Friday, October 24, 2014

Stubs – The Mummy


The Mummy (1932) Starring: KARLOFF (aka Boris Karloff), Zita Johann, David Manners, Arthur Byron, Edward Van Sloan. Directed by Karl Freund. Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. Screenplay by John L. Balderston, Garrett Fort and Francis Edwards Faragoh. Run Time: 72 minutes. U.S. Black and White, Horror.

While you might not think of The Mummy (1932) as being ripped from the headlines, it sort of was, as events, real and imagined as reported in the press, were the inspirations for the film.

In 1922, Howard Carter and George Herbert discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun, also known as King Tut. Even though the tomb had been robbed at least twice in antiquity, it was still pretty much intact. The opening of the tomb became a worldwide sensation. As a result, references to ancient Egypt became common place in culture, including songs like “Old King Tut”.  

Howard Carter, English archaeologist discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922.

Along with the discovery, the tale of the Curse of the Pharaohs gained in popularity. The curse was said to affect anyone who disturbed the tomb of an Ancient Egyptian person, especially a Pharaoh. No differentiation was made in the curse between thief and archaeologist; all were subject to bad luck, illness or death as a result of their violation.

The Carter team was supposedly not immune. The New York Times reported the death of Carter’s pet canary at the hands, or rather mouth of, a cobra, which had entered the bird’s cage and devoured it. The cobra was considered a symbol of the Egyptian monarchy and it was taken as a sign that the Royal Cobra had entered Carter’s house, just as he had disturbed King Tut’s resting place.

But mysterious deaths would perpetuate the myth of the curse. Six weeks after they had opened the tomb, George Herbert, aka the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, the financial backer of the excavation, died about six months later. He suffered a severe mosquito bite on March 19, 1923 and died April 5th. Scientifically, his death was attributed to blood poisoning, progressing to pneumonia, after he had shaved a mosquito bite infected with erysipelas. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, suggested Lord Carnarvon’s death had been caused by elementals created by ancient priests to guard the tomb, and this only fueled more interest in the curse.

It didn’t quell talk of a curse when Carter’s friend, Sir Bruce Ingham’s house burned down soon after he received as a gift, a mummified hand with its wrist adorned with a scarab bracelet marked with, "Cursed be he who moves my body. To him shall come fire, water and pestilence.” Reportedly, when he rebuilt the house it was caught up in a flood.

(It should be pointed out that most people connected to the expedition, including Carter himself, lived normal life spans. Of the 58 people present at the time the tomb and sarcophagus were opened, only eight died within a dozen years. The last one died 39 years later in 1961. But you print the legend.)

True or not, the story of the expedition and the curse inspired producer Carl Laemmle Jr., who was looking for a new horror story as a follow up to Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931). He commissioned story editor Richard Shayer to find a literary novel source to form a basis for an Egyptian-themed horror film, but he couldn’t find any.

Using the life of Alessandro Cagliostro, an Italian Count and occultist, as a basis, Shayer and writer Nina Wilcox Putnam wrote a nine-page treatment entitled Cagliostro. The story, set in San Francisco, was about a 3000-year old magician who survives by injecting nitrates. Laemmle was pleased with the story and hired John L. Balderston, the playwright who had adapted the plays Dracula and Frankenstein, to write a screenplay from the story. Balderston, who had also covered the opening of Tutankhamen's tomb for New York World when he was a journalist, is credited with moving the story to Egypt and renaming the film and its title character Imhotep, after the historical architect. Imhotep would be the working title, but later changed to The Mummy.

Alessandro Cagliostro was the basis for the story John L. Balderston would mold into The Mummy.

Karl Freund, the cinematographer on Dracula, was hired to direct two days before filming began. He cast Zita Johann, who believed in reincarnation, as the female lead.

Filming was scheduled for three weeks, but actually lasted seven. Reports are that Freund drove the cast and crew hard; this was in the days before Hollywood was unionized. Often they would shoot past midnight. One of the reasons for the long hours was due to the make-up Karloff had to wear. Using cotton, rubber cement and paint, make-up artist Jack Pierce would start transforming Karloff at 11 am and not finish until 7 at night. Shooting would go on as late as 2 a.m. after which it would take 2 more hours to remove the make-up.

There are reports of tension on the set, especially between Freund and Johann. As noted above, he worked the cast and crew for long hours, but at one point near the end of filming, Johann supposedly fainted and was out for about an hour. Freund attempted to portray Johann to the film producers as a temperamental actress.

Supposedly Freund told her that she would have to play the part of Ankh-es-en-Amon nude from the waist up, to which Johann supposedly replied "I will if you can get it past the censors." Freund ultimately never forced Johann to appear nude; however, he did make life difficult for her, forcing her to stand against a wall for hours to keep a dress from wrinkling, and providing her with no protection from lions in a scene which was ultimately cut from the film.

Speaking of being cut from the film, a lengthy and detailed flashback sequence showing the various forms Ankh-es-en-Amon was reincarnated in over the centuries didn’t make the final film. Only stills survive from the sequence. Reportedly, Johann was upset by its excision.

The piece of classical music heard during the opening credits, taken from the Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake, was previously used for the opening credits of Dracula.

The story begins in 1921, the British Museum Field expedition to Egypt, led by Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron), has discovered the mummy of Imhotep (Boris Karloff). A high priest, they determine that Imhotep was buried alive in the Temple at Karnak and the spells that were supposed to help him live in the afterlife had been removed. 

The Mummy (Boris Karloff) lying in his sarcophagus before he is brought back to life.

Whemple brings in a friend, who is also an Egyptian expert, Doctor Muller (Edward Van Sloan) to examine the find. Muller, who believes in the occult, warns the rest of the expedition of the curse that is imprinted on the gold seals of the Pharaoh Amenophis  on a box they found with Imhotep’s body.

Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron), Doctor Muller (Edward Van
Sloan) and  Whemple's assistant Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher)
examine the curse on the box found with Imhotep's mummy.

While Muller takes Whemple outside to try and persuade him to stop, knowledge of the curse proves too much of a temptation for Whemple's Oxford assistant, Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher). Try as he might, curiosity gets the best of him and he opens the box and examines the Scroll of Thoth. Translating the hieroglyphs, he reads in a whispered voice the life giving message which awakens Imhotep. The Mummy then comes out of its sarcophagus, takes the Scroll and walks out. When Whemple returns, he finds Norton has gone insane.

Norton becomes insane when he sees the Mummy walking.

Eleven years later, and the British Museum keeps coming back to Egypt. Sir Joseph has not returned since 1921, but his son Frank (David Manners), along with Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie), has come back. The archaeological expedition they led has, for the most part, returned to England, leaving Whemple and Pearson to finish up.

They are visited by a strange and ageless Egyptian, Ardeth Bey (Boris Karloff), who presents them with a piece of pottery and leads them to where they can dig for the unplundered tomb of Ankh-es-en-amon, who was a daughter of royalty buried 3,700 years earlier. Using Egyptians to do the hard work, Whemple and Pearson break the seal and enter the tomb.

Ardeth Bey (Boris Karloff) offers to show Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie)
and Frank Whemple (David Manners) where they can find the tomb of Ankh-es-en-amon.

The tomb of Ankh-es-en-amon proves to be a sensational find, and her coffin is almost immediately placed in the Cairo museum, as the British are not allowed to take it back to England. Sir Joseph Whemple has returned for London to help with the exhibition and they are visited at the museum by Ardeth Bey.

After the museum closes for the night, Bey stays back and kneeling by the display of Ankh-es-en-amon’s mummified remains, starts to read from the Scroll of Thoth in hope of reviving her body.

At the same time, Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), whose father is a high ranking British government representative and whose mother was Egyptian, is travelling with her physician, Dr. Muller, in Egypt. They are at a dance when Helen is summoned telepathically, by Bey’s reading, to the museum.

Helen (Zita Johann) hears Ardeth Bey calling her telepathically.

She arrives just as the Whemples are leaving for the night; they watch as she runs up to the locked doors and collapses unconscious. The Whemples then take her home to recover.

Meanwhile, inside the museum, a guard comes across Bey, who quickly douses the candle he’s been reading by. When the guard chases after him, he dies of shock. Bey inexplicably leaves the Scroll behind when he flees.

Back at the Whemple's, Dr. Muller, following up on leads to her whereabouts, tracks her down. She has no memory of being at the museum. Frank tells Helen that she resembles the beautiful Ankh-es-en-amon, whom he fell in love with during the excavation.

Frank Whemple is taken by Helen and falls in love.

While Muller and Sir Joseph are talking about the curse and linking it back to Imhotep and
Bey, Whemple gets a call from the museum that the guard has been found dead and they leave to go there. The police figure that the guard had prevented a robbery and give the Scroll they found to Whemple. Even though he had not seen the Scroll in the beginning of the film, he clearly knows what it is.

Sir Joseph is given the Scroll of Thoth after the murder of a guard at the museum.

Back at the Whemple’s, Frank is falling in love with Helen. When Sir Joseph and Muller arrive back, they walk in on Frank and Helen kissing. Whemple believes Helen is caught up in the curse and now so is his son. The three men leave Helen and go into the study to discuss matters. The belief was that the Imhotep mummy had been stolen, but Whemple is rethinking the matter.

Left alone with Helen, Frank moves in for a kiss.

Suddenly, Bey shows up at the house. The Nubian servant (Noble Johnson) is immediately put under Bey’s control. Bey then comes across Helen sleeping on the couch and is obviously struck by her resemblance to Ankh-es-en-amon. He tells her he’s there to see Sir Joseph and when she informs him he’s in the study, he asks if he can wait with her. Helen seems polite, but troubled to be in Bey’s presence.

Helen can't take her eyes off of Ardeth Bey.

Meanwhile, in the study, Muller has seized upon Frank’s suggestion that they burn the Scroll to be rid of it and is trying to convince Whemple to do it. He insists, however, that it is the museum’s property, not his to dispose of.

Dr. Muller  tries to convince Sir Joseph Whemple to burn the Scroll of Thoth and end the curse.

Frank hears someone talking to Helen and investigates. When he tells his father it's Ardeth Bey, he hides the Scroll from view. They find Helen and Bey staring at each other and she appears to be under his spell. When Whemple tells Bey about the murder at the museum, Helen overhears and is surprised that it happened while she was there. She tells Bey the story about being found there. Hearing her story seems to cement in Bey’s mind that she is somehow related to Ankh-es-en-amon.

While Muller, as Helen’s doctor, insists she return to the hotel, she seems drawn to Bey and says she feels more alive than ever. Still, she lets Frank take her away, but not before telling Bey that they will need to see each other again.

Once she’s gone, Muller and Whemple talk to Bey about their theory that perhaps the mummy of Imhotep wasn’t stolen, but perhaps brought back to life by the Scroll. While Bey at first pretends not to know what they’re talking about, he does demand that they return the Scroll to him. He doesn’t believe they left it back at the museum, but that it’s in Whemple’s study. He tries to force Whemple to get it, but Muller intercedes. He tells Bey that the Scroll is with a third party and will be destroyed if anything happens to them. Before he leaves, Bey instructs Whemple to get the Scroll and give it to the Nubian servant, who will deliver it to him.

Dr. Muller confronts Ardeth Bey with his theory about the mummy of Imhotep.

Muller finally convinces Whemple to burn the Scroll, but rather than doing it immediately, he seems to wait long enough for Bey to get back to his dwelling, for we see Bey scrying at a pool of water. There, he watches as Whemple removes the Scroll from its hiding place and takes it to the fireplace. But before he can set it on fire, Bey reaches out and causes Whemple to have a heart attack and die. The Nubian servant, under Bey’s command, enters the room and replaces the Scroll in the fireplace with some newspapers, which he sets on fire before leaving with the Scroll.

The next day, Muller confronts Frank with the knowledge that his father knew it would cost him his life when he burned the Scroll. To help protect Frank, Muller gives him a charm made to resemble the Egyptian Goddess of Life, unfortunately known (given today’s associations) as Isis.

The charm of Isis that can protect Frank from Bey's powers.

Muller convinces Frank to go with him to see Helen, hinting that he saw her attraction for Frank and welcomed it. Frank calls and tells Helen not to leave her room until they get there. She agrees, but by the time they arrive, she’s gone.

Helen can not stay away from Ardeth Bey and is drawn to his temple.

Under Bey's spell, Helen goes to his temple, where he, using his scrying pool, reveals to her their past in ancient Egypt. Imhotep, the high priest to the Pharaoh (James Crane) is so in love with Princess Ankh-es-en-amon that he can’t stand to watch her die. To bring her back to life, Imhotep steals the forbidden Scroll and is trying to bring her back to life when he is discovered. It is an unholy deed and Imhotep is sentenced by the Pharaoh to be buried alive and the Scroll is buried with him in an unmarked grave. The slaves who dug the grave are killed and the soldiers who killed them are themselves killed in order to maintain the secrecy of his tomb.

In the scrying pool, Bey and Helen watch while Imhotep is punished for his crime by being buried alive.

When he is done telling the story, Helen can’t remember it and leaves. Returning to Frank, Helen, half-conscious, asks him to save her. A nurse (Florence Britton) tries to sedate her and Frank places the Isis charm on her door knob to protect her, but when Bey reaches out and gives Frank a heart attack he pulls the charm off the door to save himself.

Frank grabs the charm from Helen's door to save himself from a Bey-induced heart attack.

Drawn by Bey’s power, Helen escapes to the museum. There, dressed in the clothes and jewelry of Ankh-es-en-amon, Helen seems to be taken over by her soul. She, as Ankh-es-en-amon, knows Bey and wants to be with him, but doesn’t like his plan, which is to kill her, mummify her and then bring her back from the dead, so she can be, like him, a living mummy. She wants to live again, but not that way. Bey burns Ankh-es-en-amon's body in a convenient fireplace, as he believes her soul has been reincarnated in Helen.

Bey takes Helen back to  the museum and dresses her in Ankh-es-en-amon's clothes and jewelry.

Frank and Muller arrive at the museum, but are powerless before Bey's spells, so Helen, now as Ankh-es-en-amon, begs the goddess Isis for assistance. The god's statue raises its arm to point a glowing ankh at Bey, who ages immediately and crumbles to the floor. The ankh also sets the Scroll on fire.

The goddess Isis comes to Helen's rescue and slays Ardeth Bey.

Muller insists that Frank then calls Helen back from Ancient Egypt, as his love might be powerful enough to bridge the centuries. And Helen comes back, the Scroll continues to burn and we see the remnants of Imhotep on the floor.

The last shot in The Mummy.

Critically, the reviews were mixed. The Hollywood Herald called the film “A gripping melodramatic romance and one of the best of Boris Karloff’s starring pictures.” The New York Times review called it “a costume melodrama for the children” and said, “The photography is superior to the dialogue,” which I don’t think is meant as a compliment to the dialogue. The New York Daily News also commented on the dialogue calling it “stilted”. Others noted, that unlike the other horror films, The Mummy is pretty much devoid of any humor. Variety commented “Zita Johann is attractive, but always role conscious.” Again, not a compliment. The Washington Post wrote “Only in the startling realism of his makeup does Boris Karloff recall such of his terrifying earlier pictures, say as Frankenstein.”

Unlike Dracula and Frankenstein, the original The Mummy does not have any sequels. Rather in 1940, Universal semi-remade the film as The Mummy's Hand, in which Tom Tyler played the Mummy. The Mummy’s Tomb followed in 1942, with both The Mummy’s Ghost and The Mummy’s Curse released in 1944. The latter three starred Lon Chaney, Jr. The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Curse both supposedly contain scenes from the original The Mummy.

In the late 1950s, British Hammer Film Productions took up the Mummy theme, beginning with The Mummy (1959), with Terence Young directing and Christopher Lee in the title role. Rather than being a remake of the original Karloff film, this one is based on The Mummy's Hand (1940) and The Mummy's Tomb (1942). Follow-up films — The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964), The Mummy's Shroud (1966) and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971) — are unrelated to the earlier film or to each other.

Universal returned to the franchise, producing a big budget remake in 1999, directed by Stephen Sommers and starring Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and Arnold Vosloo. The success of which spawned a sequel, The Mummy Returns (2001), with the same director and stars, and a prequel, The Scorpion King (2002), directed by Chuck Russell and starring professional wrestler turned actor, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.


To capitalize on the success of The Mummy reboot, Universal Animation Studios premiered an animated show on the WB network, The Mummy: The Animated Series, also known as The Mummy: Secrets of the Medjai for its second season. The series ran from September 29, 2001 to June 7, 2003.

The Mummy was Karl Freund’s first turn as a director. A German, Freund had worked as a cinematographer on many German Expressionist films, including The Golem (1920), The Last Laugh (1924) and Metropolis (1927). He co-wrote and was the cinematographer on Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis (1927). He emigrated to the U.S. in 1929.

Karl Freund was a cinematographer before he directed The Mummy.

Freund would work on about 150 films in Germany and Hollywood as a Cinematographer/Director of Photography, including Murders at the Rue Morgue (1932); The Great Ziegfeld (1936); The Good Earth (1937), for which he won the Academy Award; A Guy Named Joe (1943) and Key Largo (1948). Back when he worked on silent films in Germany, Freund is credited with inventing the dolly shot and being one of the first cinematographers to use a handheld camera. He would also direct twenty films from 1921 to 1935, none of which would be as famous as The Mummy.

But for all his accomplishments on film, Freund may be best remembered for his work on television. Desi Arnaz persuaded Freund to work on the sitcom I Love Lucy (1951-1956). Freund is credited with developing the “flat lighting” for shooting sitcoms that is still being utilized today.

Zita Johann, who played Helen Grosvenor, had a very short film career. A stage actress on Broadway, she made her first film appearance in D. W. Griffith's The Struggle (1931). So disillusioned by the filming of The Mummy, she asked Carl Laemmle Jr. to do her a favor and not pick up her option. She must have been disillusioned with Hollywood in general, because after seven films, she quit to work in theater, starring with John Houseman, to whom she was married to at the time, 1929-1933, and with Orson Welles. She also taught acting to people with learning disorders. The Mummy was her third film and her most famous role. Her last role was a small part in Raiders of the Living Dead (1986).

Zita Johann in a publicity photo for The Mummy.

She is good in her part. She has the entranced stare down cold and her exotic look is right for the role. I can see why she was cast. Her costumes either have plunging necklines or are almost nonexistent, which gives her character a sensual and comfortable-with-myself quality. (Though the headdress they have her wear as Ankh-es-en-amon doesn’t quite work for me.)

Stalwarts of Universal horror films, David Manners and Edward Van Sloan, both appear in The Mummy. Manners, who had been the romantic lead in Dracula, returns in a similar role here and does about as much with it was he did in the previous film. Good-looking, but we’re never shown any of the actor’s range.

David Manners plays the romantic lead in The Mummy, Frank Whemple.

Sloan, who had appeared in supporting roles in Dracula and Frankenstein, also appears in a similar part here as well. There is more for him to do in The Mummy, but he is still basically an advisor to the romantic lead and is there to give exposition when needed for the story to progress.

The film, which mixes the mystical with the scientific, keeps the story keeps moving. I think the planned and filmed sequence of Ankh-es-en-amon’s past lives would have really slowed the film down.

Humorless, the film is at times melodramatic and the romance for the ages seems a bit hard to swallow. Frank’s love for Helen, someone he’s known for a matter of hours, is shown to trump Imhotep’s love for Ankh-es-en-amon, which has lasted for 3800 years, creepy though it may be.

And the film is really more creep than horror. Heart attacks and dying of fright, while serious, are not the most horrific ways to die. And Bey’s death at the end, credit to John P. Fulton who handled special effects, is well done. Easily that could have been drawn out with a lot of murky super-impositions between stages, so one has to appreciate the straightforwardness of the transformation

Part of the well done special effects at the end of the film.

It is easy to see why the film did not have a sequel right away. While Bey is somewhat of a sympathetic villain, he does what he does for the love of a woman; you never really connect with him. Karloff gives a very strong performance, but he isn’t quite enough on his own to push this film to the level of Frankenstein, which honestly had a lot more going for it. And mummies don’t make for the same romantic character as vampires like Dracula.

Boris Karloff as Ardeth Bey in The Mummy.

Still, this is a film worth seeing given the season, though it might not be one you want to watch every year.

No comments:

Post a Comment