A resurrected mummy searches for the reincarnation of his lost love.
Since these movies are rather short, I decided to divide them up into pairs and watch them back-to-back before reviewing them (two of the Universal Monster movies are equivalent time-wise to one normal length film). I watched “The Wolf Man” right before this one, and I praised it for it’s wondrous production design, great moral dilemma, and overall the old Hollywood charm. This film has two of those elements: it has a lot of old Hollywood charm and it has some really cool production design. Sadly, this script is far more expositional than “The Wolf Man”, the pacing is far slower, the images aren’t as creep, and there isn’t really any moral dilemma at all. While this isn’t a bad film, it’s certainly not as good as the other Universal Monster Movies I’ve watched thus far.
“Good heavens, what a terrible curse!”
The film starts at an expedition in Egypt, where Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron, “20,000 Years in Sing Sing”) leads his men to uncover Imhotep (Boris Karloff, “Frankenstein”). By accident, his team members raise Imhotep from the dead, and the mummy stalks from the tomb into Cairo. Ten years later, now residing in Cairo disguised as a living Egyptian, Imhotep searches for the reincarnation of his lost lover, and when he stumbles upon Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann, “The Sin of Nora Moran”), a woman that looks remarkably similar to his old love.
I think the thing I like the most about this film is simply its overall charm. As a story, it’s rather simple, and there is far too much expositional dialogue and slow pacing for it to be considered a masterpiece. As I was watching this, I kept in mind that the film was only an hour and fifteen minutes long, but even still, it seemed to drag quite a bit, even in the beginning. While the story itself is interesting, the way the studio approached the film is rather boring and tensionless. At least in “The Wolf Man” and “Frankenstein” things happened between the initial ‘scary’ scene and the ending climax. This film felt like we introduced our characters, had them sit in a room and give expositional dialogue for a half an hour, then we moved on to the climax. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was mind-numbingly bored during this movie, but I would say it’s certainly less interesting than some of the others. This movie also came out near the beginning of The Universal Monsters run (while there were a few Monster movies in the twenties, the bulk of them came out in the thirties, forties, and fifties)- and that’s evident in a lot of ways. For example; while I enjoyed some elements of the production design, a lot of it felt very naked and open; the sets were bare apart from some hero props and a few pieces of dressing. Movies were still a fairly new attraction in the 30s- (the Lumiere brothers had only screened their actualities thirty-seven years prior to when this film came out) the technology and technique for filmmaking was already rapidly improving and evolving, but some of these earlier films are a little rougher. In my opinion, the effects and settings in “The Mummy” feel slightly cheaper and more dated, while the effects and settings in “The Wolf Man” feel far more charming.
Another thing that sort of surprised me was the woodenness with which Karloff played the mummy. I know playing a character stiffly is sort of his thing with Frankenstein, but the man seems to have no range whatsoever. He simply recites his lines with his gravelly voice and his eyes staring intensely at Helen. It’s not frightening or disconcerting, it’s just whatever. There’s also an issue with reusing the same shot of Karloff looming towards the camera probably six or seven times throughout the film. It only cheapens the film a little more. The way the Mummy is handled in the end also feels a bit sudden- a dues ex machina almost. To me, it felt like the studio didn’t know how to end the film so they just came up with something quickly and finished up the film (that happened a lot in the early days of film actually- “Casablanca” didn’t have an ending until the final days of shooting).
While I can say for certain that this isn’t my favorite Universal Monster movie, I am glad that I watched it. This movie doesn’t provide nearly as many thrills as some of the other Universal films, nor is it as interesting in terms of story, but it is still considered a classic by many today, and it does have elements of that old Hollywood charm. I’m glad I saw this film, even though it wasn’t as great as I hoped it would be. As this film is just over an hour long, there’s really no harm in seeing it- and doing so just flushes out your classic Hollywood knowledge. Also, this film is relatively harmless, and middle school kids and younger might enjoy it as a spooky Halloween film.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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