The Mummy (1932)

Director: Karl Freund

At least there’s no doubt as there is with Dracula as to Karl Freund’s directorship of The Mummy, even if Wiki is correct about him only being hired to direct it two days before shooting started. It does rather borrow in many ways from Dracula, too, although whether that’s a case of Freund applying his alleged directorial experience from that film or just screenwriter John L. Balderston recycling his earlier work is another matter (probably the latter). Also, The Mummy borrows some of Dracula‘s cast, notably Edward Van Sloan as the Van Helsing substitute and David Manners as the somewhat crap male romantic lead. However, there’s one big difference: Karloff instead of Lugosi, and there’s no doubt he is much the best thing in the film… Part of that is down to the quite extraordinary makeup job designed by Jack Pierce; you don’t get to see a lot of it in detail (especially not when Karloff is still wrapped up in his burial bandages), but when you do get close-ups of that impossibly lined face, you see just how remarkable it is. But there’s also this remarkable, underplayed gravitas to his performance as the titular mummy, inadvertently revived in the modern day and now in search of his long-lost love… who has, of course, been dead for 3700 years just like him; fortunately for him, her spirit has reincarnated through various points of history (business which was sadly cut from the film before released) and is currently inhabiting a somewhat troubled young woman (Zita Johann, evidently one of Hollywood’s more extraordinary figures from that era) in Cairo. Karloff plays the key scene in which he shows her their past lives in Egypt with striking conviction and seriousness, much of it conveyed by his voice, which is really quite incredible here. He kind of easily overshadows everything else here, and gives the film its main attraction; I don’t think it’s as memorable on the whole as some of Universal’s earlier horrors, possibly because it is largely refried Dracula, but it does give Karloff one of his finest hours.

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