Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Don't get nervous -- there's only ONE movie today!
Well, after that post about David Schow's monumental short story "Monster Movies", I thought a little moldy body wrappings were in order. So, today's movie is a classic Universal from 1932: THE MUMMY!
Now, THE MUMMY is simply one of my favourite Universal monster movies. I absolutely LOVE the slow, dreamlike quality of Karl Freund's direction as well as his patented moving camera -- which almost seems to stalk the actors in some sequences. Of course, Boris Karloff is phenomenal in his threatening yet understated performance. Oh, and we can't forget Jack Pierce's classic Mummy make-up for the "returning to life" scene at the beginning of the film. The mummy makeup Boris wore has GOT to be the most arduous, uncomfortable makeup in movie history; yet we only see Boris as the actual Mummy in this one scene. Talk about restraint! Thereafter, we see the incredibly dry and wrinkled face of Boris as Ardath Bey: the Egyptian persona Imhotep the Mummy uses to walk amongst the living - - and to try to snag his reincarnated love Princess Anck-es-en-Amon in the form of Helen Grosvenor (played by the exotic stage actress Zita Johann). The rest of the cast is top drawer: David Manners (fresh from his almost identical role in DRACULA), Noble Johnson (horror veteran from THE GHOST BREAKERS to KING KONG), and Edward Van Sloan (Professor Van Helsing himself from DRACULA).
In fact, the storyline itself is practically a remake of 1931's Dracula; it even shares the same screenwriter John L. Balderston. THE MUMMY, like DRACULA, features an undead threat from the East come to terrorize Anglo Saxon males and take control of their leading lady. In this case, though, it's great fun to realize that all the men in THE MUMMY are completely ineffective as to the film's outcome. The fellas stand idly buy, cowering from Imhotep's mental powers, while Zita Johann is aided by a statue of Isis. After pleading to the Egyptian goddess, Helen/Anck-es-en-Amon supplicates herself in front of the statue which suddenly comes to life and zaps the Scroll of Thoth which brought the Mummy back to life. As the scroll goes up in smoke, so does Imhotep. Thanks for showing up, male leads -- but we didn't need you after all.
The script by Balderston, Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Shayer is loaded with lyrical, well-written dialogue while the set decoration provided by Hungarian Willy Pogany is stylish and creepy. First time director (and legendary German cinematographer) Karl Freund does his best directing job here. Freund's tyrannical mistreatment of leading lady Zita Johann is legendary and, apparently, all true -- from his refusal to allow her a chair with her name on it on the set to his insistance that she appear in one scene nude from the waist up. Apparently, first time director Freund wanted to have a scapegoat in case his first film went belly up so he chose Johann; after all, if anything went wrong it would SURELY be blamed on the "temperamental" leading lady. Zita outwitted the director by saying "Sure, she would appear nude from the waist up -- IF Freund could get it past the censors". Naturally, he never could so that was the end of that. Later, on the final day of filming one of her earlier reincarnations as a Christian martyr thrown to the lions, Freund made Johann go in amongst REAL LIONS on the set while he and his cameraman were safely ensconced inside steel cages!!! The exhausted actress by this point just sighed and did it. . .then the scene was totally cut from the film!
Of course, one of the most mind-boggling aspects of THE MUMMY is that there was another young actress up for the part eventually taken by Zita Johann; but THAT young actress decided to go back to New York for a stage play rather than remain in Hollywood. That actress, who almost starred in THE MUMMY was none other than Katharine Hepburn. And, as much as I love Kate, I would rather have had Zita Johann in the part; there's something about Johann's oddly exotic looks and deep voice which are perfect for the part of a reincarnated Egyptian princess. Sadly, I think Hepburn's biting voice would have shattered the carefully constructed dreamlike mood of the film.
So, besides all this on-set folderol, THE MUMMY stands as one of the greatest Universal monster movies ever made. And one I return to again and again.

1 comment:

Liz said...

I loved, loved, loved Shocky Doc and his little daughter. I've recently been renting Dark Shadows! Anther great show.