Archaeology is a good field to get into, if you’re waiting for something weird to happen to you (it’s right up there with “hacker” and “journalist”) just ask Indy, Lara Croft and Wonder Woman villain Cheetah. They are surrounded by ancient artifacts, steeped in tradition, their creation often based in superstition and faith at a time when more of the world was unknown. And we crave that, even with information a couple keystrokes away; humans still want to think there is more, that there’s mystery to be found in the past and something bigger and often more magical than textbooks imply.
There’s no exception for these adventurers. Dr Mueller (Edward Van Sloan- Van Helsing in 1931’s Dracula) warns against it, but Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron, Mayor of Hell) lead an expedition and uncovers the previously undisturbed, and reportedly curse tomb of Imhotep… and his assistant, Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher, Svengali) reads a scroll out loud that brings the mummy back to life. Norton immediately loses his mind. In a crackle of laughter he tells his colleagues what has happened with a “You should see the face on him”
Boris Karloff stars in the titular role. Imhotep makes his way back to Cairo, he was cursed after being mummified alive and now he seeks to be reunited with his love Ankhesenamon. 10 years later, under the name Ardath Bey, he recruits the archaeologists to dig up her tomb with the plan to use the Scroll of Thoth to resurrect her. Until he finds Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann, whose last role was nearly 55 years later in 1986’s Raiders of the Living Dead) who bares resemblance to Ankhesenamon. Imhotep puts her in a trance and she starts speaking in ancient Egyptian. Dr. Muller’s son is smitten with Helen, and he fears for his son’s safety.
Still: HE REFUSES TO BURN THE SCROLL OF THOTH because he’s an academic. And true academics love their work more than common sense, much of the time. The scroll is important. Important to them. Even after they find what Imhotep is planning. Even after Dr. Muller is influenced by Imhotep’s power.
The focus shifts to Helen as she is slowly captivated by Imhotep, she remembers herself as Ankhesenamon and she becomes more and more compelled by Imhotep as the film progresses. She finds herself shifting between the two identities as danger closes in. Imhotep’s plan is to kill her, mummify her and then raise her again.
Glaring issue with this movie: The main players are not black or brown. Most presume the majority of Ancient Egyptians to have been of Asiatic/Middle Eastern descent, with those in Southern Egypt presumed to be African. The only black person is Imhotep’s “ancient blood” “nubian” slave, played by Noble Johnson, an African-American actor who played “exotic characters” in the black and white movie days, and was often relegated to slave, tribal chief, cannibal, and lots of Native Americans. He had founded his own studio in 1916 which catered to Black audiences and showcased Black actors and directors, however the Great Depression and lack of resources lead to the studio’s closing. Noble Johnson had roles in 146 films, but most from major studios were steeped in stereotypes. Helen is said to be “part Egyptian” and the actress is of Eastern European descent. Unfortunately, very to be expected of the era (although, a mixed race couple would have been taboo, as well and that was overlooked for plot).
Women in horror: The Mummy was co-written by Nina Wilcox Putnam who also came up with the 1040 tax form, weird.
But was it scary? Nope. Not in the slightest. The plot is preposterous. He has to kill her and resurrect her. But why? And how does a mummy get away, anyway? he wouldn’t have known how to drive, seems reasonable that someone would have spotted him. But they were all distracted by Norton’s meltdown.. whatever. It’s not scary. It’s a fun flick, though. Ridiculous, over the top, interesting, the beginning of action-horror. But most of the “scares” come from Boris Karloff glaring menacingly at the camera:
Doesn’t quite hold up.