Mummy, The (1932)

The Mummy (1932), directed by Karl Freund.

The first Mummy picture is quite a bit different from the rest: we never see a shambling bandage-wrapped figure, and there is no slow but unstoppable creature. It is instead a tale of love (or at least obsession) that outlasts millenia of death: "No man ever suffered for a woman as I suffered for you."

A 1921 expedition discovers the mummy of Imhotep, a priest who was entombed alive for sacrilegious acts. A young archaeologist foolishly reads from a sacred scroll. We get only glimpses of what he sees, and he dies in a straitjacket, laughing madly. The mummy and scroll disappear.

Ten years later another expedition is assisted by the mysterious Ardeth Bey, tall, gaunt and leathery, giving an impression of great dignity and both physical frailty and psychic power. He commands powerful ancient magic and directs them to the tomb of Ankh-es-en-amon, a princess loved by Imhotep who he hopes to resurrect. (The commentary track pronounces her name "anak-soon-a-moon" in the modern fashion).

His plans are disturbed when he finds that the princess has been reincarnated as a young woman at the current time. She becomes confused by his magic and it is a fight for her body and soul.

Boris Karloff is, as usual, very fine in an exotic role. The Egyptian sets and costumes are rather good, and as you can see from the thumbnails, the princess's outfit is kind of skimpy.

As is often the case from this period we have stagey dialogue in static drawing room scenes, but it moves along nonetheless.

The theme of reincarnated lovers destined to find and lose each other through the ages is a feature of H. Rider Haggard's She stories. The Mummy screenwriter was working on a treatment of She at the same time as this film. William Hope Hodgson's science fiction epic The Night Land has similar elements. Must have been something in the water back then.

The DVD commentary track spends a lot of time narrating what we are watching, but also has some information on the earlier development of the script and some deleted scenes.