The Mummy (1932)

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 9, 2015

The opening of this movie is terrific. Patient, quiet, atmospheric, with a rising tension and thickening atmosphere. It’s Mr. Freund that’s responsible, of course, here and through the duration of the piece. It’s nice how western/modern attitudes are embodied by the attending white guys. One is a devoted scientist, one a scientist unto careerism or exploitation, one ridiculously credulous about the power of the occult. It’s also interesting how those British Museum debates—are they preserving the world’s antiquities, or are they plain plundering?—are clearly and sort of complicatedly articulated. The indirectness of the Mummy’s awakening—a young expedition member barely whispers the words as he tries to make them out from an ancient artificat—is superb, leading to a contrast in volume and a real frisson when that young expedition member actually cracks up. Amazing make-up! The ten-years-later thing causes a deflation of sorts, but it’s nowhere near as bad as what happens when Browning’s Dracula goes back to civilization.

That’s one crazy looking dame! The romance is awful, of course: arbitrary, gratuitous, unconvincing. Sort of like what happens in L&H or the Marx brothers films. You actually hope that Imhotep will prevail (though homogenized 1930’s audiences might not have seen it that way). Maybe that’s why Imhotep starts to pull our heroine him-ward; it’s not just monster power, but their kindred relationship. She’s his countrywoman! Plus he has those really cool glowing eyes. I love the flashback, and the kind of chilling, kind of thrilling explication of the blasphemy that caused this curse in the first place. It’s terrible, at the same time that it makes a lot of sense.

With regard to colonialism, or the presumptuous Western habit of demonizing anything that isn’t it, this film’s conclusion constitutes a pretty cool compromise. The parallel montage between the imperiled damsel and her erstwhile saviours only leads to the realization that these cowboys are out of their depth. In the end it’s the Egyptian deity that dispatches the Egyptian baddie.