Classic Film Review – The Mummy (1932)

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Brenda Fellman

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The Mummy is a monster movie released in1932. Set in 1921, the film follows Sir Joseph Whemple as he leads an expedition into Egypt. While there, his team discovers both the Mummy Imhotep and a chest containing the scroll of Thoth. Quick film fact… while the scroll is never read out aloud in the film, after the credits they show you the translation- “This is the Scroll of Thoth. Herein are set down the magic words by which Isis raised Osiris from the dead. ‘Oh! Amon-Ra–Oh! God of Gods–Death is but the doorway to new life–We live today–We shall live again–In many forms shall we return–Oh Mighty One.’ While warned by another character, Dr. Muller to re bury the box, an impatient younger archaeologist open’s the box and murmurs the scroll as he translates it.

The only sign that something has gone wrong is a flicker of life in Imhotep’s eye and a slight movement of his hand as he stands in his sarcophagus, bound in wrappings. The rest of the scene unfolds in the hysterical reaction of the archaeologist as he watches the mummy leave the tent. All the audience sees is Imhotep’s hand and the trailing bandages from his feet as they drag across the floor. Sir Joseph and Dr. Muller are left not knowing what happened. Ten years later disguised as a modern-day Egyptian named Ardath Bey, Imhotep attempts to reunite with his lost love, an ancient princess who has been reincarnated into a beautiful young woman.

The mummy shares more characteristics with a thriller than a traditional monster movie. The film only has the actually mummy for the first act. After the first 10 minutes of the film it becomes more like a thriller. This story is a look at unending oppression. Imhotep is frozen in time emotionally, petrified and unable to move on. Ont he other hand, Helen has some memories of her past but could move on with each new life she went through since her Egyptian life.

Frank Whemple also has a place in this interesting love triangle. When Frank and Helen first meet Frank admits to having fallen in love with Ankh-Es-En-Amon. He came to this conclusion after going through her belongings and seeing her after they undo her wrappings. After meeting Helen, he shifts his affection towards her. While Helen is fighting between her past love for Imhotep and her love for Frank, Imhotep sees Frank as a love rival to and tries to kill him.

The story also has many similarities to Dracula. Some of which are:

  • Both Imhotep and Dracula are undead beings
  • Both have hypnotic powers
  • Both films have similar location bases – both start in ancestral homeland then move to a city.
  • Both film have a female at the center of the struggle
  • Both films star David Manners and Edward Van Sloan in the same roles. Manners as the young hero, and Van Sloan as the wise old mentor.

So why are there so many similarities between Dracula and The Mummy? Monster films tend to have a limited number of source ideas. Some are based on a literally source, like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, some have their origins in mythical sources like Vampires and Werewolves others are based on ‘missing link’ stories like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. As for the Mummy, it is based on the Ancient Egyptian’s complicated beliefs.

They believed that a person consisted of five components. The Ka, Ba, the Akh, the body and the shadow. It was the Ba (or “animating force) that Egyptians believed was free to leave the tomb and travel about the earth during the day. The Ba then had to return to the tomb during the perilous hours of darkness. Once the Kaand the dead body (or a ka-statue in its place) were united, the Ba could arise again. It should be noted that, Ancient Egyptian beliefs did not include someone’s body wandering around after their death. In fact, that would have been a problem as the Ba might not have been able to find it. With this known information, it seems that the Mummy’s coming back to life is a much more modern concept. Another interesting fact from ancient Egypt that was slipped into this film Ankh-Es-En-Amon, while Imhotep’s forbidden love in the film was Tutankhamen’s Queen.

The atmosphere of the Mummy is much more realistic and vibrant. It feels like they are acutely in Egypt even though the whole film was filmed in and California. The scene that were filmed in studios are enhanced by overwhelming number of Egyptian artifacts. The desert scenes are so well constructed that audience believes that they are in Egypt and not in Mojave Desert. To complete the illusion, the background soundtrack adds to the dark atmosphere and makes every time Imhotep is on screen even more intimidating then he already is.

Boris Karloff is amazing in this film as Imhotep. His performance was helped immensely by makeup artist Jack Pierce. Pierce gave the Mummy’s face & hands a battered parchment look and Karloff used his own morose features and tall thin body to their full effect. His slow movement and speech makes him one of the most intimidating and terrifying character that has stood the test of time. The striking Zita Johann is attractive and mysterious as the woman of Imhotep’s timeless obsession. David Manners gives a typically good performance as the young hero. Arthur Byron and Edward Van Sloan are enjoyable as the old gentlemen who study and pursue the Mummy. The side characters are also amazing, Bramwell Fletcher played the young archaeologist who loses his mind and gives such a believable performance that it sticks in your mind throughout the rest of the film whilst silent film star Noble Johnson appears as the sinister Nubian and is amazing.

This was director Karl Freund, first film. Utilizing the “less is more” theory of film-making, he keeps the mummy a very mysterious and deadly creature. One of his best scenes in the film (other than the start) is the flashback scene done in “silent film” style. With Freund’s use of music and Karloff morbid voiceover, Freund made an atmospheric and suspenseful film that has yet to be repeated in of its remakes.

Speaking of remakes, there have been many films starring the Mummy. Most of the time they fallow this films story line with only some differences. Though over time the film have become more like monster movies then the original. The mummy has only taken on a more human like form in a few of the films, notably in the 1999 remake (and its squeal) as well as the 2017 remake. In all honesty, The Mummy films have all had scenes or aspects that harped back to this film and most of the time do it well.

If you’re a fan of monster movies, thrillers or horror films I would give this film a watch, the film is an atmospheric masterpiece and should not be missed.

Cast

Boris Karloff – Ardath Bey/Imhotep

Zita Johann – Helen Grosvenor/ Ankh-Es-En-Amon

David Manners – Frank Whemple

Arthur Byron – Sir Joseph Whemple

Edward Van Sloan – Dr. Muller

Research

This Review took a little bit of research and I was lucky enough to find this site that gave me all the information I need

http://public.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/mummy32.html

I would also like to thank my Father for giving me the information on Egyptians beliefs of the afterlife and on whether they believed in Mummy’s coming back to life or not.

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