Format: TCM on rockin’ flatscreen.
If you’ve ever seen the much more recent version with Brendan Fraser, you might be surprised at just how much the remake takes from the original. In fact, what it does is create the whole excavation dig at the start and add a crap-ton of special effects to make it an action movie instead of straight horror. I’m not complaining, by the way. I like that version just fine. In fact, my biggest issue with the original is that at 72 minutes, it’s too damn short.
A couple of archaeologists are busy unearthing an Egyptian tomb and discover the surprisingly well-preserved remains of a priest named Imhotep (Boris Karloff). Evidently cursed on his burial for some terrible crime, Imhotep was mummified and interred alive. The team finds a box that has been protected by ancient spells. Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) wants to examine the box, but his associate Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan) tells him that the spells are real and will curse whomever opens the box. The two leave to argue and Whemple’s assistant Ralph Norton (Branwell Fletcher) does open it. This revives the mummy, who takes the contents of the box and shuffles off. The site of this naturally drives Norton completely around the bend.
Ten years later, Whemple’s son Frank (David Manners) is one a new dig with a man named Pearson (Leonard Mudie) when a strange man calling himself Ardath Bey (Boris Karloff again) arrives, telling them where to find the tomb of an Egyptian princess named Ankh-es-en-amon. They dig, and discover exactly what Bey claims they would.
Of course, the real reason for all of this is that Ardath Bey is the resurrected Imhotep passing himself off as a modern man. The makeup job on Karloff is actually pretty astonishing. Bey looks like someone who has had all of the moisture removed from him. His goal is to find a way to resurrect his lost love. To do this, he needs to find her current incarnation. That happens to be Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), who bears such a resemblance to the dead Ankh-es-en-amon that even Frank Whemple recognizes the resemblance from having seen the woman’s mummified remains.
You see where this is going, right? Imhotep/Bey has to kill Helen Grosvenor, mummify her, and then use the scroll that resurrected him to resurrect her. But, since this is a movie, Frank Whemple has fallen in love with her almost on sight, and will do anything to keep her alive. To Bey’s credit, he seems to have a strange hypnotic pull over Helen despite his withered appearance.
The Mummy is a lot of fun. It adds just enough weird mysticism to seem exotic and strange, but keeps things just grounded enough to have it all make sense. Karloff manages to be both intimidating and bizarre in his own right, refusing to be touched by anyone and speaking in with that strange, measured lisp that served him so well throughout his career. While Frankenstein’s Monster was a much more sympathetic role for him and one that showed he could act, Ardath Bey is one that is filled with the sort of menace that he was known for. This is Karloff not merely playing a sympathetic monster, but playing a real villain.
The only other character of note is Zita Johann’s Helen. Her job is to be pretty and exotic and to look pretty and exotic while she is in danger. She handles this well, and is greatly assisted by her large, expressive eyes.
Honestly, it needs to be longer, much like this review. Other than that, I have no real complaints about it.
Why to watch The Mummy: The story is great, and Karloff rules.
Why not to watch: Like many of the Universal monsters, it’s just too damn short.