Written by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: December 22, 1932
DIRECTOR: Karl Freund
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Charles Stumar
WRITER: John L. Balderston
MUSIC: James Dietrich
The Universal Monsters series had already begun unofficially in the 1920s with silent film hits such as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Phantom of the Opera”. The monsters really hit their stride in 1931 with the release of “Dracula” and “Frankenstein”.
In the 1940s, the monsters eventually ended up appearing in films with each other such as “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man”, unofficially establishing a shared film universe. Since Marvel has setup the Marvel Cinematic Universe today, it should really come as no shock that Universal Studios is planning a brand new universe featuring their legendary lineup of monsters.
The first of these movies will be “The Mummy”, a modern retelling of the famous franchise and this time, we’ll see Tom Cruise face off against a female version of the Mummy played by Sofia Boutella. Even more interesting is the casting of Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll, thus planting the seeds for Universal’s new shared universe concept.
Considering that the first trailer for “The Mummy” has recently been released, I decided to take a step back in time and look at the original Boris Karloff classic from 1932. It was released a year after “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” and proved to be another successful addition to Universal’s catalogue.
In the ‘20s and ‘30s, we were fascinated by Egyptian history thanks to the discovery and opening of King Tutankhaman’s (King Tut’s) tomb in 1923. It was especially sensationalized by the Egyptian idea that should one open a pharaoh’s tomb, they would be cursed. Fertile grounds for a horror movie, right?
The movie that once went by “Imhotep” quickly became “The Mummy” and “Frankenstein” star Boris Karloff was tapped to play the titular character. Unlike the other Universal Monster movies, the Mummy is actually more of a sympathetic monster, even by Universal’s standards. The character is simply trying to reclaim his lost love, though the means by which he tries to accomplish this is what ultimately makes him a monster.
Imhotep (Karloff) is inadvertently brought back to life in 1921 during an archeological dig. For the next 10 years, Imhotep lives a new life as Ardath Bey. He then shows a new set of archeologist where to dig and they end up finding the tomb of his lost love, Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon (Zita Johann).
Imhotep’s original plan is to resurrect Amon’s corpse, but he ends up discovering a woman named Helen (also Johann), the reincarnated Amon. His ultimate goal now is to kill Helen, mummify her, resurrect her the same way that he was, and then they can live together forever.
It is this ultimate love story that saves the movie from mediocrity. That and Karloff’s almost tragic portrayal of Imhotep. The movie is more of a drama than a horror film, but the supernatural elements and the overall tone of the film quickly remind you that this is one of the original mega horror films.
Johann is also good in the role of Helen, but her other supporting stars are lacking. In particular, David Manners plays a man named Frank who claims he is in love with her. Unfortunately, his acting is just downright horrible and his love story with Helen just doesn’t ring true when compared to Imhotep’s far more developed love story.
Ultimately, I must admit that I enjoy “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” more than I do “The Mummy”, but I also can’t deny this film’s legacy. It started as a reflection of our infatuation with Egyptian culture at the time, but it went on to spawn several films, spin-offs, and remakes. It’s not perfect, but it’s still a good example of a good old fashioned Universal Monster movie!