Combustible Celluloid
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With: Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Bramwell Fletcher, Arthur Byron, Edward Van Sloan
Written by: Nina Wilcox Putnam, Richard Schayer
Directed by: Karl Freund
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 74
Date: 22/12/1932

The Mummy (1932)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bum Wrap

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Far from featuring a mindless, bandage-clad monster shambling around and moaning at people, this first entry in the series is more an intricately lit, atmospheric chiller where the biggest shock comes from entering an eerily decorated room.

Hot off of Frankenstein, Boris Karloff stars as the 3700-year old Imhotep, brought back to life despite a terrible curse on his tomb (he stole a sacred scroll and tried to resurrect the dead). Now free again, he seeks to revive the body and soul of his sweetheart, currently reincarnated as Zita Johann.

Karloff plays his romantic angle with just a touch of pity. His elegant physique serves him just as well here as it did in Frankenstein. Graceful and tall in his robe and hat, his face reveals just a hint of wrinkle make-up. When seen in close-up, the lines deepen and become dry and continuous like the desert itself.

Celebrated cinematographer Karl Freund, who had worked with Fritz Lang on Metropolis, F.W. Murnau on The Last Laugh and Tod Browning on Dracula, made his directorial debut with this film, and the artful, gentle way it is lit and shot reveals a great future.

Unfortunately, the studio did not appreciate his quiet, subtle work and Freund was only allowed to direct once more, on the underrated Mad Love with Peter Lorre. Indeed, the film lacks the usual number of chills and thrills that one would expect from a "horror" film, but this one draws you in with its mood instead. Too bad the rest of the bland cast couldn't live up to Karloff's presence.

DVD Details: Universal has re-released the film on a new DVD, packaged with its four official sequels and other extras. Most of the sequels star Lon Chaney Jr. as the mummy that many fans are used to, the shambling, moaning one. They include: the excellent The Mummy's Hand (1940), The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Curse (1944) and The Mummy's Ghost (1944). There are trailers for all five films, plus a new documentary, Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed. Historian Paul M. Jensen provides a commentary track on the first film.

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