2/6/13

The Mummy ('32)


When I received the Universal Monsters Collection Blu-ray set in the mail, I was anxious to revisit 1932's The Mummy.  I hadn't seen it in years, and to be honest, I wasn't crazy about it.  I'm convinced that I didn't give it a fair shot.  Not that I love it now, but I'm able to see the quiet grandeur and finespun cachet that managed to shuck my youthful haste the first time around.  This isn't a straight-up scare flick.  It doesn't contain the iconic imagery of Dracula or Frankenstein, nor does it play to prototypical "old dark house" gambits.  It's an arcane Middle-Eastern romance steeped in divination.  There are, however, moments of hair-raising dread that remind you of the fact that you're watching a Universal horror picture starring Karloff the Uncanny.

The first act is spotless.  It's also the kind of build-up that you would expect, but it works.  Imhotep, a mummified Egyptian prince, awakens from his slumber when a foolhardy archaeologist reads The Scroll of Thoth aloud.  We don't get a clear glimpse of Karloff's full frame in bandages, but the camera is courteous enough to linger on his torso.  Letting Jack Pierce's ingenious make-up effects go to waste would have been sacrilege.  Karl Freund was an excellent choice to helm this crawling liturgy.  For those uninitiated, he served as cinematographer on Dracula and later directed 1935's Mad Love (a hidden gem...read my review HERE).  Apparently, he wasn't much of a people person, but he knew how to garnish leaden sets.

It helps that he was admeasured a distinguished cast, anchored by the bewitching Zita Johann.  Next to Karloff, our leading lady is the most engaging player present.  I learned that she dabbled in the occult in real life.  It's no wonder that her performance comes across as earnest.  By this point, you have probably ascertained that I hold The Mummy in higher regard than I did before.  And you would be correct, but I still don't consider it to be a personal favorite.  The competition in this box set alone is too fierce.  Once Imhotep begins to conduct himself as Ardeth Bay (an anagram of "Death Be Ra"), the film loses me a bit.  The acting remains strong, but I wasn't invested in the evil outlander's plan to resurrect his main squeeze.

In addition, the mechanics of the script borrow liberally from Dracula.  Others have identified the similarities, so I won't bore you with a PowerPoint-assisted consecution of slides comparing the two classics.  It's just that the story doesn't strike me as particularly weighty.  Of course, that's only my opinion.  If I had my druthers, Carl Laemmle Jr. would have opted to adapt Bram Stoker's "The Jewel of Seven Stars," a mummy novel rich with subtext and complex characterizations.  Why didn't he?  For your information, said tome has been produced by studios as mismated as Hammer and Unapix (the latter production was distributed by the illustrious A-Pix Entertainment).  I wouldn't recommend renting 1998's (Bram Stoker's) The Mummy. That's the best advice you are going to receive this month.

Overall, I dig this iteration of The Mummy.  There is no doubt that it's a quality spine-tingler, but a masterpiece?  I beg to differ.  Robert Z'Dar says, "Imhotep should have serenaded Princess Ankh-es-en-emon with a sitar.  Bitches love sitars."

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