So far in this review, I have gone over the “Big Three” of the Classic Monster class. Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman coexisted in a European setting even showing up in each other’ movies. Very cozy. Maybe almost too much of a good thing. I mean after you have the Daughter of Dracula and the Bride and the Son of Frankenstein what’s left, the Wolfman’s Gardener’s Chiropractor? It would almost be a relief to escape from foggy, chilly Central Europe and head for a warmer and dryer climate.
The Mummy presents an intersection of interesting subjects. At the time, it was made (1932) less than 10 years had elapsed since the real-life discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb and the golden artifacts it contained. This discovery along with the supposed “Tutankhamen’s Curse” upon all those who desecrated his tomb re-invigorated the public’s interest in Egyptology. Add to that the fascination with a strange and exotic world such as the Middle East would have presented to Westerners of a century ago. And finally mix this together with a mythical love story to produce a strange fantasy to lure the public with. And the movie was very popular, even in Britain, where the colonial setting was probably of interest.
The story goes like this. A British archeological dig in Egypt uncovers an unspoiled burial site that contains a mummy that was not embalmed but rather buried alive. Markings on the tomb warn any grave robbers that the occupant is a cursed individual and anyone who reads the Scroll of Thoth will perish and unleash an undead horror on the world. So of course, they read the scroll. This activates the long dead mummy of Imhotep, the priest who was punished for trying to use the Scroll of Thoth to revivify his lover Anck-es-en-Amon, the princess whose untimely death brought about this whole tragedy. After driving one of the expedition mad and sending him to an early grave, Imhotep (played by our old friend Boris Karloff) escapes with the scroll and disappears. Ten years later Helen Grosvenor, the daughter of one of the surviving expedition members, is discovered by Imhotep to be the reincarnated spirit of Anck-es-en-Amon. By this time Imhotep has assumed the identity of a modern-day Egyptian named Ardath Bey. He plans to ritually slay Helen, mummify her and use the Scroll of Thoth to revivify her and make her his bride. Pretty creepy.
Helen’s friends and family attempting to foil this plot are laughably ineffective. At the end it takes Helen’s returned memory as Anck-es-en-Amon to appeal to Isis (whose votary she was) to put a stop to the ritual murder. Imhotep is blasted by divine intervention and everyone (who is still alive at this point) lives happily ever after.
One interesting addition to the cast is our old friend Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Muller. In this movie his effectiveness is somewhere between the high competency of Van Helsing in Dracula and the incredible incompetence of Dr. Waldman in Frankenstein. Let’s give him a B- in the Mummy for at least putting up a fight.
I’ve always enjoyed the Mummy. But I limit myself to one viewing every ten years. Let’s face it. A Mummy, even one with a scroll that bestows the power of life and death isn’t that scary. For all it’s flaws the 1990s reboot with Brendan Fraser has a lot more chills in it with man eating scarab beetles and a Mummy that revivifies himself by stealing organs from the living. But the 1930s version is solid entertainment well worth seeing, at least once.