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The Mummy (1932 film)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Mummy
The Mummy 1932 film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Karoly Grosz[1]
Directed byKarl Freund
Screenplay byJohn L. Balderston
Story by
Produced byCarl Laemmle, Jr.
CinematographyCharles Stumar
Edited byMilton Carruth
Music byJames Dietrich
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 22, 1932 (1932-12-22)
Running time
73 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States

The Mummy is a 1932 American pre-Code horror film directed by Karl Freund. The screenplay by John L. Balderston was from a story by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer. Released by Universal Studios, the film stars Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan and Arthur Byron. In the film, an ancient Egyptian mummy named Imhotep is discovered by a team of archaeologists and inadvertently brought back to life through a magic scroll. Disguised as a modern Egyptian named Ardeth Bay, Imhotep searches for his lost love, who he believes has been reincarnated into a modern girl.


In 1921, an archaeological expedition led by Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) finds the mummy of an ancient Egyptian high priest named Imhotep (Boris Karloff). An inspection of the mummy by Whemple's friend Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan) reveals that the viscera were not removed, and from the signs of struggling Muller deduces that although Imhotep had been wrapped like a traditional mummy, he had been buried alive. Also buried with Imhotep is a casket with a curse on it. Despite Muller's warning, Sir Joseph's assistant Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) opens it and finds an ancient life-giving scroll, the "Scroll of Thoth". He translates the symbols and then reads the words aloud. Imhotep rises, the sight of which snaps Norton's mind and causes him to laugh hysterically as the Mummy shuffles off with the scroll.

Ten years later, Imhotep has assimilated into a mysterious Egyptian historian named Ardeth Bey. He calls upon Sir Joseph's son Frank (David Manners) and Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie) and shows them where to dig to find the tomb of the princess Anck-su-namun. After locating the tomb, the archaeologists present its treasures to the Cairo Museum, and Ardeth Bey disappears.

Ardeth soon encounters Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), a half-Egyptian woman bearing a striking resemblance to the princess. He reveals to her that his horrific death was punishment for sacrilege: attempting to resurrect his forbidden lover, Princess Anck-su-namun. Believing her to be Anck-su-namun's reincarnation, he attempts to kill her, with the intention of mummifying her, resurrecting her, and finally making her his immortal bride. Helen is rescued when she remembers her ancestral past life and prays to the goddess Isis to come to her aid. The statue of Isis raises its arm and emits a flash that sets the Scroll of Thoth on fire. This breaks the spell that had given Imhotep his immortality, causing him to crumble to dust. At the urging of Dr. Muller, Frank calls Helen back to the world of the living while the Scroll of Thoth continues to burn.


Boris Karloff in a shot used throughout the movie.
Boris Karloff in a shot used throughout the movie.
In credits order


Concept art for Cagliostro, a film project based on the historical occultist Alessandro Cagliostro, which served as the basis for what became The Mummy.
Concept art for Cagliostro, a film project based on the historical occultist Alessandro Cagliostro, which served as the basis for what became The Mummy.

Inspired by the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 and the Curse of the Pharaohs, producer Carl Laemmle Jr. commissioned story editor Richard Schayer to find a novel to form a basis for an Egyptian-themed horror film, just as the novels Dracula and Frankenstein inspired their 1931 films Dracula and Frankenstein.[4] Schayer found none, although the plot bears a strong resemblance to a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle entitled "The Ring of Thoth".[5] Schayer and writer Nina Wilcox Putnam learned about Alessandro Cagliostro and wrote a nine-page treatment entitled Cagliostro.[4] The story, set in San Francisco, was about a 3,000-year-old magician who survives by injecting nitrates.

Pleased with the Cagliostro concept, Laemmle hired John L. Balderston to write the script.[4] Balderston had contributed to Dracula and Frankenstein, and had covered the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb for the New York World when he was a journalist so he was more than familiar with the well publicised tomb unearthing. Balderston moved the story to Egypt and renamed the film and its title character Imhotep, after the historical architect.[6] He also changed the story from one of revenge upon all the women who resembled the main character's ex-lover to one where the main character is determined to revive his old love by killing and mummifying her reincarnated self before resurrecting her with the spell of the Scroll of Thoth.[7] Balderston invented the Scroll of Thoth, which gave an aura of authenticity to the story. Thoth was the wisest of the Egyptian gods who, when Osiris died, helped Isis bring her love back from the dead. Thoth is believed to have authored The Book of the Dead, which may have been the inspiration for Balderston's Scroll of Thoth. Another likely source of inspiration is the fictional Book of Thoth that appeared in several ancient Egyptian stories.[8]

Film poster with text: "Karloff the uncanny in The Mummy"
Film poster with text: "Karloff the uncanny in The Mummy"
Boris Karloff and Zita Johann in a climactic scene from the movie.
Boris Karloff and Zita Johann in a climactic scene from the movie.

Karl Freund, the cinematographer on Dracula, was hired to direct, making this his first film in the United States as a director.[9] Freund had also been the cinematographer on Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The film was retitled The Mummy. Freund cast Zita Johann, who believed in reincarnation, and named her character 'Anck-su-namun' after the only wife of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. The real Ankhesenamun's body had not been discovered in the tomb of King Tut and her resting place was unknown. Her name, however, would not have been unknown to the general public.

Filming began in September 1932 and was scheduled for three weeks.[10] Karloff's first day was spent shooting the Mummy's awakening from his sarcophagus. Make-up artist Jack Pierce had studied photos of Seti I's mummy to design Imhotep; however, Karloff looked nothing like the mummy of Seti I in the film, instead bearing a resemblance to the mummy of Ramesses III.[citation needed] Pierce began transforming Karloff at 11 a.m., applying cotton, collodion and spirit gum to his face; clay to his hair; and wrapping him in linen bandages treated with acid and burnt in an oven, finishing the job at 7 p.m. Karloff finished his scenes at 2 a.m., and another two hours were spent removing the make-up. Karloff found the removal of gum from his face painful, and overall found the day "the most trying ordeal I [had] ever endured".[6] Although the images of Karloff wrapped in bandages are the most iconic taken from the film, Karloff appears on screen in this make-up only for the opening vignette; the rest of the film sees him wearing less elaborate make-up.[11]

A lengthy and detailed flashback sequence was longer than now exists. This sequence showed the various forms Anck-su-namun was reincarnated in over the centuries:[12] Henry Victor is credited in the film as "Saxon Warrior", despite his performance having been deleted.[13] Stills exist of those sequences, but the footage (save for Karloff's appearance and the sacrilegious events leading up to his mummification in ancient Egypt) are lost.[14]

The piece of classical music heard during the opening credits, taken from the Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake, was previously also used (in the same arrangement) for the opening credits of Universal's Dracula (1931) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932); it would be re-used as the title music of the same studio's Secret of the Blue Room (1933).


The Los Angeles Times was positive, although the film otherwise gained mixed reviews and was a box office success.[15] When the film opened at New York's RKO Mayfair theater, a reviewer for The New York Times was ultimately unimpressed:

"For purposes of terror there are two scenes in The Mummy that are weird enough in all conscience. In the first the mummy comes alive and a young archaeologist, going quite mad, laughs in a way that raises the hair on the scalp. In the second Im-Ho-Tep is embalmed alive, and that moment when the tape is drawn across the man's mouth and nose, leaving only his wild eyes staring out of the coffin, is one of decided horror. But most of The Mummy is costume melodrama for the children."[16]

The film was a success at the box-office in the United Kingdom [3]

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports an 88% score, based on 42 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The site's consensus states: "Relying more on mood and atmosphere than the thrills typical of modern horror fare, Universal's The Mummy sets a masterful template for mummy-themed films to follow."[17]

The Mummy has been decried for "othering" Eastern culture, especially portraying it as being more primitive and superstitious than Western culture. In one scene, Helen Grosvenor longs for the "real" (Classical) Egypt, disparaging that she is in contemporary Islamic Egypt. This is viewed by critic Caroline T. Schroeder as a slight against Islamic culture at the time.[18]

According to Mark A. Hall, of the Perth Museum and Art Gallery, film portrayals of Egypt, especially in Egyptian archaeology, often deal with themes of appropriating and controlling the dangers of non-European cultures, or deal with the past if it relates to legend and superstition. Mummies, Hall says, are a common example of this. While he commended the archaeological wisdom espoused by Sir Joseph Whemple in the film, he writes that "much more is learned from studying bits of broken pottery than from all the sensational finds" and that archaeologists' job is to "increase the sum of human knowledge of the past", and mentions that the archaeological element was only used as a foil for the supernatural elements.[19] As a result, per Hall, what it and similar films offered was a "depiction of archaeology as a colonial imposition by which cultural inheritance is appropriated".[19]



Lon Chaney Jr. appeared as Kharis the Mummy in three follow-ups to the original film.
Lon Chaney Jr. appeared as Kharis the Mummy in three follow-ups to the original film.

Unlike other Universal Monsters films, The Mummy had no official sequels, but rather was reimagined in The Mummy's Hand (1940) and its sequels, The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1944), The Mummy's Curse (1944), and the studios' comedyhorror crossover movie Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955). These films focus on the titular character named Kharis (Klaris in the Abbott and Costello film). The Mummy's Hand recycled footage from the original film for use in the telling of Kharis' origins, where Karloff is clearly visible in several of these recycled scenes but was not credited. Lon Chaney Jr. played the Mummy in The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Ghost, and The Mummy's Curse.

Hammer Film Productions series

In the late 1950s, British Hammer Film Productions took up the Mummy theme, beginning with The Mummy (1959), which, rather than being a remake of the 1932 Karloff film, is based on Universal's The Mummy's Hand (1940) and The Mummy's Tomb (1942). Hammer's follow-ups — The Curse of The Mummy's Tomb (1964), The Mummy's Shroud (1966) and Blood from The Mummy's Tomb (1971) — are unrelated to the first film or even to each other, apart from the appearance of The Scroll of Life in Curse of The Mummy's Tomb and Blood from The Mummy's Tomb.

Remake series

The much later Universal film The Mummy (1999) also suggests that it is a remake of the 1932 film, but has a different story line. However, in common with most postmodern remakes of classic horror and science-fiction films, it may be considered as such in that it is produced-distributed by the same studio, its titular character is again named Imhotep, resurrected by the Book of the Dead, and out to find the present-day embodiment of the soul of his beloved Anck-su-namun, and features an Egyptian named Ardeth Bay (in this case, a guard of the city and of Imhotep's tomb). This film spawned two sequels with The Mummy Returns (2001) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008). The Mummy Returns also spawned a prequel spin-off of that sequel, The Scorpion King (2002), which in turn spawned a prequel, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (2008), and three sequels, The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption (2012), The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power (2015) and Scorpion King: Book of Souls (2018). Also, a short-lived animated series simply titled The Mummy ran from 2001 to 2003.


In 2012, Universal announced a reboot of the film, more in-line with the horror films, from the Universal Monsters film franchise.[20] The reboot was directed by Alex Kurtzman. The Mummy was planned as the first film in a series of interconnected monster films, as Universal has planned to build a shared universe film series out of its vault of classic monster movies.[21] On January 21, 2016 it was announced that Tom Cruise would be starring in the film.[22] Sofia Boutella was cast to portray Princess Ahmunet / The Mummy for the film, while Russell Crowe would appear as Dr. Henry Jekyll / Mr. Hyde, two roles which had previously been portrayed by Boris Karloff in the studios' previous film franchise. In June 2017, the studio announced the name, logo, theme music (written by Danny Elfman), and upcoming schedule for the shared universe titled Dark Universe. It received negative reviews and is considered a box office bomb scrapping the plans for the upcoming films of the dark universe.

Historical accuracy

The Scroll of Thoth is a fictional artifact, though likely based on the Book of the Dead. Thoth, the Egyptian god of knowledge, is said to be the inventor of hieroglyphs and the author of the Book of the Dead. The film also makes reference to the Egyptian myth of the goddess Isis resurrecting Osiris after his murder by his brother Set.

Conspirators were caught in a plot to assassinate Pharaoh Ramesses III around 1151 B.C.E. Papyrus trial transcripts reveal that the conspirators were prescribed ‘great punishments of death’, and archaeological evidence led to the suggestion that at least one of them may have been buried alive. Although such punishment was not common practice, this discovery probably influenced the film's screenplay.[8]

There is no evidence to suggest that the ancient Egyptians believed in or considered the possibility of reanimated mummies. Mummification was a sacred process meant to prepare a dead body to carry the soul through the afterlife, not for being reincarnated and living again on Earth. While it is possible that some individuals were mummified by being buried alive, it is unlikely that ancient Egyptians would think resurrection was possible because they were very aware of the fact that all the necessary organs had been removed and the body would be of little use on Earth anymore.[7] However, Egyptologist Stuart Tyson Smith notes that ‘the idea of mobile mummies was not entirely alien to ancient Egypt’, citing one of the Hellenistic-era stories of Setna Khaemwas, which features both the animated mummy of Naneferkaptah and a fictional Book of Thoth and may have inspired screenwriter John Balderston.[8]


  1. ^ Michaud, Chris (October 31, 2018). "'Mummy' film poster, expected to fetch record, fails to sell at auction". Reuters. Archived from the original on November 1, 2018.
  2. ^ "THE MUMMY (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. October 4, 2013. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Stephen Jacobs, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster, Tomahawk Press 2011, pp. 127-130
  4. ^ a b c Robson, David (2012). The Mummy. San Diego: Capstone. p. 11. ISBN 9781601523204. OCLC 882287316.
  5. ^ "The Ring of Thoth". Retrieved October 12, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Vieira, Mark A. (2003). Hollywood Horror: From Gothic to Cosmic. New York: Harry N. Abrams. pp. 55–58. ISBN 0-8109-4535-5.
  7. ^ a b Freeman, Richard (March 18, 2009). "THE MUMMY in context". European Journal of American Studies. 4 (1). doi:10.4000/ejas.7566.
  8. ^ a b c Smith, Stuart Tyson (2007) "Unwrapping the Mummy: Hollywood Fantasies, Egyptian Realities" in Box Office Archaeology: Refining Hollywood's Portrayals of the Past (ed. Julie M. Schablitsky), Left Coast Press, page 20–21; ISBN 978-1598740561
  9. ^ "Turner Classic Movies".
  10. ^ Robson 2012, p. 12.
  11. ^ Mank, Gregory W. (2009). Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff : the expanded story of a haunting collaboration, with a complete filmography of their films together. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers. pp. 126–128. ISBN 9780786434800. OCLC 607553826.
  12. ^ Mank, Gregory W. (2009). Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff : the expanded story of a haunting collaboration, with a complete filmography of their films together. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers. pp. 126, 131, 133. ISBN 9780786434800. OCLC 607553826.
  13. ^ Mank, Gregory W. (2009). Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff : the expanded story of a haunting collaboration, with a complete filmography of their films together. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers. p. 133. ISBN 9780786434800. OCLC 607553826.
  14. ^ Mank, Gregory W. (2009). Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff : the expanded story of a haunting collaboration, with a complete filmography of their films together. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers. p. 134. ISBN 9780786434800. OCLC 607553826.
  15. ^ Robson 2012, p. 13.
  16. ^ "Life After 3,700 Years". January 7, 1933. Retrieved November 2, 2020.
  17. ^ "The Mummy (1932)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
  18. ^ Schroeder, Carolyn T. Ancient Egyptian Religion on the Silver Screen: Modern Anxieties about Race, Ethnicity, and Religion. University of Nebraska Omaha. Oct 2003. January 20, 2015.
  19. ^ a b Hall, Mark A. "Romancing the stones: archaeology in popular cinema." European Journal of Archaeology 7.2 (2004): p. 161.
  20. ^ Kroll, Justin, Snieder, Jeff, "U sets 'Mummy' reboot with Spaihts",, Published 2012-04-04, Retrieved May 4, 2012.
  21. ^ "Female Lead Could Play Mummy".
  22. ^ Kroll, Justin (January 21, 2016). "Tom Cruise's 'The Mummy' Gets New Release Date". Variety. Retrieved January 21, 2016.


External links

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