The Mummy (1932) dir. Karl Freud
Starring: Boris Karloff, David Manners, Zita Johann, Edward van Sloan
With the third entry in the Brendan Fraser “Mummy” franchise do out soon, it’s a good time to revisit the original “The Mummy” released in 1932, which is being released on DVD again by Universal. The original film is a sparse, barebones jumping off point compared to the visual effects blockbuster extravaganza of the newer films. But remnants of the old film are still in the new one.
Karl Freund’s “The Mummy” begins in 1921, during an excavation of an ancient Egyptian tomb where a team of archaeologists Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan), and Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) have uncovered a mummy. It's a mysterious find because the man inside appears to have been entombed alive, along with a cursed box with an inscription written to whoever finds it to never to open the contents. While Muller and Sloan are away, the curious archaeologist Norton opens the box revealing an ancient scroll of text which he proceeds to recite. As he does this the buried alive Mummy, Imhotep (who else but Boris Karloff), comes to life and calmly leaves the site never to be seen again.
When a second expedition shows up 10 years later Imhotep emerges as an aloof yet demanding Egyptian man named Ardeth Bey (still Boris Karloff). Bey finds the expedition leader, Sir Joseph's son Frank (David Manners) and points them in the direction of the lost tomb of Imhotep’s lost love Princess Anckes-en-Amon. Bey manipulates the archeologists into resurrecting the Princess so he can be reuntited with her. To do so, he needs the scroll and a female sacrifice, who happens to be the ravishing guest of Dr. Muller (Zita Johann).
The great German cinematographer Karl Freund directed the film. The year previous he shot Tod Browning’s “Dracula”, but he’s most famous for lensing the German classics of F.W. Murnau (“The Last Laugh”) and Fritz Lang (“Metropolis”). Freund’s style wasn't completely 'Hollywood-ized', as his slow moving gothic style is still present. Just watch the movements and speech patterns of Karloff himself. It’s been thousands of years for Imhotep/Bey so patience has been his sole virtue.
Fans of Freund’s previous work will recognize this in his dramatic lighting scheme. The most ominous of course is the famous shot of Karloff staring into the camera, underlit to create a skeletal-like appearance. 1932 audiences must have been wildly creeped out. Freund’s camera slowly moves in and out and around the sets with the grace he put into his great German films.
The actual cloth-bound ‘Mummy’ which is slapped on the movie poster (and in the still used for this review) appears in only a very brief scene in the opening, the remainder of his presence is as Ardeth Bey. Traditional scares are few – Bey commits a couple of murders – but the horror comes from the sense of unease and the centuries old curse which slowly comes to life. Bey’s motives (the need to rekindle lost love) are honourable , but it’s only when Freund reveals the deathly sacrifice needed to complete his plan, does Bey become truly horrifying. Enjoy.
"The Mummy (1932)" Legacy Collection is available on Special Edition DVD from Universal Studios Home Entertainment