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The Mummy VHS

The Mummy


Boris Karloff - Ardath Bey / Imhotep / Mummy
Zita Johann - Anck-es-en-Amon / Helen Grosvenor
Edward Van Sloan - Dr. Muller
David Manners - Frank Whemple
Arthur Byron - Sir Joseph Whemple
Bramwell Fletcher - Norton
Carl Freund - Director
Stanley Bergerman - Producer
John L. Balderston - Screenwriter
Charles Stumar - Cinematographer
Jack P. Pierce - Make Up
Pytor Tchaikovsky - Music Cues

Karloff as Ardath Bey Universal's classic monsers were an international, globe-trotting bunch: The leader of the pack, Dracula, commuted between his Transylvanian castle and London; the Frankenstein Monster haunted the craggy hills of Central Europe. Third in the studio's procession of mighty movie monsters was Imhotep (Boris Karloff), a temple defiler buried alive (and resuscitated in our modern age) in The Mummy.

The gods of ancient Egypt still live in the desert beyond that country's modern cities, dwelling in their ruined temples. Their ancient spells are weaker, but still potent. And in 1932, out of the mists of the forgotten past rose a mysterious figure determined to reunite with the princess he loved in ancient Thebes: The Mummy. Interest in all things Egyptological was running high in the early '30s, fueled by the opening of King Tutankhamen's tomb several years earlier. Lurid--and untrue--tales of the curse of Tut striking down the tomb openers were gobbled up by a gullible public. A film capitalizing on the real-life news headlines was a natural.

"Story" credit for The Mummy is shared by magazine writer Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer, but the scenario they concocted (titled Cagliostro) told of an ancient Egyptian magician sho survives through the centuries and turns up in San Francisco, using his vast scientific knowledge for purposes of robbery. John L. Balderston, writer of the Broadway version of Dracula (and, in 1922, a reporter who covered the Tut tomb opening), used just bits and pieces of the Putnam-Schayer script as he fashioned the new story of Imhotep, a mummy unearthed by a 1921 British Museum Field Expedition.

In The Mummy's eerie opening scenes, Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron), and Egyptologist named Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan), and a young assistant named Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) stand within a tomb, dominated by a 3700-year-old mummy case. Later, when Norton is alone in the chamber with the mummy, he translates and reads aloud from the mystical Scroll of Thoth--unwittingly restoring life to the centuried corpse of the high priest Imhotep (Boris Karloff).

Karloff & Fletcher Jack P.Pierce--the film's (uncredited) makeup man--needed eight hours to transform Karloff into the mummified Imhotep. At 11:00 a.m., the actor appeared in Pierce's quarters, where the makeup genius (working from a photo of King Seti II) pinned back his ears, dampened his face and covered every facial area (including eyelids) with thing cotton strips. Collodion covered the cotton; an electric drying machine preserved the desired wrinkles. The makeup made speech impossible for Karloff, who had to pantomime any point he wanted to get across. Two hours later, Pierce smeared Karloff's hair back with beauty clay and, as the clay hardened, he carved cracks in it. At two in the afternoonm, Pierce began covering the actor's face with makeup paint. At five in the afternoon (six hours into the procedure), Pierce wrapped 150 yards of decayed-looking linen around Karloff, then added a dusting of Fuller's earch. By seven o'clock, the "reverse make-over" complete, Pierce walked his crumly creation to the sound stage, where Karloff took his place in the sarcophagus. The shooting of the scene lasted until 2:00 a.m.

The resurrected Mummy steals the Scroll and vanishes into the night. The story resumes 11 years later when Imhotep--who has cleaned up nicely--appears at the camp of archaeologist David Manners. (These scenes were shot in picturesque Red Rock Canyon, in the Mojave Desert.) Imhotep introduces himself as "Ardath Bey" and indicates the location of the lost tomb of Princess Anck-es-en-Amon; Manners doesn't suspect that the wizened stranger is actually 3700 years old--and that the Princess was the woman he loved in 1730 B.C.

The Universal casting department could not have filled the roles of hero and heroine more aptly: Both David Manners and Zita Johann (Anck-es-en-Amon in flashbacks, her reincarnation Helen Grosvenor in modern-day scenes) were real-life students of mystical subjects. The Shirley MacLaine of her day, Johann told interviewer Gregory Mank that she was a firm believer in reincarnation, and in fact could recall her own 1793 death within the house she occupied at the end of her life. Johann's most vivid recollections of The Mummy, however, were of the mistreatment she received at the hands of director Karl Freund.

Karloff & Johann The "nightmare" began before the shooting did. Johann: "Karl Freund made life very unpleasant. It was his first picture as a director, and he felt he needed a scapegoat in case he didn't come in on schedule (23 days, I believe). Well, I was cast as the scapegoat--and I saw through it right away! Before shooting started, I asked Freund and his wife over for dinner. He told me that, for one scene, I would have to appear nude from the waist up. he expected me to say, "The hell I will." Instead, I said, "Well, it's all right with me, if you can get it past the censors--knowing very well that the censors of that time were very strict. So, I had him there."

The Mummy was shot in September-October 1932 and released shortly before year's end. Cut before release were flashback scenes of Johann in different incarnations throughout the centuries: An 18th century French court lady, a Norse Viking, a Saxon princess and (most memorably for Johann) a Christian martyr who is eaten by lions. Johann: "There were three lions in the cage, and Freund had been working me so hard that the cast and crew were very concerned. During the final stage of shooting, Freund worked me 16 hours a day instead of the usual 12. It was strange; I was so tired and ill it just didn't matter any more. I was beyond all that and you know, because I wasn't afraid, none of the lions would snarl at me."

Evocative, atmospheric and supernaturally romantic, The Mummy stands apart from Universal's other early chillers, additionally enhanced by a somber score (the first in a Universal horror movie), moody lighting and the expert camerawork of Charles Stumar.

--from The Mummy, DVD
supplementary material, Universal, 1999

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A History of Horror

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