The Mummy (1932)
The Mummy (1932)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 13 min.

Release Date: December 22nd, 1932 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Karl Freund Actors: Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Arthur Byron, Edward Van Sloan, Bramwell Fletcher, Noble Johnson, Kathryn Byron, Leonard Mudie




ir Joseph (Arthur Byron) of the 1921 British Museum field expedition is something of a mouthpiece for archeology, insisting that knowledge is more important than adventure. But his associates are far more fascinated by the mummified corpse of Imhotep (Boris Karloff), a high priest tortured and executed for sacrilege. When the scientists further uncover a casket that might contain the Scroll of Thoth, which explains the legends of Isis and Osiris and reincarnation, caution is suggested but carelessly disregarded.

Unconcerned with the inscription about a curse of death to anyone who opens the box, Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) hastily peeks inside, confident that a few thousand years under the dirt will have washed away any mumbo jumbo about doom. But, sure enough, the warning is genuine, and Imhotep is resurrected, strolling out into the desert all wrapped in bandages and rotting flesh. Years later, in 1932, Joseph’s son Frank Whemple (David Manners) carries on where his father left off, excavating near the same site in search of an additional tomb, belonging to an ancient priestess from 3700 years prior. And Imhotep is there in disguise to oversee the great find.

Though it’s not an entirely original moment, the greatest scene is still that of the motionless mummy slowly opening his eyes after the Scroll of Thoth is initially disturbed. Karloff, no stranger to roles of villainy and monstrousness, slowly shuffles about in both bandaged form and in his covert identity as a regular (though wrinkled) Egyptian, like the best of his subtly creepy embodiments. The violence and the scares are quite minimal, but it’s difficult not to appreciate the establishment of such an unwavering tone of eeriness. Murders take place offscreen and the body count is slim, but the ideas of otherworldly possession (a hypnotic draw that can’t help but resemble the allure of Dracula), being buried alive, the practicing of evil incantations, and the desecration of accursed grounds (“Had to! Science, you know!”) are approached with sincerity, even if the result is a hint of silliness.

“Her life is not in danger. It’s her soul.” If Karloff is the perfect actor for the gaunt, lined, calmly unsettling mummy, Zita Johann is a sensational match as Helen, the half-Egyptian girl destined to be used as a vessel to awaken Imhotep’s female counterpart. Although this 1932 incarnation was one of the first to bring the horrors of the mummy to the big screen, it employs a rather uncommon notion with the conflict – namely, that the heroes know about Imhotep, but are mostly resigned to his superior powers of mind control and invincibility. And yet, a pervasive theme involves Frank’s refusal to believe in legends and curses and his reluctance to wear an amulet rumored to protect him from such spells. With few people to get in the way of Imhotep’s dastardly plans, there’s a lot of stalling going on to drag out the near-deaths, but John P. Fulton’s special effects, Karloff’s stunning visage, and the rousing music mark this classic venture as one of the better takes on the ancient Egyptian mythology.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10