Rewatching the Universal Monsters! The ones on the Blu-ray box, at least. It’s just one classic after another, this time 1932’s The Mummy. Embalm her? I hardly know her!
Here’s what happens: A mummy appears to come to life and walk off an archeological dig in Egypt. A few years later, some London archeologists encounter mystery man Ardeth Bay, who has sinister plans for socialite Helen Grovener.
Monster!: Ardeth Bey, who is the Mummy come back to life (OMG spoiler!), is a master manipulator, tricking everyone into following his master plan when they don’t know it. He’s also tied into the supernatural, casting spells, and even using a D&D-style scrying pool.
Also a monster!: Ardeth Bey’s henchman is huge hulking guy uncomfortably named The Nubian. There’s no info on what this character’s backstory is, except for one line about his “ancient blood,” but we do see him being mind-controlled by Bey to do Bey’s evil bidding.
Our hero: With a whole group of “good guys” standing up to the Mummy, who is the protagonist? I’m going say it’s Helen, who is the center of everyone’s attention. Actress Zita Johann is asked to play multiple roles in the film, and Helen is the one who eventually outwits the Mummy in the finale. Then there’s the ending. Instead of a big kiss or embrace, we close on Helen reacting to love interest Frank with confusion and possibly fear. Helen’s fate remains unknown.
Hapless humans: Dashing, handsome Frank might be set up to be the romantic lead, but his speech about romanticizing (sexualizing?) long-dead mummified corpses kinda/sorta makes him no better than the Mummy. Edward Van Sloan, who played Van Helsing in Dracula, is back as a similar “occult expert” character. There’s also Dr. Whemple, Frank’s father and Helen’s doctor, who is on hand throughout to help investigate the mysterious goings-on.
Frights: While the shambling-mummy-covered-with-tattered-wrappings trope is only the opening scene, the real frights are in Ardeth Bey’s master manipulation of all the other characters, and his seemingly unstoppable obsession with Helen. Also worth noting is the extended flashback to ancient Egypt, and the tale of how Bey, then known as Imhotep, was buried alive. This is when the movie stops being talky and becomes big and cinematic.
Laughs: There’s not a lot of comic relief in this one, although the Norton’s big freakout upon seeing the Mummy (“He went for a little walk!”) is Universal Monster macabre at its best.
Thoughts upon this viewing: When watching The Mummy this closely, little flaws begin to appear. Like, why couldn’t Muller and Whemple have been combined into one character? What, exactly, becomes of Helen at the end of the film? I suppose none of that matters, though, when we have the one-two punch of Karloff and Zita Johann absolutely killing it. Yes, it’s a mostly dialogue-heavy movie, lacking the big atmosphere of Frankenstein, but it can’t be beat as an actor showcase.
Next: I can see right through you.
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