The Mummy – Classic Horror Week

The Mummy is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Mummy (1932)

“When British archaeologists uncover the ancient sarcophagus of a mummified Egyptian priest (Boris Karloff), they foolishly ignore its warning not to open the box, and the mummy is brought back to life. Taking the form of a modern Egyptian, he quickly begins his quest to resurrect the soul of his love, which he believes has been reincarnated in a modern woman (Zita Johann). Noted German cinematographer Karl Freund makes his directing debut.”

“He went for a little walk! You should have seen his face! “

The Mummy – a story of undying love, or stalking as we call it in the real world. Netflix’s instant play of The Mummy has a better picture quality than my Mummy DVD from the Legacy box.

Karl Freund finally gets out from behind the camera and directs here. His direction is good – there’s a wonderful scene at the beginning where a character goes mad at seeing the Mummy come to life (yes overacted as was the stagey style of the time) and the camera tracks over to watch the last bits of bandage go out the door. There are many nicely filmed spots like that but there are at least as many that are static stage play setups.

King Tut’s tomb and the rumored curse were very popular at the time so sets are crammed with as much Egyptian bric-a-brac as possible. Jack Pierce’s makeup jobs on the Mummy (only briefly seen) and Ardath Bey are fabulous and make the film worth watching by themselves. It took Pierce eight hours each day to do Karloff’s makeup.

Boris Karloff dominates every scene he is in, as is to be expected. He is absolutely riveting whether he is expressing his love for Helen or calmly threatening the archaeologists. Zita Johann is fascinating as Helen. In spite of being only 28, Zita appeared in only a handful of films after The Mummy.

The movie bears a remarkable resemblance to the previous year’s Dracula – the same piece of music opens both films, the wise benevolent character is played by Edward Van Sloan in both films, David Manners plays the young lead in both films, the stories are quite similar and Karl Freund also helped direct Dracula. While this movie is wonderful, the mummy per se is hardly featured at all. Conversely the four sequels (five if you count the Abbott & Costello one)¬†feature much more of the titular mummy but are a big step down in quality – they do beg the question of why can’t you just outrun him?

People Watch: Look for the wonderful character actor Noble Johnson in a bit part as the Nubian. While he was often given bit parts, a frequent problem for African-American actors through the 1960s, Noble did get to play the native chief in King Kong and Son of Kong. Also due to the magic of black and white filming, he got to play native Americans, Latinos, Arabs, even the devil himself in Dante’s Inferno (1935).

Sequel-itis: The titular Mummy changes from Imhotep to Kharis and would go on to appear in The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost, and The Mummy’ Curse. Tomb, Ghost and Curse all feature Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis. As usual the Universal series was finished off in Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy (1950).