I’m not sure if I ever saw 1932’s The Mummy as a small child. I seem to have more recollection with the CGI action/adventure version of the film that came out in the late ‘90s. And the images in my mind of an old black and white mummy wrapped head to toe in ragged gauze shuffling through dim corridors and always catching their running victims seems to have come from elsewhere. But The Mummy is one of Universal’s original monster movies, has become an icon and still holds up to a be one of the greats in classic horror.
During an archaeological expedition, an ancient mummy is discovered. Upon further inspection, he seems to have been mummified alive and a curse placed on whoever opens up his tomb. While some take the warning seriously, one young archaeologist does not, and accidentally unleashes the undead mummy, Imhotep (Boris Karloff). He shuffles out of his sarcophagus away, in search of the reincarnation of his lover, Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon.
Ten years later, Imhotep is masquerading around Cairo as a normal wrinkly Egyptian guy in a fez. He seeks out Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) and his son Frank (David Manners) and tells them where to search for Ankh-es-en-Amon’s tomb. It’s a valuable find and once the exhibit is up, Imhotep spends much of his time there. When he meets a lovely young woman, Helen (Zita Johann), he notices her similarities to Ankh-es-en-Amon and is convinced she is her reincarnation. Soon, Imhotep is using his other-worldly powers to attempt to bring Helen to him so he may turn her into his mummy bride.
Perhaps one reason for Karloff’s lack of iconic mummy presence was that the makeup was such an ordeal. I’ve read that it took over seven hours to apply the mummy bandages and makeup, which included clay being tacked into Karloff’s hair and onto his face. When the opening scene featuring Imhotep’s resurrection was finished, removing all the makeup took another two hours, some of it quite painful. It’s no wonder that throughout the rest of the film, Karloff sports much less dramatic makeup.
This is a smart kind of early horror film that focuses on story rather than the fantastic. For some, that may make it a bit dry, there is a lack of jumps and shocking moments until nearly the ending climax. However, it is an enjoyable classic and the springboard for many, many more cheesy mummy monster movies.
“Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?”