|Mummy, The (1932)|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 28 September 1999|
Universal continues its series of DVD releases of classic horror films with this handsome edition of the 1932 THE MUMMY, though overall this isn't quite up to the level of the FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN DVDs. The accompanying documentary, "Mummy Dearest," skimps on some details, while strangely focussing heavily on costar Zita Johann. From the comments, it's clear she was a very colorful figure, but I'd rather have heard more about director Karl Freund, the makeups and the effects.
Also, while film historian Paul M. Jensen's narration track provides a great deal of information and insight into THE MUMMY, it seems at times that he's reading from a text that wasn't intended to accompany the movie. Over and over, he describes exactly what we're seeing on screen -- he doesn't interpret it, he merely relates what's obvious. Ultimately, Jensen's work is worthwhile, but more thought should have been given to how it would sound as the film runs.
Still, for those interested in movie history and, particularly, older horror films, the "Classic Monster Collection" of THE MUMMY (produced under the guidance of David J. Skal) is a must purchase. The cover is a reproduction of a 1932 poster, and is a stunner. Universal is to be congratulated for investing in this series, one of the most imaginative and thorough yet done for DVD -- or, in fact, for any form of home video.
After FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA were major hits for Universal, they needed to find other horror material, but instead of focussing on published fiction (or plays), with THE MUMMY they chose to film an original screenplay. Jensen's narration explains how under two principal writers, the screenplay changed from a science fictional tale of Cagliostro to the DRACULA-like story that was finally filmed. As Jensen makes clear, the original inspiration, of course, was the unearthing of the tomb of King Tutankhamen, and the "curse" that accompanied it.
In the early 1920s, a team of archaeologists unearths the mummy of one Im-Ho-Tep, a high priest of ancient Egypt. They also find a box containing a scroll with a magic spell for reviving the dead. Working by himself, the youngest member reads the scroll aloud, and Im-Ho-Tep returns to life, seizes the scroll, and disappears into the night.
A decade later, another expedition, including some of the same archaeologists, is visited by brittle Ardath Bey (Boris Karloff), who we realize is actually Im-Ho-Tep, unwrapped and passing himself off as a contemporary Egyptian. Eventually, we learn that he was mummified alive because he'd tried to revive the dead body of the Princess he loved. Both his love and the attempt at resurrection were heinously blasphemous, so he was condemned to his fate.
But as he's trying to revive the mummy of the Princess, he learns that her spirit has been reincarnated in the body of the half-Egyptian Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), and so he sets out to finally get together with the woman he has loved for three thousand years.
The basic structure of the movie DRACULA is followed: an evil supernatural creature tries to claim a modern woman, but here it's not because he wants power over her, but because he loves her. And because Im-Ho-Tep is driven by love, he gets some of our sympathy -- not a lot, but at least his goals are romantically grand, even if his methods are, to say the least, questionable.
Great cinematographer Karl Freund, from Germany, wanted to be a director, and was assigned to THE MUMMY. He did a fine job; atmospheric, moody, dream-like and eerie, even if it is rather slow even by the standards of 1932. He only directed a few more films, then returned to cinematography -- finally ending up as the principal cameraman on, of all things, I Love Lucy.
In just a year and a half, Boris Karloff had so firmly established himself as the king of horror films that the posters for THE MUMMY didn't even bother to include his first name, or to describe much about the movie. It was Karloff The Uncanny as THE MUMMY; that was all the public needed to know. The film was successful, but not a hit, and Universal didn't make another Mummy movie until the horror revival of the early 1940s (when they made several, all about a different mummy, Kharis).
The documentary "Mummy Dearest" is fine as far as it goes, but it still leaves one wanting more. One of the most striking images in the movie is an intense closeup of Karloff with his eye sockets in deepest shadow; gradually, his eyes appear. This is impressive enough that it's the title image for the documentary, but no one explains how this impressive effect was done. Nor does anyone explain the final destruction of Im-Ho-Tep, another of the most impressive effects of the early 1930s. While Rick Baker continues to offer enthusiastic, loving commentary on the work of the great Jack Pierce, here he talks only about the makeup used on Karloff for the brief scenes in which he is a bandage-wrapped, awakening mummy. I would have liked to heard about the "Ardath Bey" makeup, which Karloff wears in the rest of the film.
Other supplemental material includes production notes, biographies of some of the cast and filmmakers, a trailer, and a stills-and-posters archives, all very welcome.