The Mummy (Karl Freund, 1932, USA)

               The Mummy marks the third entry in the classic Universal Monsters canon, bringing cinematographer Karl Freund to the director’s chair for the first time. Freund got his start in German c
inema of the 1920s, working as a cinematographer on such titles as Metropolis, as well as F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh. Freund brought this German Expressionist sensibility to Universal’s horror productions, and this is especially evident in The Mummy, which heavily relies on atmosphere, light, and shadow. John Balderston, the writer of Dracula, returned as a writer on this project. This was also the second entry for Boris Karloff as lead actor, following his turn as Frankenstein’s monster in 1931.

               The Mummy is a quieter, more haunting entry in the Universal monster series. It is a film about the past and present, about history intruding into the present. It is also a film about lost love. Karloff as Imhotep, living in the present day, is an articulate presence in contrast to his prior role as Frankenstein’s monster. Zita Johann, as his love interest Helen Grosvenor, has a haunting quality to her. Like many people involved in this film, she was a European transplant from Austria.

               The Mummy has notably been rebooted many times. Soon after the 1932 version, the entire series was rebooted in the 1940s. It didn’t have a direct sequel. The 1950s saw the rise of the Hammer Films series. The late 1990s saw an Indiana Jones-style reboot with Brendan Fraser that was immensely successful, spawning a sequel and a spinoff film (The Scorpion King). Unfortunately, the latest reboot starring Tom Cruise was a failure – almost completely derailing the Dark Universe series. Hopefully, the next adaptation scraps the adventure aspect and is closer in spirit to the atmospheric and chilling original film. It would be interesting to see a modern take on Freund’s version.


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