THE MUMMY

1932; directed by Karl Freund; adapted by John L. Balderston; 73 mins

With the Tom Cruise reboot coming to cinemas around the globe, what better time to ignore Stephen Sommers’ 1999 throwaway tat that we all thought was crap at the time and have no nostalgia for and go back to the Boris-Karloff-starring Universal franchise starter

1921: a British archaeological expedition has uncovered a Mummy’s tomb and with it a box containing the Scroll of Thoth, a manuscript which can awaken the Mummy’s curse and bring death to those in it’s path. One impetuous young man on the expeditionary team defies the warnings of his friend, Dr. Muller, and reads aloud from the scroll, setting the Mummy free to escape and going mad in the process. Ten years later, another expedition, acting on a tip-off from a mysterious Egyptian called Ardath Bey, discovers the tomb of ancient princess Ankh-es-en-Amon. Ardath seems to have an unhealthy and abnormal obsession with the uncovered sarcophagus and it’s contents aswell as an uncanny hold over a young, half-English-half-Egyptian woman called Helen Grosvenor

Riding the wave of Pharoahmania that was still going after Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon‘s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, screenwriter John L. Balderston took a short gothic horror story from Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer and adapted it accordingly. What he came out with is a fairly typical gothic horror but with the exotic, zeitgeist-y trappings of Ancient Egypt. To look at the decor of most of the sets and the overwhelmingly European cast, you keep forgetting that the action is in fact in Egypt and hasn’t just buggered off to London.

That coupled with any ‘ethnic’ role (that isn’t just extra work) being played by blacked-up actors or a white man with an accent and a fez, we are definitely in the pre-PC era. I don’t quite know how to take that old fashioned, institutionalised racism now. Were it made today, it would obviously be completely unacceptable but it was made then so it is what it is and you can’t change it. Also, it isn’t at all factual, so to take it seriously would give it a relevance in it’s cultural aspect that it doesn’t have and I don’t think it’s looking for. That’s not a Get Out of Jail Free card for them, by the way, there is a long history of racial prejudice and labour exploitation in the filmmaking industry which carries all the way through to #OscarsSoWhite and beyond.

But I can’t solve it here in 500 words. Suffice to say, for an 85 year-old film, it’s still kinda fun despite having lost most of it’s creep factor (the same year’s Vampyr still holds up as an unsettling waking nightmare). Karloff has amazing presence which still gives you a thrill and a chill and the make-up on him still holds up as a wrinkly, dusty delight! It’s safe to say that debut helmer, Freund, was a better cinematographer than he was a director but it’s still a perfectly enjoyable horror quickie.

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