|Directed by||Karl Freund|
The Mummy is a 1932 American Pre-Code horror film directed by Karl Freund. The screenplay by John L. Balderston was from a story by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer. Released by Universal Studios, the film stars Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan and Arthur Byron. The film is about an ancient Egyptian mummy named Imhotep who is discovered by a team of archeologist and inadvertently brought back to life through a magic scroll. Disguised as a modern Egyptian, the mummy searches for his lost love, whom he believes has been reincarnated into a modern girl.
Inspired by the opening of Tutankhamun‘s tomb in 1922 and the Curse of the Pharaohs, producer Carl Laemmle Jr. commissioned story editor Richard Schayer to find a literary novel to form a basis for an Egyptian-themed horror film, just as the novels Dracula and Frankenstein informed their 1931 films Dracula and Frankenstein. Schayer found none although the plot bears a strong resemblance to a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle entitled “The Ring of Thoth“. Schayer and writer Nina Wilcox Putnam learned about Alessandro Cagliostro and wrote a nine-page treatment entitled Cagliostro. The story, set in San Francisco, was about a 3,000-year-old magician who survives by injecting nitrates instead of via supernatural cause like with Imhotep’s case.
Laemmle was pleased with these ideas, and he hired John L. Balderston to write the script. Balderston had contributed to Dracula and Frankenstein, and had covered the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb for New York World when he was a journalist so he was more than familiar with the highly popular tomb unearthing. Balderston moved the story to Egypt and renamed the film and its title character Imhotep, after the historical architect.He also changed the story from one of revenge upon all the women who resembled the main characters’ ex-lover to one where the main character is determined to revive his old love by killing and mummifying her reincarnated self before resurrecting her with the spell of the Scroll of Thoth.Balderston invented the Scroll of Thoth, which gave an aura of authenticity to the story. Thoth was the wisest of the Egyptian gods who, when Osiris died, helped Isis bring her love back from the dead. Thoth is believed to have authored The Book of the Dead, which was no doubt the inspiration for Balderston’s Scroll of Thoth.
The Scroll of Thoth is a fictional artifact, though likely based on the Book of the Dead. Thoth, the Egyptian god of knowledge, is said to the be the inventor of hieroglyphs and the author of the Book of the Dead.
Conspirators were caught in a plot to assassinate Pharaoh Ramesses III around 1151 BCE. Papyrus trial transcripts reveal the method of execution, which may have been being buried alive. Although not common practice, it is possible that a fictional priest such as Imhotep would be punished this way.
There is no evidence to suggest that Ancient Egyptians believed in or considered the possibility of re-animated mummies. Mummification was a sacred process meant to prepare a dead body to carry the soul through the afterlife, not for being reincarnated and living again on earth. While it is possible that some individuals were mummified by being buried alive it is unlikely that ancient Egyptians would think resurrection was possible because they were very aware of the fact that all the necessary organs had been removed and the body would be of little use on earth anymore.
Zita Johann later recalled Karl Freund‘s nastiness to her: “Karl Freund made life very unpleasant. It was his first picture as a director, and he felt he needed a scapegoat in case he didn’t come in on schedule, 23 days, I believe. Well I was cast as the scapegoat–and I saw through it right away! Before shooting started, I asked Freund and his wife over for dinner. He told me for one scene, I would have to appear nude from the waist up. He expected me to say, ‘The hell I will!’ Instead I said, ‘Well, it’s all right with me if you can get it past the censors’–knowing very well that the censors of that time were very strict. So, I had him there.
True originals don’t need remakes…
Given enough time and interest, I’m sure that I would have gotten around to the original Universal version of “The Mummy”, but the hideous (in every respect) 1999 remake is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The second I happened to see the original (complete with poster art) on the shelves of my local Wal-Mart, there were no second thoughts. It HAD to be better than that low-grade (though high budget)”Raiders of the Lost Ark” ripoff I spent two hours suffering through. Thankfully, my impulse proved to be on the money.
I really look at this film as Karloff’s first piece of proof that there was more to his talent than Frankenstein’s monster. Imhotep (aka Ardeth Bay) couldn’t be more different than that sweet-natured brute. Though both are pathetic in their own way and lonely, Imhotep is more intelligent and a great deal more malicious by far. He’s willing to do anything, kill anyone, and break any taboo to be reunited with his lost love. Karloff never has to raise his voice to convey menace; just a hardening of the eyes or a steely tone in that oh-so-distinct voice of his is enough to make you a little uneasy.
An overlooked aspect of this film is that, in a way, it’s something of a tragedy. Imhotep has literally sacrificed everything he ever had just to be by the side of his beloved princess. So focused on this goal is he that he doesn’t realize the great harm he is doing to all those around him, including to his beloved (who, in a thankful break with movie tradition at the time, proves to be the undoing of the immortal monster). I feel more of a sense of relief at film’s end than triumph. Maybe now Imhotep can rest in peace.
The one, TRUE mummy!
Author: George R. Willeman from Culpeper, VA
10 May 1999
Having recently seen the 1999 remake, I realized just how powerful Karloff’s portrayal of Imhotep/Ardath Bey truly is.
Without fancy effects or CGI, without an $80,000,000 budget, with little more than dry-looking make-up, a doleful stare, and that wonderful, lisping voice, Karloff created a monster that will endure long after the rental copies of the remake have shed their metal oxide coatings. Karl Freund, the director, was one of Germany’s finest cameramen and this was his first film as a director. Employing the “less is more” theory of film-making, he keeps the mummy a very mysterious and deadly creature. Never does the mummy stroll up to someone, working them into a corner to strangle them. No, he just reaches out with his mind, killing people from miles away. Finally, the flashback scene is one of the best, done in “silent film” style with music and Karloff supplying a morbid voiceover. Sadly, Universal cut the flashback short before the mummy had a chance to tell about chasing the re-incarnated princess throughout time. Some stills survive and Henry Victor still gets credit as “The Saxon Warrior”.
The Most Subtle of the Universal Horror Films
Author: gftbiloxi (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Biloxi, Mississippi
2 October 2005
Although frequently reinterpreted, the original 1932 THE MUMMY remains the most intriguing film version of a story inspired by both 1920s archaeological finds and the 1931 Bela Lugosi Dracula: when an over-eager archaeologist reads an incantation from an ancient scroll, he unexpectedly reanimates a mysterious mummy–who then seeks reunion with the princess for whom he died thousands of years earlier and ultimately finds his ancient love reincarnated in modern-day Egypt.
Less a typical horror film than a Gothic romance with an Egyptian setting, THE MUMMY has few special effects of any kind and relies primarily upon atmosphere for impact–and this it has in abundance: although leisurely told, the film possesses a darkly romantic, dreamlike quality that lingers in mind long after the film is over. With one or two exceptions, the cast plays with remarkable restraint, with Boris Karloff as the resurrected mummy and Zita Johann (a uniquely beautifully actress) standouts in the film. The sets are quite remarkable, and the scenes in which Karloff permits his reincarnated lover to relive the ancient past are particularly effective.
Kids raised on wham-bam action and special effects films will probably find the original THE MUMMY slow and uninteresting, but the film’s high quality and disquieting atmosphere will command the respect of both fans of 1930s horror film and the more discerning viewer. Of all the 1930s Universal Studio horror films, THE MUMMY is the most subtle–and the one to which I personally return most often.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Author: Ron Oliver (email@example.com) from Forest Ranch, CA
27 May 2003
THE MUMMY awakened in Egypt by English archeologists goes on a rampage searching for its reincarnated lover.
Boris Karloff dominates this little fright fest, bringing new nightmares to the screen and proving that his Frankenstein’s Monster was no mere quirk, but actually the beginning of a distinguished career in shocker films. Helped immensely by makeup master Jack Pierce, who gave the Mummy face & hands like weathered parchment, Karloff uses his own saturnine features and tall thin body to full effect, creating a horror portrait that has stood the test of time.
A sturdy supporting cast gives Karloff good support: exotic Zita Johann is lovely & slightly mysterious as the woman of Imhotep’s deathless desires; valiant David Manners as the young hero gives another typically fine performance; Arthur Byron & Edward Van Sloan are enjoyable as the requisite old gentlemen (every horror film must have at least one) who study & stalk the Mummy. African-American silent film star Noble Johnson appears as a sinister Nubian.
The film’s best scene, the resuscitation of the Mummy, demonstrates the potential of the medium. The only indication the viewer has that something horrible is about to happen is a flicker of Karloff’s eye and a slight movement of his hand as he stands in his casket, bound in bandages. The rest of the scene unfolds in the hysterical reaction of young Bramwell Fletcher (excellent performance) as he watches the undead leave the scientists’ tent. All the audience sees is Karloff’s hand and the trailing bandages from his feet as they drag across the floor. It is enough.