This is another of the those universal films that I remember so little about, that it feels like I’m getting to re-watch it for the first time. The Mummy from 1932 stars the legendary Boris Karloff, as the titular Mummy. I always remember Karloff best from Frankenstein and often forget that he was also The Mummy, Imhotep. Unlike in Frankenstein Karloff actually gets to talk and he really shines. This is helped due to the relatively small amount of time that Karloff spends in the Mummy make-up, which to eight hours a day to put on. Most of the film he’s a slightly rejuvenated form of himself and goes by the name Ardath Bey. After watching this film, I was surprised how faithful the 1999 remake was. Sure it was a lot more action adventure, but the key elements all remain. Which is more than you can say for the Wolfman remake from 2010.
The mummy starts with the discovery of the Mummy, Imhotep (Boris Karloff) by Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) and his assistant Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher). Sir Whemple invites his friend Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan) to come and assist with the find. While inspecting the mummy Dr. Muller notices that his viscera hasn’t been removed, leading the discovery that the mummy was punished by being buried alive, given a nameless funeral and most of all is cursed. Along with the sarcophagus, they also found a gold chest that contains a sealed box warning against opening it. Dr. Muller unable to abide with this heresy leaves. Sir Whemple follows him and while the two talk outside about said heresy Norton opens the box, finding a scroll. As he reads from the scroll the mummy returns to life and takes the scroll from Norton, who is driven insane by the occurrence. When Sir Whemple returns, he discovers Norton mad and the mummy missing. Years later Sir Whemple son, Frank (David Manners) and his friend Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie) are on packing up their lack luster findings from the latest expedition when they’re approached by local Ardath Bey, the mummy in disguise, who points them to the tomb of Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon. The pair is skeptical, but quickly find the tomb right where Ardath said it would be and give the mummy along with its treasures to the Cairo Museum. Ardath Bey sneaks into the exhibit to use the scroll to return the princess to life. But fails as she has been re-incarnated as Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), who still responds to his summons and in a dream like state leaves the party she’s at and goes to the Museum. When she arrives she’s unable to get in and faints at the door. She’s taken by Frank and Pearson to Franks home after she faints. After she wakes up, she starts falling for Frank. Which unfortunately run counter to Imhotep, who wish the return of his old love and is unable to do that while she lives and loves…
The acting is really solid, which is to be expected in a film that is iconic and influential as The Mummy. Boris Karloff delivers what I currently feel is best performance, the fact he’s joined by veteran Edward Van Sloan only pushes the film further into extraordinary. There’s something to be said for Zita Johann, who delivers a decent if slightly less than memorable performance, given the level of animosity she and director shared.
My only real issue is that for a film set in Egypt, very little feels Egyptian in regards to dress and atmosphere. The pyramids get tossed in a few times to remind us, because honestly, you can forget that this film is set there. Most notably later in the film, when they move location to Cairo.
Final thoughts, much like Creature from the Black Lagoon I have a hard time being critical of a film that’s almost a century old. So while some of the actors did feel a bit off the mark or type cast, they were prominent in their time. I loved the pacing and somber mood of the film. I also really loved Karloff, even if I felt there was a lack of on-screen chemistry with Johann. Overall this film is just solid, fun and while slow, still delivers memorable chills. 9/10