Sunday, October 9, 2011

Capsule Review - The Mummy

October 9, 2011

The Mummy – US, 1932

If Karl Freund’s The Mummy seems familiar, there’s a reason for that. The film borrows rather liberally from earlier classic horror films. Once again scientists discover something that it would be better they didn’t, once again a woman is the object of a monster’s affection, and yet again, there’s a rather striking young man who rushes to her rescue. What makes The Mummy unique is the way it humanizes its villain and makes him seem like a sympathetic, romantic character, while at the same time continuing to remind viewers of the destruction he is capable of. The film stars legendary actor Boris Karloff, and his performance as the living mummy, Im-Ho-Tep, is surprisingly subtle. Unlike later mummy films, the mummy in this one does not walk around moaning with his arms outstretched or rush forward in an animalistic state. Instead, he talks in a low monotone voice that is eerie enough to immediately convey who he is and that he indeed has a purpose. If goes without saying that his plan has something to do with the film’s lone beautiful female character, Helen.

The Mummy moves at a slower pace than later horror films, and this pace allows the characters in the film to be fully developed. In addition to Karloff’s performance, I particularly enjoyed that of Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Muller, a specialist in the occult. His is the only voice of reason, for in a world in which curses and mummies are real, it rarely pays to advocate the advancement of scientific over exercising extreme caution. The film also includes good performances by stage actress Zita Johann as Helen Grosvenor and David Manners as a young anthropologist named Frank Whemple. In typical fashion, he falls in love with her the moment he sees her and then must save her after she finds herself irresistibly drawn to the mysterious Im-Ho-Tep. The reason for this attraction is one of the film’s nicest touches.

While The Mummy is no longer scary in the classic sense, Karloff gives his character an aura of menace that continues to resonate today. Part of this is due to his amazing costumes and make up, which it reportedly took hours to apply and which make Karloff look truly creepy. In addition, the film’s theme of love spanning millennia is still a very potent one. All in all, The Mummy remains good fun. (on DVD)

3 and a half stars

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