The Mummy (1932)22/05/2021
An ancient Egyptian priest named Imhotep is revived when an archaeological expedition finds his mummy and one of the archaeologists accidentally reads an ancient life-giving spell. Imhotep escapes from the field site and searches for the reincarnation of the soul of his lover.
1930’s archaeology is the vessel that carrys the mystical story of Imhotep’s search for his long lost love. Having been brought back to life by accident in the 1920’s by the father of Frank Whemple (the western love interest for the reincarnated priestess), Imhotep reinvents himself as Ardeth Bay, a helpful (if solemn and somewhat mysterious) Egyptian Historian. Skip to 10 or so years later, and we’re brought into a swirling story of love and betrayal.
Imhotep (Ardeth) is certain that his soulmate is reincarnated within the body of a young socialite named Helen Grosvenor. Helen has a life of her own in which she has come to love Frank. After initially fighting against Imhoteps attempts to cast a spell to revive the soul of his love, Helen finally gives over to his request.
Ardeth brings Helen to the Museum, where he plans to revive the soul of Ankh-su-namun (the priestess he loved in his previous life). Helen begins to have misgivings as she realizes that her body would no longer be her own, and fights to escape, before realizing she has no way out and prays to the gods of old for help. Just as Imhotep is about to kill her to complete the ritual, the ancient gods step in, casting down Imhotep and destroying the scroll that contains the reincarnation spell.
Imhotep now gone, Frank spends the final moments of the movie holding Helen in his arms, pleading with her to come back to him.
Boris Karloff has a well earned reputation for his haunting and unsensationalized portrayal of Imhotep. His understated and quiet performance helps create a commanding performance. His self control and strong presence make the rest of the cast seem like they’re only there to support his performance. While the rest of the cast do an admirable job, they never quite match his on screen charisma.
The set pieces let down the film in general, and the occasional file footage spliced between the shots of hand built sets can be quite jarring, but this was a standard practice in the time the film was made. Some of the sets look very cheaply built, with slapped together signs and props to give the impression of Egyptian relevance, without actually ever feeling like it’s real. The environment is definitely a western impression of what someone might think Egypt looked like, without ever having set foot there. The Hieroglyphs and Language are mostly gibberish, and the extras used as laborers on dig sites have been tarred with the same brush that was used to portray American slaves on film.
None of this really detracts from the film though, and it is a satisfying watch. If you can look past the simplicity of the sets, and the over acting of some of the characters, the story is quite solid. There aren’t as many plot holes as I initially thought, and everything is tied up in a neat little bow by the end.
I quite enjoyed this film. The protagonist and the love interest were solid, though I found the character of Helen to be a little too wistful. She spent a long time looking out into the night, or staring at the person she was talking too. It made for a somewhat stilted performance.
Music is not a major part of this film, and it only really served to play for dramatic effect, rather than convey emotion. It is well scored, and seems to play through the vast majority of the film. The marathon effort to create and play such long pieces of music is nothing short of heroic.
The cinematography is bog standard for the time, with no real extra thought put into shots, no pull focus, or mirror reflections here. It’s as if they took the list of the top 5 safest shot types, and used them over and over. Establishing shot, middle shot, head shot, closeup, dolly shot. Rinse and repeat.
Definitely worth a watch if you like classic films, as it’s probably one of the grand daddies of modern horror. By today’s standards, its extremely tame, and about as family safe as they come.