Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #76: The Mummy (1932)
Still going on my Hallowe'en kick and finally getting around to seeing the great monster classics of film history. I had decided a few weeks back that I was going to go for a classic costume this year, and I settled on the one that (I won't call the Invisible Man a monster, he was just a big jerk) is probably talked about the least: the Mummy!
You're probably familiar with the Brendan Fraser Mummy from 1999. I'll pause to shudder for a sec. It lifted some elements from the original Mummy, namely the fact that there's a guy named Imhotep that fell in love with the Pharaoh's daughter. She died. Then his love drove him to seek out forbidden rituals and raise her from the dead, but he was caught, and soon sentenced to be buried alive and partially mummified. A terrible curse was laid down upon his tomb.
Made a year after the success of Dracula and featuring much of the same cast and crew, The Mummy doesn't possess the same magic but manages to be a pretty cool flick for a number of reasons. I guess I'll tell you what those might be, since this is a review and I only get fed my fish heads if I write a review. I also might get my beloved red bouncy ball back.
For starters, I saw this film before I watched the historic Frankenstein, and this was my first run in with the real Boris Karloff. I find that I love Boris Karloff. He's starring as Imhotep, and his rigid creepiness, sullen voice, and gaunt face have all been parodied so often that I felt immediately familiar with him. It was a treat to finally see the icon at work.
Secondly, like with Dracula, I was surprised to find an interesting female character, this time one both alluring, evasively clever, and amazingly unafraid to refer, just once, to sex. She's played by Broadway actress Zita Johann, who was actually seriously interested in the spiritualism of the occult and took her role perhaps a little too seriously. There's a famous scene in the movie where she dies in a past life. She reportedly fainted for real in that scene, after a strenuous day of filming without much food or water thanks to the director's cruel and ridiculous feud with her.
Now, the plot is almost identical to the plot of Dracula. We get the dude who played Van Helsing playing Doctor Muller, who is, like Van Helsing, a master of occult lore and adept at fighting the supernatural. He helps everybody out when shit hits the fan. Like Dracula, the Mummy seems to be after a young woman in Muller/Van Helsing's care. Imhotep also seems to be able to control people's minds, like Dracula could, by staring hard at them. What makes him different, though, is motive. The man isn't entirely evil, he's just obsessed with a love he couldn't attain. That's all. Leave him alone, you guys.
I was hoping, especially for my costume research, to get some serious dusty cloth-wrapped mummy action. Sadly there is virtually none in the first Mummy. Instead you get a slightly wrinkly Boris Karloff, who has inexplicably been restored to much of his living health. There's no lurching violence, but there are a few ancient Egyptian spells used to wreak some havoc.
So: A cool piece of monster history, if not as great as other first monster appearances. Certainly better than most Monster Movie sequels to come. The Mummy manages to hold his own. Also, look at this: