The “Universal Horror Films” from the 1930’s and 1940’s are a collection of some of the most highly enjoyable “horror” films ever released. In the case of The Mummy (1932), it’s a miracle that the movie ended up working at all. After the success that Universal achieved with Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931), producer Carl Laemmie Jr. wanted to continue in the horror film genre. Inspired by the opening of King Tutankamun’s tomb in 1922, Laemmie decided to make a film with its setting in Egypt, having a plot that included the possibility of reincarnation. Since there was no literary work from which to draw, they combined different previously published stories by various authors with the supposed “Curse Of The Pharaohs” and Laemmie had found exactly what he had been searching.
During an archaeological dig in Egypt, a team of scientists uncovers a tomb that holds a mummy of the cursed Egyptian, Imhotep (Boris Karloff). One of the workers on the dig opens a cursed box that revives Imhotep from death, and the sight of Imhotep awakened drives the archaeologist insane. Imhotep takes a scroll and disappears from the site completely. One of the other archaeologists, Sir. Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron), is baffled by what has happened and he abandons the dig completely.
Ten years later a strange man, Ardath Bay (Boris Karloff in “disguise”), returns to the same site and finds another excavation taking place. He leads the men, including Sir. Joseph’s son Frank (David Manners), to the burial ground of an Egyptian princess, Ankh-es-en-amon. Frank and his colleague retrieve the princess and her possessions and put them on display at a museum in Cairo. Once the princess’s tomb is there, Ardath Bay sneaks into the museum and tries to revive the princess with the use of his ancient cursed scroll.
Helen (Zita Johann), a half Egyptian woman (baring a striking resemblance to Ankh-es-en-amon), is put into a trance while Ardath Bay attempts to bring back his lost princess. Ardath Bay needs to mummify Helen, and use her body to bring Ankh-es-en-amon back from the dead. Now only Sir. Joseph, Frank and their friend Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan) can uncover the mysteries surrounding Imhotep and attempt to stop him before he kills Helen.
Of all the horror films made at Universal over the years, The Mummy is the least horrific of them all. Imhotep is not a murderer preying on the weak, and he is not a monster looking for revenge. He’s not even trying to find a way to fit into the new world that he has been thrown into. Imhotep’s crime is being in love and stopping at nothing to be with his princess. In this way he is much like another villainized, love crazy character from the 1930’s, King Kong. In The Mummy, there are only a few short minutes that Boris Karloff is covered in heavy make-up. For the majority of the picture he looks like a regular man instead of the monsters we have come to expect from a horror film.
The Mummy is a wonderful drama movie that doesn’t have a need to fill the scenes with darkness and shadows, but instead relies on the story as the driving force behind the picture. Director Karl Freund spent most of his career as an amazing cinematographer, with the high point of his career being Metropolis (1927). He was the cinematographer on Dracula and according to the “legend” he was hired to direct The Mummy two days before filming began. He did a pretty marvelous job under the circumstances.
The Mummy wasn’t as financially successful as Dracula or Frankenstein, and therefore didn’t spawn sequels, but the Mummy franchise has see several revivals of the story, including the highly profitable series starring Brendan Fraser in 1999. Despite the lack of “horror”, The Mummy is still a very enjoyable film. Even though Imhotep is the antagonist of our story, I find myself sympathizing with his desperate plight, and wishing for some way for things to work out in the end.Back to Home for More Reviews