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UMU Discusses The Mummy 1932.

the mummy

This past weekend, Joe and I decided to watch The Mummy – the original 1932 classic.  While we celebrate “March of Mummies”, we’ve made an effort to keep a focus on the running theme of The Mummy.  We covered Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy in as in depth a way as we could.  If you have an interest in the Jerry Goldsmith score, the Universal theme park ride, or toys – Universal Monsters Universe has it covered for you.  But now onto the film that started it all – the Karl Freund directed picture.  Following our personal screening of The Mummy, Joe and I decided to have a conversation on the influential and iconic film by Universal Studios.

Mummy 1932

Steven:  Joe, I actually watched The Mummy, the 1932 original, this past week.  It was a lot of fun revisiting it again with you.  If I’m not mistaken, this was actually your first time seeing it?

Joe:  Yes it was and it was my first original UNIVERSAL MONSTERS overall.

Steven:  Of the original Universal Monsters films?  That’s impressive.  It’s also really great that it was The Mummy that you started with.  It’s interesting how we chose to watch The Mummy – starting with Stephen Sommers film first and then by revisiting the original by Karl Freund.  Considering this was your first time for both movies, especially with it being so close to one another, what are your thoughts?

Mummy 1932Joe:  Both movies were great in their own way.  1999’s The Mummy had the adventure aspect while 1932’s The Mummy had that suspense aspect.  Boris Karloff was an amazing actor and brought the horror genre to the forefront.  Even though he wasn’t in the mummy costume the entire movie, he gave you chills with that stare.  Zita Johann played a great role as Helen Grosvenor and personified the classic actress of that era with her beauty and grace.

Steven:  Boris Karloff and Zita Johann were great.  The whole cast for The Mummy was (even the 1999 movie).  The Mummy worked so well; I believe so many of the classic Universal Monsters movies worked so well because they were very actor/actress oriented.  Unlike today where so many movies rely on huge names and less on story and actual talent, the Universal Monsters films went the opposite way.  They’re classics for a reason and The Mummy is one of the best.  It’s also a very compact film with a runtime under 2 hours.

In regards to Karloff’s portrayal of The Mummy, back many years ago when I first saw it, I don’t believe I got it.  But now, being a little older, I do.  And I love his performance as Imhotep/Ardeth Bay.  It’s so subtle and understated.  His delivery of every line is fantastic and I really enjoyed how the makeup really became second to the actual performance.  What were your thoughts about Karloff?  By the way, excellent piece on him in your “Meet the Monsters” series.

Joe:  Thank you.  What impressed me the most about Karloff is that he didn’t have to speak or even be on screen the entire film to be effective.  He just had this way about him that his presence was felt no matter if he was on screen or not.  He gave you chills just by seeing his hand grab the scroll in the early scene at the camp.  Even when he spoke he had this eloquence and his voice was so proper and distinct.

Steven:  Yes.  I did enjoy it all, but if I do have to say one thing, I would have liked to see a little more of the bandages kind of mummy.  As cliche as it might be, those always make for a fun (maybe comical) visual on screen.

Mummy 1932

Zita Johann

Zita Johann I liked.  I know at the time of filming she was a very well known theater actress and that she didn’t get along with the director Karl Freund.  I liked her, but maybe not as much as the variation of her character that we got with Evy in The Mummy 1999.  I do like Rachel Weisz.

Did you enjoy Zita Johann or Rachel Weisz more?  Or do you feel they were both good in the roles they had to play?
Joe:  I understand about the bandages and I would have liked to have seen more of that too considering how good of a job Jack Pierce did getting Karloff made up just to lay in the coffin.  In terms of the female roles, I liked each of them in their own way.  Zita Johann played a great role for that kind of movie where she was Helen, the damsel in distress but on the other hand submits to Imhotep’s will and accepts that she is Anck Su Namun.  As I mentioned earlier, she didn’t have to dress a certain way to look beautiful either.  She had this grace and charm to her that classic actresses of that era seemed to have.  Rachel Weisz is a throwback to Zita with that look and charm but she did not give in to Imhotep.  She tried to fight his power up until she was captured and chained to the altar. I can’t say if I preferred one over the other.

Steven:  I personally liked Rachel Weisz more.  I felt as if she was more active within the actual film.  But we do have to understand that her Mummy film was nearly 70 years after Zita Johann’s.

Mummy 1932

Karloff (L) & Jack Pierce (R)

 Jack Pierce did a great job with the makeup.  But unlike Frankenstein or The Wolf Man, this wasn’t an extremely heavy special effects and makeup film.  If anything, The Mummy might be the most simplistic one in terms of the creature.  However, the film really glows with the supporting cast.  We’ve seen this aspect in the 1999 one, as well.  The Mummy seems to work better when you deal with a much larger supporting cast of characters that all serve a purpose, unlike most slasher pics.  I really hope 2017’s The Mummy employs an inspired supporting cast around Sofia Boutella and Tom Cruise.
Do you feel the same way?
Joe:The Mummy is a different kind of monster movie.  The Mummy has a semi-historical basis to it so you’re going to have more of a supporting cast-centric movie because it’s about these men digging up tombs in Egypt which became a big thing back when King Tut’s tomb was found by Howard Carter in the 1920s.  The supporting cast is going after the creature rather than the creature is going after them.  In Dracula or The Wolfman, the creature is a result of what happens to the main character in the movie and is the one wreaking havoc on the supporting cast.  I hope 2017’s version does stick to that formula even as a way to respect the movies that came before it being it seems changes will be made from the its predecessors.

Steven:  In terms of Imhotep and him coming back to life, the 1932 film’s stakes weren’t that high.  It seemed as if other than sacrificing a girl so he could be with his love, there wasn’t that much of a threat posed to the world.  It actually felt like the issue was more domestic based as opposed to the much larger threat he posed in the 1999 remake.  Imhotep in Stephen Sommers’ movie was largely motivated by the same reasons, but this time he was more power hungry, his abilities were far more dangerous, and he brought the ten plagues of Egypt with him.

What were your thoughts in regards to the stakes of bringing back a mummy into modern times?  And of the threat it poses
Mummy 1932
Joe:  The stakes are risky but the love of money is the root of all evil.  People will do anything to be famous and get rich.  In our own ways, we are as bad as the mummy.  [We do see many people try and exploit the Mummy] However, we would be in real trouble if we were to bring back a mummy like Imhotep today, just as much as then, because we would not know what he could do.  He could change his appearance which means he could infiltrate anywhere and use what he discovers to destroy the world.
The Mummy is a classic film and will endure the test of time.  Boris Karloff, in my eyes, will be the top monster movie actor of all time and Zita Johann complimented him so well with her beauty and grace.  For a movie made in a time with little special effects, The Mummy was filmed brilliantly and I could not help but be drawn into it.
UMU gives The Mummy 1932 five stars!
(Grodensky & Biscotti)
About the author

Steven Biscotti

Mild mannered reporter, Steven Biscotti, has an avid interest in all things comic books, movies, and music (especially pertaining to Coldplay.) He stands 5'7" tall and prides himself on being the same height as Tom Cruise. Steven's favorite monster movie? "The Mummy (1999)."

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