlisle in the "I Get Weak" video. Course by this point Muller's startin' to make the connection between Boris' complexion an Helen's ability to talk like an Egyptian, an when Boris tries puttin' the Percodan Stare of Eternity on Joe he decides to cut to the chase an explain that finders's keepers an that they're gonna torch his scroll like a pan of biscuits in a male dominated home-ec class. Boris is P.O.'d, but he doesn't wanna be a bad guest, so he heads home to watch Joe on Spectervision an causes all his ventricles to seize up at the same time like a '73 Cutlass with a blown radiator hose before he can burn the scroll.
Then he sends the butler in to burn some newspaper an collect the scroll so it'll look like Joe got 'er done before he collapsed like the 1971 hog market. Unfortunately for Boris, Muller takes a look at the ashes an smells what the crock was cookin' an gives Frank a necklace of Isis to wear that'll keep 'im safe from Boris' ventricle burstin' brain waves. Then Boris starts projectin' his come withered look into Helen's mind again an lures 'er back to his pad so he can show 'er slides from her past life where she used to lounge around on cushions an eat grapes fed to 'er by burly men with fans. This was before she was in the wrong place at the wrong time an got the raw end of that whole "death of the first born" deal, but because Boris had the hots for 'er, he concocted this pyramid scheme involvin' the theft of the super secret scroll of resurrection from the tomb of Isis to bring 'er back. Everything was goin' fine right up to the part where he misjudged the timing of the guards' coffee break, got captured an wrapped up like a pig in a blanket, an eventually buried alive in the tomb of the unknown moldgier. So you can see why Boris is just a little bit hacked off. He don't go in for no sloppy seconds either, an once he tells 'er to keep Frank's furter away from 'er sarcophagus, she heads for home to play hard to get. She's been with other guys, but I guess that was okay since she always made the guy wear a Tutankhandom. Prolly Sheik brand, I'm guessin'. Anyway, once Frank shows up an goes into his overprotective boyfriend routine that'd get you junk-punched in modern times, Helen snaps out of it an ends up confined to 'er bed just like 'er harem days so she won't try sneakin' back into Boris' Karloft. The downside is that she's got a bad case of the Willie Nelsons, an with Boris always on her mind, the only way she's able to fight 'im off is to get dolled up enough to keep Frank droolin' on 'er like a starvin' Komodo dragon so she'll feel secure enough in 'er relationship to successfully deflect the barrage of incomin' greydar beams comin' from Boris' mind control cannon. But later that night, Frank takes off his Isis costume jewelry an hangs it on Helen's door to ward off any mummy maids who might try snatchin' 'er while he's nappin', an about five seconds later Boris slaps the ole Claw of Ra around his throat an strangles 'im just enough to make 'im blackout, thus allowing Helen to escape. Gonna end the summary here, but if you hadn't seen this one lemme just say; it's worth checkin' out just to see how much skin Zita Johann shows off in the climax.
Alrighty, so another Universal classic that'll get very high marks for production values and pretty poor ones for my own personal enjoyment of it. You'd think these classics would start to grow on you after a while, but I still just can't get into them. But even for folks who do enjoy the classics, you can't help but notice the much slower pace when compared with the other classic monster movies. It's also about as linear as you can possibly get, with very little in the way of surprises or plot twists, and that's before you notice just how similarly it's structured in comparison to Dracula. You've got Edward Van Sloan playing the primary monster slayer in both flicks, as well as David Manners playing the boyfriend of the imperiled female leads in each movie. Beyond the obvious casting duplications you've got the fact that each movie begins in a foreign country central to the particular monster's mythology before transitioning to England, both monsters trying to turn their respective ladies into the undead, and both monsters can hypnotize people just by staring at them hard enough. I prefer Dracula, on the basis that it has more action and because I think Bela Lugosi was the better actor, but it'd be incomprehensible for anyone to love one flick and hate the other, because they're very similar. I can't help but wonder how much of that was because the director (Karl Freund) of The Mummy had previously been the director of photography on Dracula. Considering it was his first time directing a feature film, and he knew Dracula had been a big hit the year before, it's possible that he was either consciously, or subconsciously, sticking with a formula he knew to be tried and true. Karl only directed 8 more movies after The Mummy, and only one of those came anywhere close to being a success, although it's worth noting that his one successful follow up was another horror movie, whereas all the failed flicks were of genres that would have been more palatable to audiences at the time. After that he went back to cinematography and had an extremely lucrative career that culminated with I Love Lucy, of which he photographed 150 episodes. I think the thing that makes The Mummy a little less distinguished than some of its fellow classics is that, by most measures, it doesn't manage to outshine any of them on even one front. All the technical aspects are well executed, but you'd never say the special effects were superior to Frankenstein's, that the sets/soundtrack rose above those of The Wolf Man, or that Karloff, great as he is in this, gives a performance as chilling as Lugosi gives in Dracula. That's why, in my opinion, it's kinda the lesser son of greater sires.
In any event, let's bury this thing and see if it returns with enough gumption to warrant a passing grade. The plot, while not nearly as sensational as those of Dracula or Frankenstein, is still pretty good. And to give credit where credit is due, The Mummy was the first Universal monster movie that wasn't based on an iconic, time-tested novel. So the writers had to do a lot more of their own creative work than what was required for the first two classics. I also find it to be noticeably tamer than those two movies, which are themselves already pretty tame, but as far as the quality of the story and the writing, it's perfectly competent, if a little less exciting. The acting is undoubtedly the high point, with Boris Karloff finally getting the opportunity to deliver dialog after having been virtually silent throughout Frankenstein and The Old Dark House. Karloff had a very unusual voice that, when tweaked very slightly, could go from menacing to kind with very little adjusting. Which is fortunate, because unlike Lugosi, many of Karloff's later roles weren't always that of the villain, and that soft spoken tone of his was equally effective for both protagonists and antagonists. It's probably part of why Karloff went on to have a much richer career than Lugosi, because Lugosi's voice was not nearly as versatile. The supporting cast doesn't hold nearly as much sway over the quality of the film, but does feature good performances from Zita Johann, David Manners, Arthur Byron, Bramwell Fletcher, and Edward Van Sloan. Van Sloan isn't nearly as enjoyable here as he was in Dracula, but much of that has to do with the script, and the fact that Freund wasn't nearly the director Tod Browning was.
Here's who matters and why (except Boris Karloff, who's kind of a legend): Zita Johann (Raiders of the Living Dead), David Manners (Dracula 1931, The Black Cat 1934), Edward Van Sloan (Dracula 1931, Dracula's Daughter, Frankenstein 1931, The Mask of Diijon, The Masked Marvel, The Monster and the Girl, The Phantom Creeps, The Black Room 1935), Bramwell Fletcher (The Undying Monster, The Monkey's Paw 1933), Noble Johnson (King Kong 1933, The Son of Kong, The Most Dangerous Game, The Mad Doctor of Market Street, The Ghost Breakers, Murders in the Rue Morgue 1932, Dante's Inferno 1924), Leonard Mudie (The Magnetic Monster, When Worlds Collide, The Son of Dr. Jekyll, A Message from Mars), Jack Deery (Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man, Phantom of the Opera 1943, I Married a Witch, Hold that Ghost), Bill Elliott (Tarzan's Revenge, The Walking Dead 1936), Leyland Hodgson (Bedlam, The Ghost of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man's Revenge, The Strange Case of Dr. Rx, Adventures of Captain Marvel, The Invisible Man Returns, The Wolf Man), Eddie Kane (Devil Bat's Daughter, Batman 1943, The Corpse Vanishes, Tarzan's New York Adventure, The Devil Commands), Tony Marlow (The Black Cat 1934), C. Montague Shaw (Undersea Kingdom, The Green Hornet Strikes Again, The Mysterious Doctor Satan, Buck Rogers 1939, Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars), Arthur Tovey (Back to the Future, To the Ends of Time, Meteor 1979, Capricorn One, Young Frankenstein, Willard 1971, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Batman: The Movie 1966, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, Phantom of the Rue Morgue, The War of the Worlds 1953). Strangely, with the exception of Karloff, most members of the supporting cast didn't go on to have real stellar careers, and despite the fact that a few of them were in big hit movies, the roles they played weren't anywhere approaching lead status. Thus, the only mainstream credit I'm inclined to list here would be for Bramwell Fletcher, who played Harrison in Random Harvest.
The special effects are fairly limited, given the movie's age, but the most notable (and most obvious) one is the makeup job Jack Pierce did on Boris Karloff to transform him into The Mummy. Pierce did the makeup effects on pretty much every horror flick that could afford to pay the staff more than minimum wage, and despite being a lot less grotesque than what we saw in Frankenstein, the job done on Karloff in this movie is still a superb effort. It took eight hours to get Karloff ready for all the scenes in which he's in the mummy's bandages, which is basically half, or more, of a day's shooting schedule. Now granted, Karloff only appears in full bandages during two scenes in the movie, and those scenes were probably done back to back where possible, but that's a lot of time to spend per day on a shoot that was only 23 days long. Another excellent set of effects utilized in the movie are the gravediggers being impaled by the spears after Boris gets dumped into his grave. Not only is it really bloody, but the spears don't look real floppy and fake the way they often do in lower budget movies. So essentially, the quality is very good, despite there being only a few effects. The shooting locations, I'm sure you'll be shocked to learn, did not actually include Egypt. The desert footage was all shot in the Mojave in California, while the interiors were filmed on the Universal lot. You've gotta remember that even on a big budget production, getting an entire crew to Egypt would have taken an exorbitant amount of time and money. Still, a desert is a desert, and with a few insert shots of the Sphinx and the pyramids, it's not like anybody's gonna notice the difference. The best and most elaborate set is probably the interior of the museum, which features convincing props and a layout that makes one believe it could have really been an authentic exhibit. Of course, you'd expect there to be a lot more ropes designed to keep people from getting too close, but all in all, the sets are pretty good. The soundtrack, which features the same Swan Lake tune as Dracula playing over the opening credits, is one area where The Mummy is a bit more sophisticated. Because unlike Dracula, this movie has actual musical scores playing throughout. The downside to that is that it tends to lean on its music a little too much, and lacks the creepy sound effects (creaking doors, thunder, bats squealing, wolves howling) that made the other Universal classics so atmospheric. I don't personally care for the music all that much, because even though it was likely one of the flicks to popularize the cliched Arabic sound that would later accompany most movies set in these locations, it still comes across as really dated and a little cheesy. Overall, despite being historically significant in the genre, I think it's the weakest of the original Universal monster movies, and the only one whose sequels are decidedly more exciting, but still worth checking out at least once.