Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Franchises: Universal's Original Mummy Series. The Mummy (1932)

I'll start this off by saying that the Mummy has never been a monster that really interested me in any of his guises, be it the more popular incarnation as a lumbering, zombie-like monster or the more mystical one seen here. When I was a kid and would read up on the classic monsters in old books I'd find at my school library or the one in a nearby town where I would visit my aunt, I always gravitated more towards Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man, whereas the Mummy just didn't grab me and when I did try to read the books on it, I would quickly lose interest. I don't know why that is, because I do like Egypt as a setting in films and I find the history of Ancient Egypt to be interesting (although it's not something I'm fanatical about studying, mind you), but I've never found the idea of a reanimated mummy to be that exciting or scary. As a result, this was one of the original Universal horror films that I saw later, having already started middle school by the time I did, and the only reason why I even picked it up on video around 1999 or 2000, I can't remember which, was because I had very few choices at the video store I visited that time (I was much more keen on buying Jurassic Park, which I had never owned before then). Going into it, I did know from what I had read, heard, and seen in the documentary, Universal Horror, that this was not going to be about the typical slow-moving, bandaged mummy that had become the stereotype and that, after the opening, Boris Karloff would spend the rest of the film in his "Ardath Bey" persona and disguise, but not being all that interested in it to begin with, I really didn't care all that much. And, sure enough, after I watched it that first time, I didn't think much of it and I still don't. I love a lot of the iconic Universal monster movies but I've never understood what's so great about this one. Like a lot of its peers, it certainly has its fair share of good notes and they do make it worth watching at least once but, on the whole, I find it to be a pretty plodding, boring film that I don't find myself revisiting that often.

In 1921, an English field expedition, led by archaeologist Sir Joseph Whemple, uncovers an unusual-looking mummy buried with an old box near Thebes. While cataloguing their finds, Whemple's friend, Dr. Muller, finds evidence that the mummy, an ancient Egyptian high priest named Imhotep, was buried alive for sacrilege, and when they inspect the box upon the behest of Whemple's young and impatient assistant, they find a metallic casket inscribed with a warning of death for anyone who opens it. Muller, who believes in the occult, implores them not to open the box for fear of the curse but, when he and Whemple go outside to further discuss the matter, both of them believing the box contains the legendary Scroll of Thoth, which has the power to raise the dead, the young assistant's curiosity gets the better of him and he does open it. Finding the scroll inside, he transcribes a part of it and quietly reads it to himself, resurrecting Imhotep. The revived mummy proceeds to take the scroll and walk out the door, frightening the assistant so much that he loses his mind, laughing uncontrollably when Whemple returns. Over ten years later, in 1932, another field expedition, this time headed by Whemple's son, Frank, and Prof. Pearson, is visited by a mysterious Egyptian who goes by the name of Ardath Bey. He gives them a small piece of tablet that he claims to be from the tomb of the princess, Ankh-es-en-amon, and shows them where to dig for it. After a day of excavation, the scientists indeed find the tomb and everything within, including the princess' mummy, is taken to the Cairo Museum. Late one night, after meeting Sir Joseph in the museum, Bey, who is actually the revived Imhotep, attempts to raise Ankh-es-en-amon from the dead, unaware that his incantations have a strange effect on Helen Grosvenor, a half-British, half-Egyptian young woman who's staying in Cairo with Dr. Muller. After taking a taxi to the museum and trying to get in after closing time, Helen is taken to the home of Frank and Sir Joseph, the latter of whom is shocked to hear her speaking ancient Egyptian and murmuring Imhotep's name. Upon failing to raise his princess, Bey is found by a night watchman at the museum and kills him, although he drops the Scroll of Thoth in the struggle and it's later found there by Sir Joseph and Muller. As Frank becomes romantically interested in Helen, Muller tells Sir Joseph of his theory that Ardath Bey is Imhotep, when he appears at the house to find the scroll and is immediately taken with Helen, who resembles Ankh-es-en-amon. When Muller's suspicions about Bey are proven after Helen is taken back to the hotel, he urges Sir Joseph to burn the scroll but, when he tries, Bey uses his power to kill him and has the Whemples' Nubian servant, whom he has made his slave, bring it to him. Now, convinced that Helen is Ankh-es-en-amon's reincarnation, Bey prepares to kill Frank and ultimately use the scroll to make Helen a living mummy like himself.

The Mummy was the American directorial debut of Karl Freund, whose main line of work was as a cinematographer, having started out shooting many silent films in Germany, including Expressionist movies like The Golem, The Last Laugh (with Nosferatu director, F.W. Murnau), and Fritz Lang's Metropolis. He came to America in 1929 and continued working as a cinematographer, ultimately having over a hundred films to his credit by the time he was through, including Dracula (supposedly, he directed as much, if not more of, the film as Tod Browning), Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Good Earth, for which he received an Oscar. I said that The Mummy was his American directorial debut because he had also directed some stuff in Germany, mainly a bunch of shorts, but this is definitely the most famous film he's known for in regards to his work as director. Unfortunately, Freund didn't direct too many other movies, ultimately having only ten under his belt in his American career. His most notable film as director outside of The Mummy is his last one, 1935's Mad Love, starring Peter Lorre and Frankenstein's Colin Clive (good movie, by the way, but it flopped at the box-office, thoroughly ending Freund's directorial career). After that, Freund continued working as a cinematographer into the 1950's, moving to television at the start of the decade on shows like December Bride, Our Miss Brooks, and, most notably, I Love Lucy, which I think he worked on for its entire run and on which he devised the "flat lighting" system that is still used in shooting sitcoms. He retired afterward and died in 1969 at the age of 79.

Looking back, it's amazing how popular Boris Karloff in only a year, going from being identified as a question mark in the opening credits of Frankenstein (according to some sources, he wasn't even invited to that film's premiere) to having his name listed alongside someone else's underneath the title for The Old Dark House and finally having it appear before the title of The Mummy. He must have also relished a role where he was able to speak and it's a good thing they allowed him to, as well, because, even though I'm not a big fan of this film, I can say that Karloff, who I'm a big fan of anyway, is a major plus for it. His very presence has an air of otherworldliness, with the way he manages to stand completely still and rigid and move very slowly, getting across the notion that he is an ancient creature that has been resurrected from the dead. His eyes are absolutely piercing and you can feel a power to them, which is punctuated by his incredible voice. I don't think I've ever heard Karloff speak in any other movie the way he does here. His voice is low and creeping, barely ever raising in pitch, and yet, has an undeniable power to it, helped by the fact that I don't really hear the lisp that he was well known for. The only term that can be used to describe his voice is hypnotic, and it really helps you to buy the hold that Imhotep manages to place over people, like the Whemples' Nubian servant and Helen when he's showing her their past lives and when she becomes obsessed with trying to go to him. His power is so strong that Dr. Muller need only look at his eyes to know that trying to, "Break your dried flesh to pieces," would be a very bad idea and, when he and Frank Whemple try to stop him at the end, Imhotep merely has to aim his ring at them in order to make them back away. Hell, he doesn't even have to be in the same building with Sir Joseph Whemple to use his power to make him die of heart failure when he tries to burn the Scroll of Thoth and he almost does the same to Frank in order to get him out of the way in order to call Helen to him.

Like many of the classic monsters, despite of all the death and suffering he causes, I wouldn't describe Imhotep as an out-and-out evil character, as he everything he does is so he can be reunited with his beloved Princess Ankh-es-en-amon. During the flashback sequence, you learn that, when Ankh-es-en-amon died, Imhotep dared the anger of the Egyptian gods in order to bring back the woman he so loved with the Scroll of Thoth, which led to him being buried alive and sentenced to death in the afterlife, by scraping off the sacred symbols meant to protect the soul off the inside of the coffin, for the sacrilegious act. Of course, when he's resurrected 3,700 years later, the only thing he cares about is once again trying to raise Ankh-es-en-amon from the dead; otherwise, he'd spend eternity completely alone. He goes to great lengths to do so, waiting over ten years for another field expedition that could successfully dig up the princess' tomb (you have to wonder what he did during the time after he was brought back to life and how exactly he established his new identity as Ardath Bey) and showing them where they could find it. He got awfully lucky that the archeologists happened to have a contract where the Cairo Museum would keep everything they found, including the mummy, and you can see the quiet elation and happiness of being reunited with Ankh-es-en-amon when he looks at her coffin in the museum. Upon learning that the princess has been reincarnated in Helen Grosvenor, Imhotep is so intent upon having her back that he plans to make her into one of the undead like himself, despite her protests, feeling that she should endure the same   suffering that he went through for her, if only for a moment, so they can be together forever. While I still don't think he's an evil creature, he's still so single-minded in his resolve that he'll kill anyone he sees as an obstacle, especially Frank when Helen starts to fall in love with him, and tries to forcibly stab Helen with a dagger at the end, in spite of her fear and her praying to Isis to save her, which is how Imhotep is ultimately destroyed.

Even though he only appears like this for a few brief moments at the very beginning of the film, the most iconic image in the film is of Karloff in the full mummy getup, completely swathed in bandages and with a number of different types makeup materials applied to his face and clay in his hair to make him look wrinkled and ancient. It's a really cool-looking makeup job by Jack Pierce and is definitely what you think of when you think of a mummy monster, although it certainly wasn't cool for Karloff, as it took eight hours for him to get made up and two hours for it to be taken off, which doubly sucked because it was 2:00 in the morning by the time he finished shooting. According to his daughter, Sara, it was the most arduous makeup he ever had to endure, as it was also extremely unpleasant to have on for so long and getting off it was quite painful. Fortunately, he only had to go through that for one day, spending the rest of the film in the much more subdued "Ardath Bey" makeup and outfit, although the former still wasn't the most comfortable thing to have on. His look as Bey has become just as iconic as his actual mummy look, although I don't care for it quite as much. I think the makeup design on his face looks good and his eyes add to the effect, looking very unsettling in those close-up shots of him looking right at the camera, but I've never been that crazy about his outfit and especially that fez, which looks really corny to me. I don't know what else they could've put him but I wish his costume wasn't so typical and lame (but, it was 1932, so what can you do?)

Unlike Bela Lugosi in Murders in the Rue Morgue, Karloff is not the only memorable and engaging character in The Mummy but that sentiment, as is often the case, doesn't include the young, romantic leads. As both Helen Grosvenor and Princess Ankh-es-en-amon, Zita Johann (who was a very odd woman who believed in reincarnation, claimed to have had an out of body experience, and did not get along with Karl Freund at all) has a very lovely, exotic look, especially when she's in her ancient Egyptian outfit, but, acting-wise, she doesn't do much for me. She has a lot to play with, though, feeling more drawn to the "real" Egypt as opposed to the modern era she lives, and soon finds herself compelled and manipulated by forces she doesn't understand, forces that both frighten and invigorate her. As Imhotep's hold over her grows after he subconsciously awakens the memories of her past life, her resistance to his mental call starts to literally drain the life out of her. She's very torn during this section, feeling like she'll die if she doesn't go to him but, at the same time, her love for Frank Whemple makes her not want to lose herself to the soul of Ankh-es-en-amon within her. During the film's final moments, when she goes to Imhotep in the museum, she seems to completely lose herself to the personality of the princess but, when his intention to mummify and resurrect her becomes clear, she becomes frightened and doesn't want to sacrifice the youth and new life that she has as Helen to become one of the undead, trying to make him understand that things are not as they were 3,700 years ago. Imhotep uses his power to temporarily throw her back into submission so he can perform the ritual but, when he's distracted by Frank and Dr. Muller's arrival, she prays to Isis, the Egyptian goddess of life, to forgive her and save her, which she does by destroying both the Scroll of Thoth and Imhotep. All of this drags Helen spiritually back to ancient Egypt but when Frank calls to her, her love for him brings her back. So, Johann has a very complex role to bring to life but, while her acting isn't godawful, it mainly comes across as just serviceable and I don't find her to be all that compelling, except for when she's really suffering from resisting Imhotep. She was really good in those scenes.

David Manners is said to have hated being in the movie Dracula, so I doubt he held The Mummy in any higher regard because his role of Frank Whemple has about as much to do as Jonathan Harker in that film. Manners was a really good-looking guy, with a very charming, sophisticated English voice, but he was often cast in very bland roles where he didn't have much to play with and this certainly qualifies. Other than being the one whose field expedition to Egypt is used by Imhotep to dig up Ankh-es-en-amon's tomb, his main function is as Helen Grosvenor's love interest, giving her a reason to resist Imhotep's influence and retain her identity. However, even that I don't buy or care about, because it's one of those old-fashioned, "love at first sight" romances that may have been common in films back then but I find to be very shallow. At least Jonathan Harker and Mina had been engaged for a while; Frank falls for Helen not too long after he meets her when she's trying to get into the museum and tells her the next day, "I love you so." I'll give the film this, though, as Frank mentions that Helen reminds him of Ankh-es-en-amon, whom he became infatuated with when he saw the face of her mummy, although that gives an uncomfortable note to their relationship since, as Helen herself says, "Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?" Other than that, Manners doesn't have much else to do other than stand around and talk, kiss Zita Johann, and become a target of Imhotep's wrath because of the love for him that creeps into Helen's heart, which culminates in little more than a brief scene when he tries to kill Frank the same way in which he did his father. He has even less to do in the climax here than he did in Dracula, where he at least frantically searched the cellar of Carfax Abbey for Mina; here, he and Dr. Muller are kept at bay by Imhotep while Helen brings about his destruction. Yeah, Frank does bring her back to the world of the living by calling her to at the end once Imhotep has been dealt with but, again, whatever.

Another Dracula alumnus is Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Muller, who's to Imhotep what Prof. Van Helsing was to the Count. He's the guy who believes in the power and curses of the gods of ancient Egypt before anyone else, warning Sir Joseph Whemple and his assistant not to defy the curse and open the casket that contains the Scroll of Thoth, ultimately deciding to leave the site when Whemple insists upon examining the find, saying, "I cannot condone an act of sacrilege with my presence." Years later, Helen Grosvenor, whom he describes as his most interesting "patient" (I'm not sure what he's treating for, though, as it seemed like he was a studier of the occult), is staying with him and his wife in Cairo when she begins to act strangely. When Muller learns of Helen's speaking in ancient Egyptian and murmuring Imhotep's name, Ardath Bey's staring at Ankh-es-en-amon's mummy in the museum at closing time, and his and Sir Joseph's discovery of the long-missing Scroll of Thoth in the hand of a murdered guard in that very same room at the museum, it doesn't take him long to put two and two together. And when Imhotep appears at the Whemples' house to get the scroll, Muller challenges him, first by trying to subtly tell him that he knows who he is, and then, when he tries to use his power to force Sir Joseph to give him the scroll, Muller steps in and warns him that the scroll will be destroyed if anything happens to him. His hatred for Imhotep seethes through when he reveals that he's made the Whemples' Nubian servant his slave, growling, "If I could get my hands on you, I'd break your dried flesh to pieces!" That's another thing about Muller: he's a more forceful and strong-willed Van Helsing, going back to the beginning when he very strongly warns Whemple's assistant, "Do not touch that casket." After his first encounter with Imhotep, Muller implores Sir Joseph to burn the scroll, but when he learns that Imhotep now has it after Sir Joseph is found dead, he realizes the danger that both Helen and Frank are in, giving the latter a small medallion of Isis to protect him from Imhotep's power and encourages the relationship between the young lovers. When they fail to find Imhotep, and with Helen's physical condition worsening as she fights the urge to go to him, Muller decides that they must let her lead them to him so they can destroy them. But, whereas Van Helsing was the one who actually killed Dracula by driving a stake through his heart, Muller and Frank are absolutely powerless against Imhotep, who uses his power to keep them at bay and is finally defeated by Helen's prayer to Isis; Muller does tell Frank to call for Helen to bring her back, though.

If you're curious about Muller's wife (Kathryn Byron), she only appears in one scene, caring for Helen during her weakest period and coming off as a very sweet, grandmotherly old woman, although whether or not she knows or even believes in what's going on is never made clear (given her husband's work, she has to believe in at least some of it, I would think. The most noteworthy thing she does is when Helen talks her into letting her get all made up for Frank, unable to resist her pleading, and when she tells Frank to go to her, she tells him, "Please, don't be angry with me. I couldn't resist her."

Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) is characterized as a very reasonable, patient archeologist in the opening scene when he and his assistant are cataloguing the day's finds, telling him that he must be patient in his work and that more knowledge is often gained from artifacts such as small pieces of broken pottery than big, sensational finds. He is eager to find out everything he can about the mummy of Imhotep and the box that was buried with him but he says that their work is to advance their field, not satisfy their own curiosity. Eventually, though, he decides to find out what's in the box to satisfy his assistant's curiosity, but is stopped by Dr. Muller after he's read the curse inscribed on the small casket. Not believing in the old curses of ancient Egypt, Whemple placates Muller by going outside to discuss the matter with him, telling him that he can't expect him not to investigate the greatest find of his career and that he believes that the casket contains the fabled Scroll of Thoth. He goes on to say, "In the interest of science, even if I believed in the curse, I'd go on with my work for the museum," and tries to convince his friend Muller to examine the find with him but when Muller refuses and leaves, Whemple heads back to find his assistant laughing maniacally and the mummy and the scroll gone. Not exactly sure what happened, Whemple is said to have not returned to Egypt for ten years, until Frank and Prof. Pearson uncover the tomb of Ankh-es-en-amon and donate all the finds to the Cairo Museum, despite his son's protests. Whemple still holds to his old views of archeology, telling Frank that they do what they do in the name of science rather than for money and that it was part of the contract with the Egyptian government. All these years, it seems as though he's felt that somebody simply stole the mummy and the scroll, but he begins to have doubts when, after finding her outside the museum and taking her to their house in Cairo, he and Frank overhear Helen speaking ancient Egyptian and mentioning Imhotep's name and when he and Muller discover that a museum guard was killed in the room displaying Ankh-es-en-amon's mummy over the scroll. He's still in denial about it for a bit but his real feelings are revealed when he hears that Ardath Bey has arrived at the house, exclaiming, "He's come for the scroll!" His worst fears are realized when Bey reveals himself to be Imhotep and tries to use his power to make him give hand over the scroll, although Muller is able to back him off and make him leave. Feeling that, as Muller tells him, responsible for having a part in Imhotep's resurrection, Sir Joseph tries to burn the scroll but dies when Imhotep uses his power to cause him to have a fatal heart attack, leaving it to Muller and Frank to save Helen.

One character who's always left an impact on me is Whemple's young assistant (Bramwell Fletcher) at the beginning of the film (he's credited as "Ralph Norton" but he's never named in the actual movie, referred to only as his assistant and a "young Oxford chap" retrospectively). Being impatient and eager to investigate the box containing the scroll and find out everything he could about the mummy of Imhotep, mainly for the publicity and recognition that would come from it, he's the one who makes the mistake of opening the casket, discovering the Scroll of Thoth. When he transcribes part of the inscription and reads it to himself, he unknowingly brings Imhotep back to life. I've always found the famous scene where he sees the mummy take the scroll and walk off with it at the door to be very disturbing because of how utterly he loses his mind. He starts to laugh and gets louder and louder until he devolves into full-blown cackling, at one point gasping for breath before laughing again (it's a very tortured-sounding laugh, which is what makes it unsettling), and when Whemple finds him, he maniacally raves, "He... he went for a little walk! You should have seen his face!" The scene ends with the off-screen sounds of his continued laughter and when the story fast-forwards to 1932, you hear that the guy eventually died laughing in a straightjacket. Very disturbing and sad death, too, because I kind of liked the guy. He may have been impatient but he was really likable and had some memorable lines, like suggesting that Imhotep, "Got too gay with the vestal virgins in the temple," and, "Poor old fellow. Now what could you have done to make them treat you like that?"

One thing that does make The Mummy stand out from the other classic Universal horror films of the 30's and 40's is that it's not based on a famous, literary source, like Dracula, Frankenstein, or The Invisible Man or on old folklore and legends, like The Wolf Man, but was created specifically for the movies (that is, if you don't count a little-known short story by Arthur Conan Doyle called The Ring of Thoth that it bears a resemblance to). As you can probably guess, it was inspired by the opening of King Tut's tomb back in 1922, as well as by the fabled Pharaoh's Curse, and to write the screenplay, Carl Laemmle Jr. hired John Balderston who, in addition to being an accomplished playwright and screenwriter, had actually covered the opening of the tomb back when he was a journalist. What's really interesting, though, is that he incorporated a lot of true facts about ancient Egypt and their mythology into the screenplay: Imhotep, for example, was the name of a real Egyptian architect, and Ankh-es-en-amon was that of the King Tut's wife (some sources say that naming her that was Karl Freund's idea, though). Most significantly, although the Scroll of Thoth is something Balderston completely made up, he based it on an Egyptian god who helped the goddess Isis raise her beloved Osiris from the dead, which is talked about in the film's opening captions.

Balderston's hand in the film may also explain something that a lot of people have noticed about it, which is that it's basically Dracula repackaged. Sure enough, there are a lot of similarities between the two films, particularly in the characters. Think about it: the antagonist is an undead creature with hypnotic powers who has his eye set on the female lead (they even emphasize this in the same manner in which they did in Dracula, by lighting up the eyes in certain shots), the young male lead is her love interest who initially disbelieves what's going on, and there is a scientist who's wise enough to believe in the supernatural and who becomes the villain's archenemy (the confrontation between Muller and Imhotep in Whemple's office is very similar to the one between Van Helsing and Dracula). You can sort of see Sir Joseph Whemple as Dr. Seward, who may not run an insane asylum but is a disbelieving father figure for one of the two young leads for most of the film, and his assistant is pretty reminiscent of Renfield in his lunacy, if you think about it (there was a time where I thought Bramwell Fletcher was Dwight Frye because he reminded me of him so much). You also have a substitute for the vampire-repelling crucifix with a small medallion of Isis that Muller gives Frank in order to protect him from Imhotep's power, with Isis herself being the Egyptian equivalent of Christ who is prayed to in order to ward off the villain. In fact, the movie even begins with Swan Lake playing over the latter half of the opening credits (to be fair, the soundtrack here is completely recycled from the opening of Murders in the Rue Morgue but it's still a bizarre coincidence). This kinship with Dracula isn't surprising when you realize that Balderston was the playwright who revised Hamilton Deane's stage play of the original Bram Stoker novel, which became the basis for the famous film with Bela Lugosi (it's also interesting when you think about how Lugosi was originally meant to play the Frankenstein monster but was replaced by Boris Karloff, who's now playing a virtual recreation of Dracula!) It kind of makes you wish that Balderston would have tried to distance himself and come up with something more original, as he did when he helped out in writing some of the other screenplays he did for Universal, like Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and Dracula's Daughter.

Another aesthetic that this film shares with Dracula is that it's very understated in its horror, with significant things happening off-camera. For instance, when Imhotep kills the museum night watchman who catches him in the room with the princess' mummy, it happens in the shadows off-camera and you only hear the sound of the guard gagging and collapsing to the floor (it's later determined that he died of shock, so God only knows what Imhotep was doing to him over there in the dark). Another incident, this one even more bizarre, is the death of Helen's dog, whom she takes with her when she goes to see Imhotep at his home in Cairo. As soon as they arrive, the dog becomes frightened, apparently by a hissing white cat that Imhotep has, and he has his servant look after him for Helen. Following the lengthy flashback to ancient Egypt that Imhotep shows Helen in the small pool in his main chamber, she hears the dog yelping in pain in the next room and she runs to see what's wrong. We don't see what she found but when she arrives back at her hotel, she tells Frank that the dog is dead and that white cat was standing on his back, as if it were the cause (interestingly, there's a cutaway shot of that cat leaving the room before the dog is heard, suggesting that is the case). It gets even more bizarre when Frank brings up the cat-like, Egyptian god, Bast, and Helen notes that there was a statue of her there. Is that meant to imply that white cat was some sort of vessel for Bast's wrath or was a physical incarnation of her? However, the best example of the film's subtle nature is Imhotep's resurrection at the beginning, which I think is the best scene period. It's done in a very quiet, eerie way, with no music and subdued sound effects, as Sir Joseph Whemple's assistant transcribes part of the Scroll of Thoth and quietly reads it to himself, with the camera at one point panning over to the mummy and back to the assistant. When he does read it, you see a close-up of Imhotep's face and watch as his eyes slowly open and his arms unfold, which is followed up by a close-up of his hand reaching in from off-camera to take the scroll. You never see a full shot of Karloff walking in the bandages (the only time you see him completely swathed in them are the medium and far-off shots of him standing in the coffin); instead, all you see are bandages from his feet trailing across the floor as he walks out the door, which gets the point across in an effectively, suggestive way.

Staying on the Dracula comparison discussion for one more section, I will say that I think I like it more than The Mummy. It's odd for me to say that, too, because this movie is certainly more alive than and not nearly as stagey as Dracula (although there are still a number of scenes set in drawing and sitting rooms) and they're both very atmospheric, but, for me, Dracula has the edge because of the immensely creepy, classic first act in Transylvania, which beats anything in this film. Also, in spite of how stagey and stuffy the latter half of it can be, the eerie atmosphere of the scenes set in the streets of London and when Dracula enters Lucy and Mina's bedrooms completely silently keep me interested and creeped out, while the slow, dream-like feel of The Mummy mostly just bores me and makes me want to go to sleep. In addition, there are parts of this film that I find to be awkward, such as two exchanges of dialogue early on. When Dr. Muller first arrives at the Whemples' house, searching for Helen, Sir Joseph tells him, "Before you take her away, I must speak to you about something she said a moment ago," and Muller nods... only for him to, in the very next scene, tell Helen, "And now, if you're feeling better, back we go to the hotel," forcing Sir Joseph to say, "Uh, I think she ought to rest a bit, first." Muller, do you have a five-second memory or something? And when he and Sir Joseph return from the museum to find Frank and Helen kissing on the couch, the latter says, "The curse has struck her, and through her, it will now strike my son," only for him to continue denying that there is anything supernatural going on when he, Muller, and Frank are talking in his office. That was a pretty random thing for him to say to begin with but it's so strange how he suddenly starts denying that there is a curse and even more so how, when he hears that Ardath Bey has shown up, he goes back to believing that he is Imhotep, hides the scroll, and acts uncomfortable around him afterward. Maybe he was in denial during that middle part but it comes off as random. And finally, there's a transition from Imhotep looking at Ankh-es-en-amon's mummy in the museum to the introduction of Helen that I cringe at. Between the two of them, there is what's meant to be a panning shot across Cairo but it's so obviously a photo or drawing of the city inside a see-through case or something of that nature. Yeah, it was 1932 and there are definitely similarly archaic shots in other films around that time but that one in particular gets to me.

As with many of these early horror films, one thing The Mummy has going for it is its look. Since the director is a cinematographer anyway, it shouldn't be surprising that it's very well shot, and Charles Stumar manages to capture that Expressionist feel that Karl Freund brought to films like Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue. Boris Karloff is particularly well-photographed, looking very imposing when he first appears as Ardath Bey, standing in the doorway of the main camp of Frank's field expedition, and very creepy and ominous when he's kneeling by Ankh-es-en-amon's mummy as he tries to resurrect her, lit only by a small candle in front of him, as well as when his powers are emphasized by the lighting on his eyes. The scene where he first meets Helen and she's instantly affected by his presence is lit very well too, shot almost completely in darkness to make him look all the more seductive, and the same goes for the dark shot of her in the back of the cab when she first feels his power. Another thing I like about the photography is that it gets across how blistering hot the desert is. Most often in those old films, the environments have a feeling of coldness to them in my opinion but not so in the scenes that take place out in the desert, which are so bright that they're almost completely white, and when Helen roams the Cairo marketplace when walking to Imhotep's home. Set-wise, the film also has some well-done pieces of art direction, such as the main chamber of Imhotep's rather fancy-looking home, which has that pool in the center of it that he uses to see what his enemies are up to and to show Helen both their past lives, and that statue in the background. The other, very striking set is the interior of the Cairo Museum, which is clearly a massive place and whose most prominent rooms are where Ankh-es-en-amon's mummy is kept, the "embalming" room where Imhotep plans to mummify Helen, and the room with the statue of Isis with the slab where he attempts to stab her with the dagger.

Aside from the opening, the most well-known part of the film is probably the lengthy flashback to ancient Egypt that Imhotep shows Helen in his pool and it is a memorable sequence, filling in the blanks of his love for Ankh-es-en-amon and the reasons for his being buried alive. You see his final moments with her before she dies, kneeling by the "bed of death," as he describes it, and the coffin containing her mummy being carried into a tomb, with her father overseeing everything. Things take a more dramatic turn when you see Imhotep dare the anger of Isis and steal the Scroll of Thoth from a temple in order to resurrect Ankh-es-en-amon, only to be caught before he can finish reciting the incantation. For this act of sacrilege, Imhotep is condemned to be buried alive and the scroll with him, so that no one else could disgrace the country in that same way. The moment here that really gets to me is when you see Imhotep being completely wrapped up in the bandages, a very frightened and tortured look on his face as it's covered, starting with the mouth and then heading up. Being wrapped up like that and then placed inside a coffin and buried while still alive is a very horrifying thought, as you know it'll be a slow, agonizing death in total, airless darkness. The sequence ends with Imhotep being placed inside a coffin, after which certain parts of the face on the lid are chipped off, no doubt to make clear the lack of pity and the scorn that he deserves, and his burial in an unmarked spot out in the desert. You then get a shocking bit of graphic violence for the time, when the soldiers present spear the men who buried the coffin and you see the blades sticking out of bloody wounds in their torso, something I didn't expect when I first saw the movie (James Rolfe could be correct in his thought that this could be the first impalement ever shown on film). Imhotep says that those soldiers were later killed themselves so that nobody with knowledge of his burial site could possibly leave behind any sympathetic offerings.

Another strike against the movie is how anticlimactic the ending is. Just as Imhotep is about to plunge the dagger into Helen's abdomen (granted, that moment when the tip pushes into her skin, almost piercing it, does make me cringe), Frank and Dr. Muller enter the museum, calling for her. This gives her ample time to get off the slab Imhotep has her on and pray to Isis to save her, and when he attempts to stab her again, Frank and Muller rush into the room. However, Imhotep uses his power to hold them at bay and again raises the dagger, when Helen prays to Isis in Egyptian. This causes the statue to raise its hand and do something that causes an off-screen flash of light that sets the Scroll of Thoth on fire. Imhotep then rapidly turns more and more wrinkled and clay-like until his skull is revealed and his body crumbles apart, undoubtedly because of the destruction of what resurrected him in the first place (I used to think that it was something else Isis herself did to him; it's a pretty good effect, all the same). The film ends rather abruptly when Frank cradles the passed out Helen and calls her back to the world of the living (she opens her eyes but we don't get to see her smile or anything; instead, she just looks confused), as the scroll continues to burn. The music also does something that happens in certain old films that I don't like, which is abruptly change from one theme to another when the ending credits pop up, making it feel all the more truncated. I don't know what's worse, that or when a piece of music keeps playing as the movie fades out, which makes it feel like the movie is actually still going and just stops rather than ends.

Speaking of the music, composed by James Dietrich, it's another aspect of the movie I have mixed feelings about. This is one of the first of these horror films to have a fair amount of music, whereas before, the only music heard was typically during the opening and ending credits, except occasionally when someone was in a concert hall, listening to a radio, or playing instruments. It's not something I particularly, one, because I think it kind of hurts the mood, and two, with very few exceptions (such as Max Steiner's awesome score for King Kong and Franz Waxman's music for Bride of Frankenstein), I find 1930's film music to not be that good. It usually sounds either too overdone or cartoonish, and I don't think it really got good until the 40's, when you had stuff like the great music for The Wolf Man. Some of the music for The Mummy falls into that category for me, mainly the piece that you hear during the panning tour of the Cairo Museum after Ankh-es-en-amon's mummy has been brought there, which I find to be a little too dramatic, with those loud, individual chords near the end and that low, tuba-like bit that sounds laughable to me. The pieces for the scenes where we see Imhotep using power, like when he kills Sir Joseph Whemple and tries to kill Frank, and the distinct theme for the flashback are better but are still a little too big for me in spots. I do genuinely like the big, grand theme that plays when Egypt is established in both time-periods, the very quiet one when Imhotep puts the Nubian under his control and when he prepares to perform the ritual on Helen, and the exotic music that plays over the ending credits.

As you can see, while I won't say that it sucks, The Mummy is a rare example of a Universal horror classic that doesn't do much for me. Despite some good aspects, like Boris Karloff's performance and iconic makeup, the always-welcome presence of Edward Van Sloan, well-done cinematography and sets, and memorable scenes like the eerily subtle resurrection of Imhotep and the flashback to ancient Egypt, the film is a little too reminiscent of Dracula and doesn't have the same, great atmosphere, the two young, romantic leads are bland, I find the musical score is mixed, and the slow, drawn out, dream-like pace and feel of the film ultimately comes across as dull and uninteresting to me. As a result, I don't get why it's as lauded as so many of its peers, as I can name numerous other that I find to be more compelling. If you like it, great, and more power to you, but, to be honest, given a choice, I'd much rather watch the more adventurous, 1999 version with Brendan Fraser.

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