Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"The Mummy," or Bandages on the Run

The 1932 film "The Mummy" opens in 1921 in Egypt, where an expedition from the British Museum is digging up stuff from around the pyramids. They have found a mummy, and researcher Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) is badgering his boss, Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron), into opening a box that came along with the sarcophagus.

Sir Joseph (reading the outside of the box): "Death -- eternal punishment for anyone who opens this casket." ... Good heavens, what a terrible curse.
  
Norton: Let's see what's inside!

Sir Joseph then steps outside and Ralph Norton, that strange and curious man whose name is a combination of the leading characters of TV's popular "The Honeymooners," can resist temptation no longer, to his eternal regret:  



Norton goes cray-cray and we move forward 11 years, to another expedition, this one with Sir Joseph's son, Frank (David Manners). It looks like this one is going to be a bust, artifact-wise, until a mysterious fellow shows up and points them toward a new find -- the tomb of a princess.

Who is this guy? The fez is familiar. Oh! It's the mummy (Boris Karloff), but now looking like (more or less) a human! He goes by the name Ardeth Bey, and he has an ulterior motive -- he wants the princess's tomb dug up so they can have a reunion of souls.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann) is foxtrotting with some guy when she picks up on Ardeth Bey's mind rays:



Helen has an Egyptian-English lineage, and Bey has decided that she is the reincarnated princess. Meanwhile, Frank has fallen in love with Helen and vows to protect her from the Bey rays, any time or plays -- I mean place. Bey has returned to life because of a spell on a scroll, so Sir Joseph and his friend Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan) decide to burn it. But Bey's rays are too strong for Sir Joseph to resist, and he is killed.

Then Frank is felled, and Bey spirits Helen away to the museum where the princess's tomb is on display. Then he puts her in a skimpy ceremonial costume and gives her a home permanent and everything so she looks just like the princess. Object: To separate the princess's soul from Helen's body, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Will Frank and Dr. Muller arrive in time? (You could see for yourself, but NBC-Universal forbids me from posting a clip showing you the climax, because they're terrified that once you see it you won't shell out $12 for "The Mummy" on DVD. Or you can go here.)

And if you still can't guess what happens, here's a hint -- anytime we can see your skull through your skin, you are in the process of decomposing, mk? 

"The Mummy" is one of the few films directed by Karl Freund -- he is better known as the director of photography of such films as "Dracula," "Metropolis" and "The Last Laugh." And in the early 1950s, he worked along with Desi Arnaz on "I Love Lucy," pioneering the way television shows were lit and photographed on film with the three-camera system that many sitcoms still use today. Naturally, he nails the movie's atmosphere of foreboding -- he has help from "Karloff the uncanny," as the ads referred to him and Johann, who looks a lot like Elisabeth Moss, who plays Peggy on "Mad Men."
 
Here is a full listing of credits, and a trailer from a re-release:

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