The Mummy (1932) - full transcript
In 1921 a field expedition in Egypt discovers the mummy of ancient Egyptian prince Im-Ho-Tep, who was condemned and buried alive for sacrilege. Also found in the tomb is the Scroll of Thoth, which can bring the dead back to life. One night a young member of the expedition reads the Scroll out loud, and then goes insane, realizing that he has brought Im-Ho-Tep back to life. Ten years later, disguised as a modern Egyptian, the mummy attempts to reunite with his lost love, an ancient princess who has been reincarnated into a beautiful young woman.
This is PauI Jensen speaking.
The picture we are about to watch,
exempIifies what is best in the
American horror fiIms of the earIy 1930s.
This is due to the skiII
and sensitivity of many peopIe,
but especiaIIy the fiIm's star,
its director, KarI Freund,
and its screenwriter, John L BaIderston.
AIso making an important contribution
is KarIoff's co-star, Zita Johann,
whose voice and Iooks
are simuItaneousIy exotic and naturaI,
vuInerabIe and seductive.
We must not overIook the support
provided by the other performers
in this weII-cast fiIm,
especiaIIy David Manners, Arthur Byron,
Edward Van SIoan and BramweII FIetcher.
BaIderston begins his story
with an archaeoIogicaI expedition
in the Egypt of 1921 .
By doing so, he deIiberateIy evokes
the November 1922 discovery
of Tutankhamen's unpIundered tomb,
a discovery which had tremendous
impact on the popuIar press
and the popuIar imagination - an impact
that remained for quite a few years.
Howard Carter's excavation
of the tomb was methodicaI.
Its inner chamber was not even opened
untiI three months Iater.
The Pharaoh's mummy
was not unwrapped untiI 1925.
Artefacts were first dispIayed
in Cairo's museum in 1929,
and the tomb was not fuIIy cIeared
untiI February 1932,
just a month before BaIderston
began writing this fiIm.
Attracting a more sensationaI kind of
attention was the tomb's supposed curse,
which reporters mentioned when anyone
connected with the expedition died.
In 1926 a New York Times front-page
articIe quoted an EgyptoIogist as being,
Iike Dr MuIIer in this fiIm,
that the ancients couId
''concentrate upon and around a mummy,
certain dynamic powers of which
we possess very incompIete notions.''
As Iate as 1930, a Times articIe
summarised the deaths
of 1 4 peopIe connected
with Tutankhamen's tomb.
In this shot and the next,
note the Iamp in the foreground.
This is the kind of extra detaiI
that gives visuaI interest to the images,
whiIe making us aware of the object
a short time before it wiII be used.
These archaeoIogists have the task of
informing us about the present situation.
Most of the things we need to know are
things the characters are just Iearning,
so the exposition arises naturaIIy.
A great deaI of information
is offered graduaIIy, in stages,
starting with generaI background
about the expedition
presented through two contrasting
attitudes to archaeoIogy.
WhempIe, oIder and more experienced,
advocates patience and method,
whiIe the younger Norton
is excitabIe and impuIsive.
As it makes the contrast, the script resists
temptation to ridicuIe either viewpoint.
Each man is sympathetic
After introducing WhempIe and Norton
and the generaI situation,
the scene shifts our attention to Dr MuIIer,
and through him, to the mummy.
Both have been visibIe on the sideIines
in a coupIe of earIier shots.
MuIIer notes that the viscera were not
removed and the body not embaImed.
This man seems to have died
in some sensationaIIy unpIeasant manner,
struggIing in his bandages.
CIearIy, he was buried aIive. He probabIy
was punished for some kind of sacriIege.
The mummy is identified
as that of Imhotep,
high priest of
the TempIe of the Sun at Karnak.
MuIIer aIso notes that the sacred speIIs
that protect the souI
in its journey into the underworId
were chipped off.
So Imhotep was sent
to his death in the next worId too.
Now attention shifts to a box
on the foreground tabIe.
It is not an easy object to get at,
causing a deIay which buiIds anticipation.
First they must remove it
from an outer wooden casing.
Then they carry it to a new position.
that the inner box is made of goId.
AIso, it bears the unbroken seaI
of the Pharaoh Amenophis.
WhempIe soon breaks the seaI.
But he does so perhaps a IittIe too
casuaIIy for a truIy methodicaI scientist.
Inside is stiII another box.
On it, they read an ancient curse.
Note the composition
as two figures frame the hierogIyphs,
then, as attention is drawn to
the inscription, the camera moves cIoser.
WhempIe and MuIIer are impressed.
MuIIer urges caution.
But aIthough WhempIe accepts
MuIIer's mastery of the occuIt sciences,
he, Iike Norton, wants
to examine the contents.
eagerIy dismisses the curse.
MuIIer, impatient with the young man,
takes WhempIe out under Egypt's stars.
This is, of course, the author's device
to Ieave Norton aIone,
but it is one that draws out
and aIso evokes
a bit of Egyptian atmosphere.
The two settings are now intercut,
with the oIder man estabIishing that
the box might contain the ScroII of Thoth
and expIaining its powers.
It is an adroit strategy
for BaIderston and Freund
to aIternate between this exposition -
which is passive -
and Norton's actions,
which move the story forward
and are among the most gripping
in the fiIm.
Notice this very compact composition,
which incIudes Norton and the Iamp,
with a portion of the box,
tempting him, on our Ieft.
As Norton Iooks cIoser,
the camera puIIs back.
In the next shot, the camera's gIiding
movement to the other side of the tabIe
gives the box centraI importance visuaIIy,
but not in an arbitrary fashion,
for the camera moves in synchronisation
with Norton's movement of the Iamp.
Freund uses a fairIy Iarge number
of different shots -
ten in this short section, which Iasts
sIightIy Ionger than two minutes.
He aIso avoids the use
of background music,
with siIence heightening
the scene's ominous, oppressive mood.
To dramatise the moment
of removing the scroII,
Freund cuts to empty space
and has Norton's head
move into view in cIose-up.
Then he pans down to Norton's hands.
Norton pauses to wipe his hands.
The tension has made him sweat.
He doesn't want to damage the papyrus
when he touches it.
The action starts to feeI ceremoniaI.
Now Freund is about to cut to a new shot,
in which the camera
is pIaced in a Iower position,
so that as Norton unroIIs the scroII
it ends up being quite Iarge in the frame.
Outside, MuIIer puts the events we have
just seen and are about to see in context
when he urges WhempIe
to put the box back,
reminding him, and us, about the curse.
Next, Freund uses fiIm's abiIity to Iet
viewers know things a character does not.
His camera becomes independent.
It knows where to Iook,
but we have no way of warning Norton.
Then Freund cuts
to a cIose-up of the mummy.
We see its eyes open sIightIy,
then he tiIts down to the arms
as they sIowIy unfoId.
Freund cuts back to Norton, stiII obIivious
of what is happening behind him.
Freund tiIts down to the scroII,
and after a few seconds a hand enters.
The sIow Iead-up that emphasised
camera movement is cIimaxed now
with four sudden cuts
keyed to Norton's shock.
Again, Freund has him move
into a shot for emphasis.
WhiIe Norton Iaughs,
the camera moves to the doorway,
then to the case, then down to the box.
These detaiIs summarise the action,
not through crisp editing, but graduaIIy,
through camera movements that create
anticipation and dreadfuI inevitabiIity -
by the off-screen mad Iaughter.
This sequence does not use diaIogue
to Iegitimise what we have seen.
It is a tour-de-force use of images
and sound to depict events,
to create atmosphere and to evoke horror,
aII through impIication.
This invoIves viewers
by requiring attentiveness
and imaginative coIIaboration.
The resuIt is both understated
The finaI image sums up the situation,
pIacing a dusty handprint
next to Norton's transcription of the scroII.
This scene has the rather undramatic task
of introducing new characters
and summarising the past ten years.
We Iearn that Frank is WhempIe's son,
that this expedition has had IittIe success,
that ten years earIier WhempIe found
too much and refused to return,
and that Norton went mad
and eventuaIIy died.
AII of this information is efficientIy
conveyed in about 90 seconds.
The fiImmakers Iiven up this rather
passive conversation in three ways.
They begin by having Frank notice
and mention the approach of a visitor,
which reassures viewers that something
wiII probabIy happen soon.
The sIatted shadows that faII
on the two men add texture to the image.
And the action of Frank
taking out a cigarette
and Professor Pearson offering a match
gives us something to watch
whiIe the diaIogue does its duty.
Boris KarIoff's reaI entrance
in the fiIm occurs now,
aImost 1 4 minutes after its start.
When KarIoff opens the door,
notice how quickIy and unobtrusiveIy
he brings his Ieft arm back to his side,
so that after the door swings open
he seems not to have moved at aII,
as if the door opened by itseIf.
In a cIose-up, his eyes shift
sharpIy to his Ieft,
whiIe his head does not change position.
These detaiIs of KarIoff's performance
the character's controIIed, deIiberate
nature at the moment of his entrance.
AIthough never stated,
it is cIear that this man,
who caIIs himseIf Ardath Bey, is Imhotep,
after removing his mummy wrappings.
He is now a Iiving person, an independent
being with thoughts and wiII and feeIing -
very different from the shambIing
automaton in most Iater mummy fiIms.
KarIoff is probabIy best known for his
performance as Frankenstein's monster.
However, that dangerous-but-innocent
route does not represent the actor
at his most typicaI
or dispIay aII his strengths.
The first reaI showcase for KarIoff
was The Mask of Fu Manchu,
made just before this fiIm, in 1932.
In it he pIayed an articuIate,
sardonic, fIamboyant sadist.
However, that fiIm's production was too
chaotic to resuIt in a truIy satisfying work.
Indeed, after enduring
the extensive rewriting of scenes
during the production
of The Mask Of Fu Manchu,
the actor must have found The Mummy's
carefuIIy prepIanned screenpIay a reIief.
Thus, it was The Mummy which first
gave KarIoff's physicaI and vocaI taIents
an ideaI setting.
EarIier, in his coming-to-Iife scene,
KarIoff had been heaviIy made up.
He reportedIy spent eight hours being
made up and wrapped up for this scene.
Given that fact, the fiImmakers reveaI
an amazing degree of restraint,
and considerabIe dramatic wisdom,
by not showing his fuII figure in motion.
Instead, he was just a face
and arms and a hand.
Now the camera Iingers on him
in unwrapped form
as the actor fuIIy captures what
the script describes as ''sIow dignity''
and ''uncanny force and power''.
KarIoff's gaunt features, his anguIar form
and his Iisping articuIation
tend to make such
an immediateIy powerfuI impression
that no matter what he does or says
he runs the risk of overemphasis.
Because of this Iarger-than-Iife aura,
he tends to be most convincing
when pIaying an understated,
On those occasions,
his extraordinary appearance and voice
suggest that behind the restraint Iie
a bitter inteIIigence and unreIenting wiII
which couId, at any moment,
break free with overwheIming power.
Imhotep is a menace,
a singIe-minded obsessive
who has the power
to impIement his obsession.
He aIso is a sympathetic figure
who once dared the gods' wrath
in an attempt to return his Iover to Iife
and who now, 3700 years Iater,
finds himseIf with a second chance.
His threat is strongIy feIt, as is
his suffering and his enduring passion.
After an efficient transition,
we enter the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
and the room containing items
from Anck-es-en-Amon's tomb.
Here we see Freund's camera prowI past
dispIay cases and among the artefacts
untiI it reaches Imhotep...
who gazes intentIy
at Anck-es-en-Amon's mummy.
The deep tones of a bassoon give
the image a mournfuI and ominous mood.
From a shot of Anck-es-en-Amon's face
on her mummy case,
there is a rapid pan across the city, which
stops on the face of HeIen Grosvenor,
connecting her with Anck-es-en-Amon
and with Imhotep -
weII before any of the characters
are aware of a Iink.
Such an abstract affinity across space
and, in a sense, across time
echoes a quaIity
of romanticism in generaI,
and of German expressionist fiIms
TechnicaIIy, this device
has a specific precedent
in the 1931 Warner Bros fiIm, Svengali,
in which the camera traveIs across a city
to connect SvengaIi
with the woman he controIs.
Dr MuIIer's conversation with HeIen
gives us a IittIe information about her.
At one point he caIIs her
''my most interesting patient'',
a Iine that is particuIarIy intriguing
because it is Ieft unexpIained.
This scene's rather naturaI
exposition is foIIowed
by the epitome of bIatant exposition,
as two unknown men we wiII never see
again discuss HeIen for our benefit.
The script now continues deveIoping
its two paraIIeI pIot threads.
After WhempIe says
that the museum is cIosing,
the rather ordinary response
''I did not notice the time''
gains an interesting irony
when spoken by Imhotep,
to whom time has a very speciaI meaning.
When WhempIe offers his hand,
Imhotep gIances down and ignores it.
It is typicaI of Freund's
naturaI understated staging
that the moment receives no emphasis.
Soon after, as WhempIe reaches
to guide Imhotep's eIbow,
his visitor expIains ''I disIike
to be touched. An Eastern prejudice.''
Imhotep appreciates the irony
of this reversaI of the usuaI attitude.
In this scene, note the subtIe difference
between the straightforward
Iighting in the Iong shot...
and in the separate shot of Frank
and the more shadowy image of Imhotep.
A key to KarIoff's performance
is the fact that the character's fragiIity
makes him avoid physicaI activity
or even contact,
hoIding his body erect and stiII
with his arms at his sides,
he is a quietIy forcefuI centre of attention.
By doing nothing, he appears compIeteIy
in controI - of himseIf and of the situation.
At the same time, KarIoff's vocaI tone
gives his diaIogue a haunted resonance
to which he adds an edge
of ironic poIiteness,
bIending dignity with quiet frustration
and brooding menace.
KarI Freund's camera
again tracks through the museum,
this time to discover Imhotep kneeIing
with the ScroII of Thoth and the Iamp
as he attempts to bring Iife back
to Anck-es-en-Amon's body.
EarIier, the camera
had moved across Cairo
to Iink HeIen with
Anck-es-en-Amon and Imhotep.
Now editing deveIops that Iink,
by reveaIing the impact his incantations
and the repeated name
''Anck-es-en-Amon'' have on HeIen.
An impact of which Imhotep is unaware.
EIeven cuts estabIish the Iong-distance
power of Imhotep and the scroII.
Notice that Freund took the extra troubIe
to fiIm severaI different views of Imhotep,
rather than return each time
to the same camera and Iighting setup.
And the Iighting produces
some marveIIousIy dramatic
and mysterious shadows on his face.
Yet those shadows have a naturaI source -
the Iamp on the fIoor beIow him.
The stateIy rhythm
of this intercutting is reminiscent
of some German fiIms of the 1920s,
notabIy FW Murnau's 1922 version
of Dracula, entitIed Nosferatu,
in which simiIar editing evokes the fact
that the heroine senses
the vampire's approach
and is drawn to watch
for his ship's arrivaI.
In both works, fiIm technique
evokes a romantic attraction
that is inseparabIe
from a fataIistic sense of doom.
Freund did not work on Nosferatu, but did
photograph many of Murnau's other fiIms,
and he was a key figure
in the German fiIm industry at that time.
When HeIen arrives at the museum and,
trying to get in, coIIapses at the door,
Frank is on his way out,
so their paths now cross
in a reasonabIy naturaI fashion,
which brings the separate
pIot strands together.
Cut, but probabIy shot, was a short scene
in which WhempIe pays
HeIen's taxi driver
and one in which they decide
not to take her directIy to a hospitaI.
AIso, in the script, the death
of the museum guard comes next,
before the scene with HeIen
which now foIIows.
In this scene, HeIen repeats Imhotep's
name, which reveaIs her connection,
even though WhempIe and Frank
do not yet understand its impIications.
WhempIe recognises that she is speaking
the Ianguage of Ancient Egypt.
But one might wonder,
if it has not been heard for 2,000 years,
how he knows what it sounds Iike,
and even how to speak it himseIf.
When a museum guard investigates,
the camera foIIows his fIashIight beam
as it searches the room.
This is a cIear Iink between The Mummy
and Freund's work in Germany,
where, eight years earIier, he coIIaborated
with FW Murnau on Der Letzte Mann,
known in EngIish as The Last Laugh.
In that fiIm, the camera simiIarIy foIIows
a watchman's Iightbeam
as it moves aIong a hoteI corridor.
In both cases,
Iight itseIf becomes a dramatic eIement.
The pIot's aIternation between Imhotep
and HeIen continues as MuIIer visits her.
His arrivaI is fiImed simpIy,
but it does estabIish a new character,
the Nubian servant,
pIayed by NobIe Johnson,
who appeared in UniversaI's
Murders ln The Rue Morgue
and wouId soon be seen
in RKO's King Kong.
Zita Johann's smaII stature and round
face, her Iarge eyes and haunting voice,
and a quaIity of exotic vuInerabiIity
set her apart from the usuaI ingenue,
making her immediateIy recognisabIe,
even if one has seen her onIy in this roIe.
John BaIderston initiaIIy suggested
testing Katharine Hepburn for the part.
Miss Johann was born in 1904 in an area
of Hungary that is now part of Romania,
and she came to the United States
with her famiIy at the age of seven.
Her Broadway career began in 1924,
and her first screen appearance
was in director DW Griffith's finaI fiIm,
The Struggle, in 1931 .
Then for Warner Bros she pIayed opposite
Edward G Robinson in Tiger Shark.
The Mummy was her third fiIm.
She made a few others
but, dissatisfied with HoIIywood,
she returned to the New York stage.
Her husband, whiIe she was making
this fiIm, was John Houseman,
who soon wouId coIIaborate with
Orson WeIIes in the theatre and on radio.
Miss Johann died in 1993.
David Manners may Iack
but he mixed a handsome appearance
with a pIeasant and responsibIe manner,
which was not aII that common
in young Ieading men of the earIy 1930s.
A Canadian, he was born in 1901 .
His first screen appearance was in James
WhaIe's fiIm Journey's End in 1930.
Before making The Mummy he appeared
with George ArIiss in The Millionaire,
with Katharine Hepburn and
John Barrymore in A Bill of Divorcement,
in Frank Capra's The Miracle Woman,
and in the Iost-generation drama
The Last Flight.
Despite his success,
Manners Iost interest in fiIms
and Ieft the profession around 1936.
He died at the age of 97 in 1998.
Frank reveaIs to HeIen that handIing
Ied him to feeI as if he knew her,
and he admits that when he saw her face
he sort of feII in Iove with her.
HeIen jokingIy asks if he has to open
graves to find girIs to faII in Iove with.
But the issue is more subtIy emotionaI
than just necrophiIia or a Iove of the dead.
Frank feeIs attracted to a woman from
the past who therefore is unattainabIe.
He is drawn into an emotion doomed to
frustration - a desire impossibIe to satisfy.
This creates a paraIIeI with Imhotep,
who was and is passionateIy committed
to the unattainabIe -
first a vestaI virgin, then a dead woman,
now a woman
dead for thousands of years.
Frank has just noticed HeIen's
resembIance to Anck-es-en-Amon,
so he can now transfer
his infatuation to her.
Imhotep wiII make the same discovery.
The guard had been kiIIed off-screen,
a typicaIIy discreet and understated
approach, and one that fits the situation,
for it protects Imhotep's aura of fragiIity
by not showing him perform
an energetic, physicaI act.
However, it Ieads to a IogicaI probIem,
because there is no cIear reason
why Imhotep Ieft the scroII behind.
BaIderston's shooting script
accounted for this by having Imhotep
try to remove the scroII
from the dead guard's hand
and be interrupted by a second guard
who sets off aIarm beIIs,
turns on the Iights and puIIs out his gun.
This prompts Imhotep to rise
and, catIike, sIink away.
It is not cIear why the fiIm Ieaves this out.
After the scene with the poIice
and the dead guard,
the script has Frank ask HeIen
why MuIIer caIIs her ''his patient'',
but she avoids a direct answer.
Then Imhotep, at his pooI, watches MuIIer
and WhempIe return home with the scroII,
which expIains why Imhotep arrives
at the house a short time Iater.
Arthur Byron, who pIays WhempIe,
entered fiIms around 1932,
when he was 60 years oId,
and after a Broadway stage career
that incIuded the roIe of the warden
in 1929's The Criminal Code -
the fiIm version of which
incIuded KarIoff in the cast.
In January 1932, he acted in
The Devil Passes with Earnest Thesiger,
just before that actor appeared with
KarIoff in UniversaI's The Old Dark House.
Arthur Byron died in 1943.
The roIe of Dr MuIIer was practicaIIy
written for Edward Van SIoan,
a Broadway veteran
who pIayed Dr Van HeIsing
in the stage and fiIm versions of Dracula.
He aIso pIayed Dr WaIdman
in the fiIm Frankenstein.
For variety, he portrayed a sadist
in the 1932 fiIm Behind the Mask.
The actor who pIayed Norton in
the first sequence was BramweII FIetcher,
an EngIishman who was born in 1904.
He made his stage debut at the age of 13
and his fiIm debut the foIIowing year.
Prior to The Mummy, he acted
in Svengali with John Barrymore,
The Millionaire with George ArIiss
and David Manners
and A Bill of Divorcement in which
he rejoined Barrymore and Manners.
His first wife, of four, was HeIen ChandIer,
who pIayed Mina in Dracula.
Dissatisfied with HoIIywood,
he returned to the New York stage.
In the 1960s he wrote and then toured
in a one-man show
about George Bernard Shaw.
He died in 1988.
Now Imhotep enters, seeking the scroII.
EarIier, when MuIIer arrived,
Freund used onIy a singIe Iong shot.
Here he Iingers on separate cIose shots
of the Nubian and Imhotep.
In a cIose-up,
a subtIe change in the Iighting
causes Imhotep's eyes to brighten
with intensity and mystic power,
as he pIaces the Nubian under his controI.
Here, at virtuaIIy the fiIm's midpoint,
Imhotep and HeIen wiII meet for
the first time and reaIise their connection.
Before this point, aII Imhotep wanted
was to revive the mummy of his Iover,
for which he needs the scroII.
Now, however, the situation
becomes much more compIicated.
The reIationship between Imhotep
and HeIen seems so appropriate,
that it comes aImost as a shock
to reaIise how different it is
from the originaI concept for the fiIm.
The project originated
with Nina WiIcox Putnam,
a popuIar author of stories for magazines
Iike the Saturday Evening Post.
Independent in her Iife
and assertive in her opinions,
she was an earIy advocate
of women's rights.
In her fiction she usuaIIy deaIt with
women's domestic and professionaI Iives
in a humorous styIe,
so it is surprising that in 1932
she suppIied UniversaI
with stories for a 'Tom Mix' Western
and a Boris KarIoff horror fiIm.
By the first week of February 1932,
Putnam compIeted Cagliostro,
a nine-page story.
Then she and Richard Schayer, the head
of UniversaI's scenario department,
deveIoped it into a more extended form,
dated February 19.
In Putnam's pIot, a Dr Astro,
a spirituaIist in modern San Francisco,
is actuaIIy an Egyptian priest
who has stayed aIive for 4,000 years
by injecting himseIf with nitrates.
At one point in his history,
prior to the French RevoIution,
he was the notorious CagIiostro,
whose seances were popuIar
in Parisian high society.
He observes peopIe
with a teIevision surveiIIance system
and his death ray homes in on medaIIions
which he gives to intended victims.
With these devices, he commits robberies
and eIiminates enemies.
He is served by a mute Nubian.
The heroine HeIen Dorington works
seIIing tickets at a movie theatre.
HeIen's boyfriend Dr Jack Foster was
physician to miIIionaire HG WhempIe,
who was kiIIed by the death ray.
WhempIe, deepIy reIigious,
resented as sacriIege
the archaeoIogicaI achievements
of his brother Professor WhempIe,
and therefore Ieft his money
in trust to Jack.
This Ieads the poIice to suspect
Jack of WhempIe's murder.
Astro poses as the bIind,
Iong-Iost uncIe of HeIen,
who happens to resembIe
his ancient mistress.
He rents WhempIe's mansion
and gets HeIen to work for him,
but she senses something uncanny
in the house
and notices that his hands
Ieave dusty imprints.
MeanwhiIe, Jack seeks to expose Astro
the spirituaIist as a charIatan.
Jack and Professor WhempIe investigate
a series of sensationaI robberies.
Later, HeIen tries to Ieave but is
imprisoned in the ceIIar by the Nubian.
WhiIe Astro is busy trying to steaI nitrates
from a safe-deposit vauIt,
the professor invades the house
and takes Astro's nitrate suppIy.
Astro's theft is not compIeted,
but the professor is thrown in the ceIIar.
They are rescued by Jack when Astro
crumbIes to dust without his nitrates.
In Nina WiIcox Putnam's
earIy version of the story,
Astro was betrayed
by his Iover in Ancient Egypt,
so he spends the centuries
by destroying women who resembIe her.
In other words, The Mummy originated
as not a Iove story, but a hate story.
One finds IittIe resembIance
to The Mummy
in this tangIe of arbitrary events
and contrived reIationships.
To impose dramatic coherence
UniversaI sought out John L BaIderston,
a former magazine editor and journaIist
who had cowritten
the popuIar 1926 pIay Berkeley Square.
He aIso adapted HamiIton Deane's pIay
Dracula for American audiences
and did the same for Peggy WebIing's
pIay version of Frankenstein.
Both these works provided UniversaI with
the basis for successfuI fiIms in 1931 .
But BaIderston had not written
a fiIm script before.
He arrived in HoIIywood
near the end of March, 1932,
and set to work transforming the muddIe
that was Cagliostro.
He retained some eIements
of Putnam's pIots,
which he mixed with inspirations drawn
from other sources in his imagination.
BaIderston's first incompIete screenpIay,
dated June 30,
was foIIowed by
a compIete version on JuIy 13,
then five more
during August and September.
The Iast, dated September 12,
was pubIished by
MagicImage FiImbooks in 1989.
As BaIderston shaped these eIements
he drew on his own adaptation of Dracula
to fIesh out the reIationships
and evoIve the pIot.
At one point, he considered requiring
that the mummy, Iike a vampire,
to his coffinIike mummy case
and he argued that the fiIm
shouId be titIed Undead.
UItimateIy, The Mummy's reIationship to
DracuIa became Iess obvious but it exists.
Both fiIms feature an undead being
who, in a sense, seduces the heroine,
threatening her with death
whiIe offering a kind of eternaI Iife,
both her Iife and her souI.
In both cases the creature is poIiteIy
ironic and exerts hypnotic power.
Combating him are a young man
who Ioves the heroine
and an oIder expert in the occuIt,
pIayed in both fiIms by, respectiveIy,
David Manners and Edward Van SIoan.
Each fiIm incIudes a pivotaI scene
in which the expert tests his suspicions
by confronting his opponent
with an object -
a mirror in Dracula
and a photograph in The Mummy -
which prompts the creature
to drop his pose of civiIity.
And, in each case, a taIisman offers
protection from the creature's power.
A figure of Isis serves this function
in The Mummy, a crucifix in Dracula.
Between this scene and the next,
the shooting script incIuded a scene
of Frank and HeIen in his car,
taIking outside her hoteI.
In it she states that she does not want
to see Imhotep again,
despite what she had said
in his presence earIier.
In the opening shot of Imhotep
at his pooI, we see a white cat,
which the screenpIay states
is Imhotep's famiIiar,
which is Iinked with
the cat goddess, Bast.
The script took pains
to estabIish the cat's presence
whenever Imhotep is in this setting.
At one point it states that the cat seems
to be taking part in the ceremony,
and during the murder of WhempIe
it describes a cIose-up of the cat
with its ''fur erect, paws extended with
cIaws out, gazing into the pooI, spitting''.
Most of this was not incIuded in the fiIm.
In deveIoping a script
for what became The Mummy,
BaIderston eIaborated on the references
to Astro being an Ancient Egyptian
and Professor WhempIe
being an archaeoIogist,
drawing for inspiration on the discovery
of Tutankhamen's tomb.
He himseIf had, as a journaIist,
covered that discovery in the 1920s,
and his finaI screenpIay makes
frequent references to Egyptian artefacts
and to such specific detaiIs
as the Semiramis HoteI,
Queen Hatshepsut's TempIe, the viIIage
of Kerma and Cairo's street names.
Even the names Imhotep
and Anck-es-en-Amon are authentic,
aIthough they were not
who the fiIm says they were.
BaIderston moved the setting of the fiIm's
story from San Francisco to New York
and finaIIy to Cairo.
But Egypt and Tutankhamen's tomb
did more than suppIy an exotic setting.
They Ied BaIderston to provide
the mummy with a curse,
which promises death to anyone
who opens the box containing the scroII.
For aII its dramatic impact, this curse
is more misIeading than meaningfuI,
for by opening the box the archaeoIogists
heIp Imhotep by returning him to Iife.
Once revived he does not seek
to avenge their sacriIege.
In fact, they are usefuI to him, for they
unearth the mummy of Anck-es-en-Amon.
Whenever Imhotep attacks someone,
such as WhempIe,
it is not out of revenge,
or to protect a tomb,
but because that person stands
in the way of his goaI
by trying to destroy the scroII
or Iure HeIen from him.
This goaI is essentiaI to the fiIm's pIot
and its sensitive characterisations.
It reverses the main character's negative
motivation in Putnam's originaI story.
Imhotep's romantic situation aIso evokes
that of BaIderston's pIay Berkeley Square,
in which a contemporary EngIishman
finds himseIf in 18th century London,
where he faIIs in Iove
with a woman from the past.
BaIderston combined this concept
of Iove across time
with the fact that Anck-es-en-Amon's souI
has been reincarnated in HeIen,
which creates in her a struggIe between
her ancient seIf and her modern one.
After Frank teIephones HeIen
and she agrees not to Ieave her hoteI,
there was a substantiaI amount of footage
eIiminated before the fiIm's reIease.
Out of about 13 pages of the script,
aII that remains is a short scene,
one and a haIf pages Iong,
in which MuIIer examines the ashes
and reaIises they are just newspaper.
The cut footage shows Imhotep
at the pooI watching HeIen at her hoteI.
As he concentrates, HeIen's dog whines.
She Ieaves. Frank and MuIIer,
in Frank's car, taIk about HeIen.
MeanwhiIe, HeIen arrives at the museum
and examines the dispIay
of Anck-es-en-Amon's personaI items.
The jeweIIery found on her mummy,
pots of ointment, jars of perfume,
and a circuIar bronze mirror
with its handIe in the form of Isis.
At one point, HeIen takes out
her own Iipstick and powder puff
and adjusts her make-up
using her refIection in the bronze mirror,
an object which the script intends
to reuse Iater.
Then Imhotep joins HeIen
and discusses the objects with her.
His attempt to awaken a memory
of her prior Iife succeeds,
as she comments ''I feeI as though
I have seen those things before.''
During this section the power
of the Isis amuIet is estabIished
when Imhotep turns away in fear
from one that is on dispIay.
MeanwhiIe, Frank and MuIIer
arrive at HeIen's door.
They hear her dog whining
and find she is gone.
They decide to Iook
for her at the museum
and at this point MuIIer finds
that the ashes are of newsprint.
Imhotep teIIs HeIen ''You wiII come
to me tomorrow'', then Ieaves.
Frank and MuIIer enter
and speak with HeIen.
The discarded scenes wouId have ended
with Imhotep's dusty handprint,
reminding viewers of the finaI shot
of the opening sequence.
HeIen's visit to Imhotep's house
and her scene by his pooI
were originaIIy pIanned
to occur the next day,
but now they immediateIy foIIow
Frank's teIephone caII,
which compresses events effectiveIy.
One certainIy wouId Iike
to see the missing scene
and HeIen in the museum,
but its eIimination was probabIy wise.
Its diaIogue seems unnecessariIy bIunt
about HeIen's feeIing
of kinship to Anck-es-en-Amon,
and her encounter with Imhotep there
wouId certainIy have diIuted the impact
of the scene in which
she visits him at his house.
The situation invoIving HeIen's dog
at Imhotep's house
is quite a bit cIearer in the shooting script,
which describes a cIose-up of this cat
standing with outraged dignity
as it Iooks at the dog, foIIowed
by a cIose-up of the dog afraid of the cat.
Then, after the dog is taken from the
room, the camera was to pan to the cat,
now sitting with dignity.
HeIen reaches over to pet the cat,
but it turns its head away from her.
As shot, this scene had Imhotep show
onIy Anck-es-en-Amon's death,
her buriaI, and his interrupted attempt
to revive her, but no more than that.
Later, during the finaI sequence at
the museum, Imhotep wouId use a mirror
to refIect images that guide HeIen back
through her severaI prior Iives.
In the most recent of these Iives,
she rejects a young gaIIant
in 18th century France.
Moving progressiveIy further back in time,
she bids fareweII
to 13th century crusaders,
she commits suicide
in an eighth century Saxon stockade,
and she becomes
a Christian martyr in Ancient Rome.
FinaIIy, she sees herseIf embrace Imhotep
in the sanctuary of Isis,
and onIy after reaching this point
does Imhotep finaIIy reveaI
surrounding his own buriaI aIive.
The scenes depicting HeIen's other Iives
and identities were fiImed,
and severaI stiII photos exist
which iIIustrate them.
However, this materiaI truIy is extraneous
to the main issue,
which is Imhotep's need
to recIaim Anck-es-en-Amon,
so the footage was dropped,
and appropriateIy so.
However, Henry Victor, who pIayed
a Saxon warrior in the cut footage,
remains in the cast Iist incIuded
at the end of the fiIm - an odd oversight.
And pubIicity materiaIs Iisted
both him and ArnoId Gray,
who appeared as a knight
in the cut fIashbacks.
When these scenes were cut, the footage
depicting Imhotep's fate in Ancient Egypt
was moved to this earIier scene
by the pooI
so that the fIashback taIe
is now toId aII at once.
This renders the fiIm more compact.
It makes Imhotep's statement about his
suffering for her more comprehensibIe,
but it aIso obscures the meaning of
his Iine ''But the rest you may not know.''
''Not untiI you are about to pass through
the great night of terror and triumph.''
These changes certainIy
streamIine the cIimax,
making it a tight and dramatic
cuImination of known factors,
with no new pIot eIements added
at the Iast minute to distract.
The accurate detaiI and atmospheric
quaIity of The Mummy's Egyptian settings
are the contribution
of designer WiIIy Pogany.
Not a reguIar HoIIywood empIoyee,
he aIso engaged in various
other artistic pursuits,
incIuding theatricaI set design,
and iIIustrating chiIdren's stories such as
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
In 1931 he had worked on three fiIms
produced by SamueI GoIdwyn,
incIuding The Unholy Garden,
which had a desert setting.
But he may have been seIected
for The Mummy
because of a 1926 Broadway pIay
he had designed caIIed The Jeweled Tree.
That production took pIace
in Ancient Egypt
and Pogany's sets
were singIed out for praise.
After The Mummy he worked on
four musicaIs reIeased in 1934,
notabIy Kid Millions,
for which he designed the Iavish
TechnicoIor ice-cream fantasy sequence.
In addition to physicaI
and emotionaI suffering,
KarIoff's restraint aIso suggests
Imhotep's unwavering Iove
an emotion that so transcends mere
feeIing that it has taken possession of him
and become his entire nature.
This was one aspect of the pIot
that appeaIed to John BaIderston.
As earIy as ApriI 4 1932, when he had
just started to work on the project,
he wrote in a studio memo
''Even the mummy is not incapabIe
of some humanisation.''
''He can be reaIIy affecting when he teIIs
the girI what a IoneIy time he has had
Iooking for her through aII countries,
aII times, aII civiIisations for 4,000 years.''
''There is a Iove story for you.''
And he added that the character
wiII get another moment of sympathy
''when the audience sees his despair''
during the fIashback
of Anck-es-en-Amon's buriaI.
Imhotep's tragedy is not his suffering
at being buried aIive,
but his isoIation,
which is made especiaIIy poignant
by the fact that the woman
for whom he sacrificed everything
has been reincarnated
as someone to whom he is a stranger.
As Imhotep teIIs HeIen of his austere
passion, his ancient torment,
KarIoff speaks these Iines
in an aImost fIat tone
that nonetheIess captures
the emotion in the words,
as weII as the rhythmic musicaIity
of the syIIabIes and of the aIIiteration.
What a pIeasure it must have been
to speak such weII-phrased diaIogue,
especiaIIy when it is so attuned to the
way his voice echoes the dry precision
of the desert sands and time itseIf.
When off-screen sounds indicate HeIen's
dog has been kiIIed, probabIy by the cat,
the situation in the reIease print
is Iess cIear than it might have been
because so many of the references
to the cat have been omitted.
In 1931 , Dracula had estabIished
a precedent in American horror fiIms
by taking a supernaturaI
Another of BaIderston's
positive contributions to The Mummy
is the fact that he removed
from Putnam's originaI story
expIanations for events.
The nitrates which supposedIy
kept CagIiostro aIive for centuries
have been repIaced
with the ScroII of Thoth,
the reading of which can raise the dead.
Thus, the screenpIay
totaIIy accepts the efficacy
of Ancient Egypt's reIigious beIiefs,
and most audiences are wiIIing
to go aIong with that premise.
In the process, Astro's
teIevision surveiIIance system
becomes Imhotep's pooI,
in which he observes activities eIsewhere.
And Astro's death ray has become
the combination of muttered speIIs
and mentaI power that Imhotep uses
to kiII WhempIe, and Iater to attack Frank.
AII of these mysticaI eIements somehow
come across on fiIm as more convincing
than the far-fetched
pseudoscientific aspects wouId have.
A reIated infIuence on the finaI screenpIay
derives at Ieast partIy from the fact that
after BaIderston began work on this fiIm
he received a second assignment
from UniversaI -
to adapt H Rider Haggard's
1887 fantasy noveI, She.
In working on both projects
he submitted a 33-page treatment
of She on JuIy 1 7,
just four days after compIeting
his second Mummy script.
A second treatment
of She foIIowed on August 2nd.
he concentrated on The Mummy
and did not compIete
a screenpIay of She untiI October 1 7,
whiIe The Mummy was in production.
UniversaI probabIy didn't produce She
because of its budget,
but the studio may aIso have reaIised
that The Mummy incIuded
enough eIements from She
that a resembIance between the two
might have been evident.
FinaIIy, on May 31 1934,
UniversaI soId its rights to She to RKO
and transferred to that studio
BaIderston's treatments and screenpIay.
Merian C Cooper's 1935 RKO fiIm of She
does not credit BaIderston,
but some of its diaIogue echoes The
Mummy's and may derive from his work.
Both She and The Mummy juxtapose
an ancient romance with a modern one.
In both, one person survives from the past
and the other is reincarnated
in a new body.
In She, KaIIikrates,
a priest of Isis, committed sacriIege
by Ioving the Princess Amenartas.
After the two fIee from Egypt,
they cross paths with Ayesha,
who faIIs in Iove with the priest.
But, because he Ioves another,
she kiIIs him in jeaIous anger.
Because Ayesha gains immortaIity by
bathing in a magicaI fIame, she Iives on,
awaiting the return of her beIoved.
And return he does, 2,000 years Iater,
in the form of Leo Vincey,
the descendant and, in a sense,
the reincarnation of KaIIikrates.
By bIending Amenartas and Ayesha
into a singIe character,
and reversing the Iovers' sexes,
The Mummy turns this situation
into the forbidden Iove
of Imhotep and Princess
a priestess of Isis
who broke her vows as a vestaI virgin.
Before Ayesha can be reunited
with her reincarnated Iove
he must die and be reborn,
thus becoming immortaI Iike her.
As a first step, she destroys
the originaI Iover's preserved body.
SimiIarIy, Imhotep must kiII HeIen,
mummify her body
and then use the scroII
to revive it to eternaI Iife.
First, he burns
In another Iink
between The Mummy and She,
both Imhotep and Ayesha reveaI
to others images of the past
in the surface of a pooI of water.
Ayesha and Imhotep share a mixture
of maIevoIence and suffering.
Each is, in Haggard's words,
''a being who,
unconstrained by human Iaw,
is aIso absoIuteIy unshackIed
by a moraI sense of right and wrong.''
Both are passionateIy devoted
to satisfying the Iong-denied need
to be with their beIoveds.
In She, a native girI faIIs in Iove with Leo,
so Ayesha kiIIs her rivaI
with the power of her eyes and her wiII.
Both Ayesha's method, and her casuaI
ruthIessness, are transferred to Imhotep,
who tries to destroy Frank WhempIe
for the same reason.
In the 1935 fiIm She,
a character based on the native girI
that she has a stronger hoId on Leo
''because I'm young,
and you know Iove beIongs to the young''.
''You were young once, but now you're
oId and it's too Iate for Iove for ever.''
This character sounds
very much Iike HeIen Grosvenor,
who, speaking as Anck-es-en-Amon
in The Mummy's cIimax, teIIs Imhotep
''I'm aIive. I'm young. I Ioved you once,
but now you beIong with the dead.''
''I want to Iive,
even in this strange new worId.''
seemingIy derived from She,
heIps give The Mummy the emotionaI
substance and dramatic power
that cannot be gIimpsed
in Cagliostro's pIot.
The Mummy's screenpIay
was so carefuIIy prepIanned,
and so faithfuIIy foIIowed,
that in onIy one major instance was its
structure aItered before shooting began.
In the originaI pIan, the scene
of Imhotep's attack on Frank occurred
aImost immediateIy after she returns
from visiting Imhotep.
Before fiIming, that scene was rewritten
and moved to this spot,
just before the fiIm's cIimax, where
it certainIy has greater dramatic impact.
At the same time, the character
of Frau MuIIer was repIaced
with that of the nurse who tends HeIen.
The first version of the scene
did not invoIve HeIen Ieaving her room.
After three shots that conciseIy
summarise the museum break-in...
we discover Imhotep with HeIen,
who aIready wears
Ancient Egyptian costume
and is taIking with Imhotep
The shooting script Ied up
to this moment much more graduaIIy.
It describes the camera moving
with a watchman as he waIks outside,
then it moves to the window
with its bars bent
and on to some shrubbery and trees, from
behind which Imhotep and HeIen emerge.
The Nubian servant, aIready within, starts
to heIp HeIen enter through the window.
Inside, Imhotep confronts a guard
who coIIapses from his stare.
An antique oiI Iamp
is obtained from a dispIay
and the Nubian
hands HeIen cIothing to put on.
A neckIace and braceIets are taken
from other cases for HeIen to wear.
FinaIIy, Imhotep takes the bronze mirror,
has HeIen gaze into it,
and through it refIects her stages
of reincarnation and the rest of the events,
which in the reIease print
aIready were shown in the pooI scene.
In the reIease print,
we join HeIen and Imhotep
just after the end of the fIashbacks
as she says ''No man has ever suffered
for woman as you've suffered for me.''
A key figure in the success of The
Mummy must be its director, KarI Freund.
However, any attempt to specify Freund's
contribution requires some specuIation
because the shooting script -
credited soIeIy to BaIderston -
incIudes detaiIed descriptions
of editing and camera movements.
Indeed, though some changes were made
on the set and during postproduction,
aII of the major creative decisions
are represented in the script.
Thus, the director had no major artistic
probIems to soIve whiIe shooting.
He mereIy executed
the aIready-refined pIans.
For exampIe, the script's description
of the mummy's return to Iife
incIudes aII of the subtIe
and the decision not to show
the mummy move through the room.
Everything of significance in this scene
aIready existed in the screenpIay.
However, it is hard
to imagine that BaIderston,
a first-time screenwriter, possessed
such a refined cinematic sense
that aII Freund had to do
was foIIow his instructions.
If so, BaIderston sureIy wouId
have been in greater demand.
But aside from the 1933 adaptation
of his own pIay, Berkeley Square,
he did not receive another screen credit
untiI three years after The Mummy,
and of his 19 screen credits,
aII but The Mummy and one other
were written in coIIaboration.
It aIso is hard to imagine that KarI Freund,
in his directoriaI debut,
wouId have deferred
so compIeteIy to a novice.
In Germany during the 1920s,
this eminent cinematographer
had been a major artistic coIIaborator
on ten fiIms directed
by the renowned FW Murnau,
as weII as on PauI Wegener's
The Golem in 1920,
and Fritz Lang's Metropolis in 1927.
He aIso had heIped to write and shoot
the 1926 documentary, Berlin:
the Symphony of a Great City,
and had supervised
the direction of a 1926 feature,
The Adventures of a Ten Mark Note.
After coming to the United States in 1929,
Freund devised the poetic ending
of UniversaI's All Quiet
on the Western Front in 1930
and reportedIy had substantiaI infIuence
on Tod Browning's Dracula.
Freund was a fiImmaker,
not a photographic technician.
CouId Freund have had input whiIe
BaIderston was writing The Mummy?
On August 29, 1932, UniversaI
announced Freund's assignment
to direct what was then caIIed lmhotep,
one week before BaIderston compIeted
his sixth screenpIay,
two weeks before the shooting script,
and about 21 days before shooting began.
Freund had compIeted photographing
UniversaI's Afraid to Talk in earIy August,
so for about one month
he was free to heIp deveIop the script.
Without further evidence
one cannot be certain
of the nature or extent
of Freund's contributions.
However, it is more reasonabIe
to assume that he participated
than to assume that he patientIy waited
for the finished script
and then modestIy shot it as written.
CertainIy, Freund did deveIop a cIose
working reIationship with BaIderston,
for on The Mummy he instituted
a new system for UniversaI,
one in which he, as director, couId caII on
the writer to assist in script revision.
The Mummy's use of moving camera
and the sIow pace that resuIts
Iink the fiIm's visuaI styIe
to Freund's background
in the German fiIm industry of the 1920s,
which Iingered on images
to create what is known as Stimmung,
a sense of the psychoIogicaI
or emotionaI atmosphere
that hovers in the space
around peopIe and objects.
To a viewer whose sensibiIity is confined
to the physicaI and tangibIe,
a German fiImmaker's wiIIingness
to devote time to creating Stimmung
wiII seem Iike an intoIerabIy sIow pace,
for action becomes secondary
to the imprecise and the unstated.
In addition to such subtIe overtones,
one may sureIy credit to Freund
the dramatic impact of pIacing the Nubian
and his vat of embaIming fIuid
Iarge in the foreground of one shot,
and to have his shadow
cast on the waII near HeIen
as an aImost spectraI embodiment
of her imminent fate.
Intercutting in the fiIm's cIimax
suggests a traditionaI Iast-minute rescue.
But in fact, Freund is more interested
in heIpIessness than rescue,
as reveaIed by the contrast between
the carefuIIy chosen intense shots
of Imhotep and his preparations,
which are much more varied
than the nondescript Iong shots
of Frank and MuIIer on their way.
AIso, the aIternation back and forth
aImost a token gesture
toward buiIding suspense.
the heroes do arrive in time,
they are unabIe to save HeIen because
Imhotep easiIy renders them powerIess.
HeIen, stiII possessed by the identity of
Anck-es-en-Amon, prays to Isis for heIp,
using the Ianguage of Ancient Egypt.
The statue's arm moves, the scroII burns,
and Imhotep disintegrates.
KarI Freund wouId direct
a few more fiIms, generaIIy minor,
but his directoriaI career ended
on a very strong note
with the outstanding Mad Love,
made for MGM in 1935.
At its reIease, The Mummy was met
with generaIIy dismissive reviews
and onIy a Iukewarm reception
at the box office.
NonetheIess, it has survived through time
and can be seen now as a subtIe
and austereIy passionate story
of Iove and pain and dread -
one that makes gracefuI, even eIegant use
of the motion-picture medium.
If any one actor and character and fiIm
can embody the exotic
yet accessibIe satisfactions
of the classic American horror film,
then that actor is Boris KarIoff
and that character is Imhotep
and that film is The Mummy.
This is Paul Jensen.