Horror Flix: The Mummy

The Mummy was released in 1932, though the copyright, curiously, is 1933, right there in the credits, in roman numerals. It was released in December 1932, according to Wikipedia, just over a year after Frankenstein’s release in November 1931. Familiar faces return: Boris Karloff is now the mummy, Imhotep; Edward Van Sloan is the local expert, Dr. Muller. Observations:

  • As in both Dracula and Frankenstein, we get repeated full face-on shots of the title monster, looking menacing. Karloff now has make-up like wrinkled paper covering his entire face.
  • This film is set in Egypt, mostly in Cairo, in contrast to the European settings of the earlier films.
  • Still, there are numerous scenes of high society here as in the earlier two, of dinner parties and receptions at the Cairo Museum.
  • Plot:
    • The film begins portentously – again using Swan Lake over the opening credits – with titles about the Scroll of Toth and how death is a doorway to new life.
    • In 1921 a Field Expedition from the British Museum digs up a mummy and a gold box with a message inside: eternal death for anyone who opens the inner casket. Local expert Dr Muller warns them not to touch the casket. He steps outside, and the junior archaeologist, of course, opens the casket. Behind him, the mummy (whose face is already visible) steps forward to claim the scroll. The junior scientist, seeing this, goes crazy, laughing maniacally.
    • Ten years later, we see a later British expedition, led by the son of the leader of the first. He is visited by a Saturnine Egyptian man, Ardeth Bey, who offers to point out a sensational find. Soon the archaeologists uncover the tomb of Princess Anck-es-en-Amon, behind seals that are 3700 years old.
    • Flash forward, through whirling newspaper headlines, to how this important discovery now resides at the Cairo Museum.
    • We see elegant people at some kind of reception; we see Ardeth-Bey lurking in the museum. We meet Helen Grosvenor, a young woman who is Dr. Muller’s patient, or ward, who is half Egyptian.
    • Ardeth Bey, the resurrected mummy, thinks Helen is the reincarnation of his ancient bride Anck-es-en-Amon, and so he kidnaps her and intends to mummify and resurrect her to be his bride. His plans are foiled and Imhotep crumbles to dust.
  • The scenes of the 2nd expedition are filmed at Red Rock Canyon, a familiar sight along route 395 in California north of Mojave on the way to the Owens Valley – those familiar hills of angled sedimentary layers, used for many film locations.
  • According to Imdb, another filming location was Rocky Buttes, a spot near Saddleback Butte in the Mojave Desert between Lancaster and Victorville, an area I’ve driven, and bicycled through, numerous times over the years. I didn’t spot in the movie where the site might have been used.
  • I think I’d only seen the first part of the movie before; most was unfamiliar.
  • The impressive set piece comes late, as Helen, somehow hypnotized by Ardeth Bey, comes to his house and is let in to see a pool of water, in which appear visions: love and crime and death; Imhotep kneeling by his bride; a funeral expedition; slaves carrying the coffin into the ground. Imhotep attempting to resurrect her; his father condemning him to death. Imhotep bound by cloths while still alive, and buried in a coffin. All the slaves are killed so no one would know; and the soldiers who killed the slaves are killed themselves.
    • Even if all the actors look like white guys in various shades of skin makeup.
  • And there is a later scene as Helen seems to revert to her role as the ancient princess, Imhotep ready to sacrifice her. Her guardians arrive to rescue her, but it is her plea to Isis, apparently, that saves her—the statue of Isis strikes Ardeth Bey and turns him to dust.
  • The film was inspired by the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 and the supposed “Curse of the pharaohs,” says Wikipedia.
  • The primary take-away, perhaps, is that Westerners should respect ancient eastern religions, and that those religions are real. Similar to Dracula, perhaps, where the Van Sloan character is familiar with the lore of Transylvania and confirms to skeptics that the legends about vampires are real. In that film the character used that lore to defeat the monster. In this one Van Sloan’s character is insistent about destroying the scroll in the first place, taking the Egyptian religion at its word.
  • Curious note from Wikipedia: “Filming was scheduled for three weeks.” They made them fast in the old days.


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