The Mummy (1932)

Genres - Horror  |   Sub-Genres - Creature Film  |   Run Time - 72 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Hans J. Wollstein

Produced by Universal and scripted by John Balderston, The Mummy is essentially a remake of that team's already then-classic Dracula (1931). Once again, the undead, in this film a 3,000-year-old high priest brought to life by the desecration of his grave, may only possess a woman by turning her into an echo of himself. Karl Freund, one of the veterans of German expressionism, had photographed the Bela Lugosi version of Dracula but had obviously been heavily stifled by Tod Browning's stilted direction. Here, with the able assistance of director of cinematography Charles Stumar, Freund is allowed a second chance and he rarely lets his camera remain immobile for long. Never before, and rarely since, has the German silent school been used to better effect in a Hollywood production; not only do the many tracking shots add the kind of visual excitement completely lacking in Dracula, Freund also accomplishes a sense of ethereal romance spanning time and distance. If Freund is the true star of The Mummy, Boris Karloff remains a close second. With his angular face and physique and that slight lisp, less was often more, and as Imhotep, Karloff never overplays but creates instead a believably brittle 3,000-year-old, whose power lies more in thought than deed. Accolades should also go to Zita Johann, the Broadway actress' only truly memorable screen performance. Reportedly, screenwriter John Balderston had recommended Katharine Hepburn, but wiser heads prevailed and Johann went on to create one of the most memorable ingenues in horror film history. According to film lore, makeup artist Jack Pierce spent hours upon hours wrapping Karloff in his conventional mummy getup but Freund wisely used only close-ups of the actor's face and hands, leaving it up to the viewer's imagination as to what exactly made poor Bramwell Fletcher go mad in perhaps The Mummy's best-remembered scene.