Joining Dracula, Frankenstein and The Invisible Man back in 1932 from Universal Studios was The Mummy and it would go on to be successful enough to garner itself a number of sequels much like the aforementioned films. Like them, it is an eerie endeavour you set yourself upon when you watch the film and most of that can be attributed to its star, Boris Karloff. Karloff plays Imhotep, an Egyptian priest who is revived centuries after his death by a couple of fool archaeologists who do not know any better. A number of years later, Imhotep returns, now known as Ardath Bey and he imparts some knowledge upon the son of the man who dug him up so that he in turn will unearth Imhotep’s deceased lover. As fate would have it, he soon encounters Helen Grosvenor, a woman who looks like his Princess and whom he believes is now reincarnated in Helen’s body. What follows is a dastardly plan from the man involving both life and death.
With The Mummy, Karloff puts in as memorable a performance as he did in Frankenstein. Where in Frankenstein he seemed like the large, hulking brute of a creature, here he is gaunt and almost skeletal, much resembling the mummy that he is supposed to be. He is physically imposing in a way that is completely opposite to what he was in Frankenstein and you can see the steel in his eyes at any given moment. Imhotep is not a man that you would want to encounter on the brightest of days even should you be in his good graces. The great thing about Karloff’s performance in this film is just how subtle it is, both in demeanor and movement and even when he speaks. When he talks, it is like a snake slithering into your mind and telling you what you want to hear, or at least accepting that you do. At times he is like a statue, only moving when needed and you can believe that the man has spent hundreds, if not thousands of years buried in a tomb. Of course, no matter what scene he is in, Karloff manages to steal it as your eyes are immediately drawn to him. Whether it is the unknown quantity that is a living mummy or simply the impending danger that he represents, he is what you focus upon no matter what else is going on.
The film does star other people including David Manners, Arthur Byron, Bramwell Fletcher and Edward Van Sloan and they all play important parts for without them, Imhotep would never have been reincarnated in the first place. But like all movies, you need a supporting cast and those people are just that. The one person of note other than Karloff is Zita Johann though as she is not only our damsel in distress, but also our heroine as well, taking on a duel role in more ways than one. She plays both the modern-day Helen and the time-lost Princess as well, but where she seems the helpless and unknowing character at times, she is also a strong and courageous woman who defeats him.
Overall, the film is sort of par for the course like Universal’s other success stories of the day including Frankenstein, Dracula and so on. That is not a bad thing either, as they found a formula that worked and they applied it to other horror films like this one to make them just as successful. Like those other movies, there is a lot of shadow and darkness in play as well as using silence without the use of a score to drive home that eerie feeling you get when watching this movie. While Karloff is a huge part of the film, director Karl Freund cannot be forgotten as he helps to bring it to life, not to mention a captivating story by John L. Balderston. So good was this movie that it would produce four sequels though none of them would actually follow this film’s storyline with the first one not even appearing until nearly eight years later. Even later still, Universal would reboot the series with Brendan Frasier, dropping the horror aspect somewhat and upping the action and comedy to great success and multiple sequels of its own. Still, only the first one can claim to have Karloff as a star and no other mummy film could come close to being as good.