November 26th, 2011: The Mummy (1932)

Cast and Crew:  Karl Freund (Director); Noble Johnson

What It’s About: A team of archaeologists find the tomb of Im-Ho-Tep, an Egyptian prince.  A team member reads the Scroll of Thoth, found with the prince, aloud, and Im-Ho-Tep returns to life, wandering into the desert.  When Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) returns ten years later to excavate the tomb of Im-Ho-Tep’s love, a mysterious man named Ardeth Bey (Boris Karloff) helps the expedition for reasons of his own.  Bey uses his powers to mesmerize Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), the reincarnation of Im-Ho-Tep’s lost love, and it’s up to Whemple’s son Frank (David Manners) and Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan) to stop him.

Why Watch it Today?: British archaeologists Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon entered King Tut’s tomb today in 1922, the first people to do so in over 3,000 years.  This set off a craze for all things Egyptian, as well as talk of the tomb’s curse after several people, most notably Lord Carnarvon himself, died after the tomb was opened.  With so many people involved in some way, these deaths were coincidences (Carnarvon, for example, was already ill when he went to Egypt), but the enduring popularity of the story attracted Universal producer Carl Laemmle Jr.  Laemmle, looking for a follow-up to the studio’s mega-hit Dracula, assigned writers Richard Schayer and Nina Wilcox Putnam to find a mummy themed novel to adapt.  When they found none, they returned with a script featuring Cagliostro, the Italian charlatan who claimed to have lived for thousands of years.  In this script Cagliostro takes his fury out on women who resembled the woman who rejected him, stalking and killing them over the centuries.  Laemmle brought in John L. Balderston (who also worked on Dracula) to rewrite the screenplay.  Balderston kept the idea of the withered old magician but toned him (and his motivations) down to become the Egyptian Ardeth Bey.*

The 1932 version of The Mummy is a bit too close to its ancestor Dracula, perhaps, but it is a better paced film, with a great performance by Karloff and some wonderful mummy make-up by Universal make-up guru Jack P. Pierce.  Unlike its largely unrelated sequels or the later Hammer Studios mummy films, we are not expected to suspend our disbelief while characters fail to realize they can easily outrun slow-moving mummies, setting this film apart from most of its descendants.

Where to Get ItYour local library, Netflix (rental only), Amazon

Mo Rating for Movember:  Professor Pearson sports an unimpressive Mo.  1 out of 5 Mos

Professor Pearson is pissed off about how low a Mo rating he earned The Mummy

4 comments on “November 26th, 2011: The Mummy (1932)

  1. Parallels to Dracula (which become extremely noticeable if you’re, say, me during a Universal Classic Monsters marathon) notwithstanding, this is still my favorite Mummy movie. And hell, the door swings both ways: Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula is a better remake of The Mummy in almost every meaningful way than Stephen Sommers’ actual remake of The Mummy.

    • professormortis says:

      Oh, I agree 100%-this is my favorite mummy movie, too, though I must admit, I’d love it if they’d made an extremely Pre-Code Cagliostro film as well. In fact, I far prefer this film to the 1931 Dracula; Karloff is just so damn good in it. Not sure I would consider the Coppola film a “remake” of this in any real sense, I confess to having a weak spot for Sommers’ first Mummy film.

  2. sakara says:

    the director of this movie wound up being the director of photography for the I LOVE LUCY tv show.

    the TALES FROM DARKSIDE MOVIE had best way to deal with a scary mummy—just take an electric carving knife to the dried out creature, to easily cut them to peices.

  3. […] sometimes it’s considered a horror movie) with an Egyptian theme.  Here there is no actual immortal Egyptian sorcerer or immortal mute Mummy walking around killing people at the direction of a mortal Egyptian […]

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