The story is fairly simple. An ancient Egyptian priest named Imhotep (Boris Karloff) is resurrected after his mummy is found in an expedition and a sacred scroll is read. Ten years later our bandaged baddie is no longer bandaged and is now under the disguise of a man called Ardath Bey. He tells two archaeologists, one of them being Frank (David Manners) the son of one of the men from that original expedition, that he has found the tomb of the princess Ankh-es-en-amon. They take her mummy to a museum. But, we soon learn that there is a woman named Helen Grosvenor (Zia Johann) who is a reincarnation of her. Being as she was the love of his life, he is determined to bring her back to life through her and kill all those who stand in his way, using his supernatural powers. He is particularly pissed off with Frank, who has fallen in love with the lovely lady.
Back, when I first saw it, I was really bored by the movie. On this second viewing, I was much more entertained by it. This by no means says that it is the most exciting movie. The pacing is decidedly slow and despite his powers, I don't think he ever comes off as truly scary. Especially when you consider the less than exciting but still kinda cool looking thing that happens to him at the end. The fact is also that not a lot actually happens in the movie, and the climax is decidedly abrupt and somewhat underwhelming. That all being said, though, I would give this movie a solid 3 out of 4 stars, and I would go as far as saying that it is a better movie than Dracula, though not historically more important than it.
The supporting cast is good for what they do. That said, our romantic male lead, Frank, is really kinda useless, and his relationship with Helen is sort of forced and unbelievable. But, this is the 30s so romance is not necessarily written in the manner it would be today. Nor are female characters as Helen is a very weak female character, but at least when she is full princess mode is given a little more to do then some of her other Universal female counterparts. She also looks pretty good in the princess out fit.
But, let's not fucking bullshit anyone here, this is Karloff's game all the way. He manages to add as much menace as he can to the character. Most imposing is the way he looks at the camera using his powers to get what he wants. Given the chance to speak also adds depth to his monster, as well as sympathy. We kinda feel bad for the dude, even if he does have a tendency to cause heart-attacks with his mystical powers. The flashback to ancient Egypt is really cool looking, and I have always liked the beginning when the still bandaged mummy comes back to life. The there is the memorable line delivered by Helen early in the movie of "Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?" when talking to Frank. This is not only my favorite quote in this movie, but one of my favorite quotes in all of golden aged horror. It was sampled by metal band White Zombie, by the way, many years later.
Jack Peirce's makeup is excellent! I have always loved the way that the mummy looks at the beginning of the film. It is truly iconic. But, and here is another thing I didn't like when I first saw it, he spends too little time in that look and more as the lesser made-up look. Which, I came to far more accept this time around, as it does makes sense for the plot. But, still, the kid in me wants more mummified mummy!
The movie was another huge hit for the studio, which gave us a semi-remake in The Mummy's Hand, which itself spawned three sequels, and a spoof with Abbot and Costello. I saw all of these, minus the spoof, but I remember very little if anything of them. The superior take on the subject would come by way of Hammer studios and their awesome The Mummy. Universal, themselves, remade the movie into a bloated and stupid action/ horror flick in 1999, which spawned two better but still not very good sequels, and a spin-off franchise of it's own, The Scorpion King. Honestly, the only good thing I can say about those mummy flicks is they tended to have a sexy female cast but not very much else! Shame they never took it in the true horror route that they should have.
My revisit came via the beautiful blu-ray that Universal put out. It looks stunning and the sound is quite good. I ain't checked-out the extra-features yet but plan to soon. And, so I think that you may need to take a another look at this old, rotted baddie, even more so now with some good Halloween sales out there (for those of you who don't own it yet), and just cause Universal movies kick ass, in particular when watching them during this time of year.