Monday 15 April 2013

A to Z - The Mummy

Well I'm continuing the black and white classic theme from yesterday, which was L for The Lodger, and going onto possibly my favourite horror movie, The Mummy. No, I don't mean the 1999 action adventure starring Brendan Fraser, I mean the original 1932 version, starring Boris Karloff as the Mummy. Set in the 1920s, a decade which saw fevered interest in ancient Egypt following the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb, the film tells the story of Imhotep, an ancient priest who is awoken by the mysterious Scroll of Thoth that has the power to grant life. He encounters Helen (Zita Johann), the woman who was Anck-sa-namun in a previous life - basically, she's the princess he used to love. Helen ends up subject to a tug of war between Imhotep and her 1920s boyfriend, a slightly insipid Frank (David Manners).

What I love about The Mummy is that the monster, here the ambling mummy now posing as an archaeology enthusiast named Addis Bey, essentially becomes the romantic love interest for Helen, and while Frank is the pretty boy son of a sir, she's given the choice between Beauty and the Beast. Trouble is, the Beast is far more interesting. Karloff is positively magnetic in this role, and we're treated to close ups of those mesmerising eyes as he works his magic on various characters. I think I sometimes get a bit cross with the implication that the mummy is a monster when really, he just wants his old girlfriend back. Plus, when he shows Helen a dream sequence of their life together in ancient Egypt, I just wonder how on earth Frank thinks he can possibly compare - Imhotep has had a passionate life with her already, and the best Frank can do is wring his hands with worry.

Karloff and Johann (herself a rather exotic beauty) make a much better couple, and I found myself rooting for them throughout the film. OK, so Imhotep wants to kill Helen so he can resurrect her to the same state of immortality that he himself enjoys, but what's so wrong with that? People always bang on about wanting to spend eternity together - these guys actually have the chance. Frank doesn't even really get to save the day - Helen pretty much has to save herself. Yes, he's that useless.

One of the things I love about the early Universal films is their length. They're quite short (The Mummy runs at 73 minutes) but they tell their story perfectly, without recourse to lengthy padding or pointless dialogue exchanges. I'm no fan of 3D cinema, and films like these just prove that you don't need fireworks and fancy visuals to tell a good story well.

I couldn't find any decent clips, and while I would recommend watching the whole movie, I'll leave you with the trailer...


Bevimus said...

This was my first Boris Karloff film ever and for me to explain why I loved it so I must first explain that my father loved it so. My dad being a rather typical guy for his time period wasn't terribly good at relating to his daughter, nor I to him. So we struggled to find commonalities. This film was one of many black and white horror films (many of them Universal classics) that we both enjoyed, so we watched it multiple times throughout my childhood.
I liked the forbidden love, the power of the language, even more the power of the silence. And you're right about those eyes. I was also blown away by the make-up effects. I don't really think they could have possibly done a better job of it.
But best of all was my dad- he was seriously passionate about this movie and he had no problem explaining why it was so good. I was as spell bound listening to him talk about as I was by Karloff himself. It's inseparably tied to fond memories of my childhood with my father and so it evokes so much warmth in my heart I can't even describe it.

John Wiswell said...

Very considerate of you to leave the entire movie here. If my eyes weren't tired I'd give it another viewing. I remember it being too slow for my tastes at age 10, but my tastes back then were terrible. I've been meaning to get back to this one for many Halloweens.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Beverly - I actually only came across it last year, and after borrowing it from LoveFilm I had to buy my own copy because I loved it so much. It's by far my favourite of the Universal films.

John - It's only the trailer here, not the whole movie.

Tony Noland said...

I probably watched this many years ago, but can't recall any details. Another one for the Netflix queue.

Heath Lowrance said...

Good call, Icy. This is probably my favorite of Boris' movies.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Tony - Is your queue essentially my A-Z?!

Heath - I knew there was a reason I liked you!

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