Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Universal Monster Classics, Pt. 3 - The Mummy (1932)

THE MUMMY (1932) - I blamed my apathy towards Karl Freund’s The Mummy on my youth. As a youngster, pouring through the catalogue of Universal Monster Classics, I could never make it all the way through The Mummy. And by all the way I mean after the opening scenes set in 1921, my attention waned every second thereafter. So I went into the film apprehensive, but with an open, older mind. The result was just about the same. The Mummy never connected with me, and is still the slightest, most forgettable of the Universal Classics. It begins with some moments of brilliance, but the story begins treading water until it drowns under the weight of melodrama and stiff dialogue. No matter the performance of Boris Karloff, the picture never gains any dramatic traction.

The Mummy tells the tale of Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian who is brought back to life and seeks the love, or the possession, of a woman whom he believes to be his lover from thousands of years ago. As the film opens eleven years in the past, an archeological expedition has uncovered the tomb of Imhotep, wrapped in mummified garb, his arms crossed, resting up against the wall. Along with the discovery of the body, the archeologists also find a box containing an ancient scroll, the Scroll of Thoth. Against better judgment, a young man at the dig reads from the scroll and brings Imhotep to life. This opening sequence is wickedly ominous, and the resurrection of the mummy is still chilling. Imhotep takes the scroll from the young man before limping his way out the door, leaving the man stark raving mad, laughing wildly in disbelief. I can still here his shrill, insane laugh.

Fast forward to 1932, the present day for the film, and a new dig brings about new discoveries. Boris Karloff appears, this time as Ardath Bey. Karloff’s heavy makeup is effective in black and white, giving him the appearance of an ancient relic walking amongst the living. Bey tells the archeologists he has uncovered the tomb of an Egyptian woman, and the men confirm. Once the body of the princess is exhumed and taken to a museum, Imhotep reads from the scroll to try and resurrect his long lost love. But something else happens; a young woman named Helen (Zita Johann) bears a striking resemblance to his fallen princess. Imhotep’s obsession directs itself towards Helen, as he tries to seduce her and control her to become his. Of course, there are a few strapping men in the way, and Dr. Muller, who is on to Imhotep early. Dr. Muller is played by Edward Van Sloan, who is perfect as the voice of reason in Dracula, Frankenstein, and here again in The Mummy.

Alas, the picture crumbles from the melodramatic story. Karl Freudn, the cinematographer for Dracula, is the director here, and he films a stylish and moody film, but the story surrounding the visuals is, frankly, an incredible bore. The character of the mummy is at a disadvantage if you ask me. There is nothing terribly interesting about his story. Whereas Dracula carried heavy themes regarding the pitfalls of sexuality and Frankenstein dealt with the notion of playing God, of creation, and of the nature of man, The Mummy is just a straight story with a villain who is not frightening. He is just an old, bothersome man.

I was hoping to have a different outlook this time around watching The Mummy, but it was not to be. It is still, by leaps and bounds, my least favorite of the Universal Monster Classics. It has its moments, but all in all I remain as disappointed as I was in my youth. Frankly, I am glad to be past this film and on my way to more exciting Universal entries.