“The Mummy” (1932)
The first of the major Universal sound horror films which relied upon the invention of screenwriters rather than a direct literary predecessor, Karl Freund’s “The Mummy” enjoys the luxury in the depiction of the title creature’s origin backstory and continued tale of menace without the critical distraction of source comparisons. That being said, it is remarkable as to how many elements of the film seem vaguely familiar, as if directly lifted, by way of clever transposition, from previous successes, most prominently Tod Browning’s “Dracula”. That Freund, the earlier film’s cinematographer, is promoted to the director’s chair and actors David Manners, Edward Van Sloane are prominently featured in both films, certainly contributes to a certain air of déjà vu; but it is the presence of John Balderston which accounts for the prematurely formulaic sense of reincarnated genre tropes to which the film is attributable (he managed to make a stuffy drawing room drama out of Stoker’s seminal novel, from which every incarnation since has immeasurably suffered).
In 1921, a group of archeologists, including Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) and an expert in occultism Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan) under the sponsorship of the British Museum, make some remarkable finds in an Egyptian dig (despite early exchanges in which characters complain, with contradictory fervor, that their labors have yielded little of value!); a perfectly preserved mummy of the high priest Imhotep (Boris Karloff), and a mysterious chest whose contents are protected by a dire caution of death. As though he were unfamiliar with lesson to be learned from the tale of Pandora’s Box, Sir Joseph’s assistant, the foolhardy Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher), reveals the contents of the casket (Just how would horror films thrive without the cooperation of rational people who recklessly run headfirst to their doom?), the Scroll of Thoth, imprinted with forbidden holy words of resurrection, the substance of which the film foolishly opens, making the text sound like a Pep Squad chant for ancient deities. The revived mummy, shocks the startled Norton into a paroxysm of insane laughter. from which he never recovers; though just how the shuffling Imhotep manages to elude both Sir Joseph and Dr. Muller, who are standing just outside the entrance to the chamber, is a mystery.
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