Age Cannot Wither Him (more than it already has)

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THE MUMMY (1932) is historically unique in being the only Universal horror movie with a main title carved out of waffles.

It’s also a really beautiful movie, and Universal’s Blu-ray does it justice. Sadly my images here are from the DVD as I don’t have Blu-ray frame-grabbing skills or technology yet. A lot has been written about the film so I can’t swear my observations are original, but here, in the interests of promoting a spectacular new box set, are my ~

TEN PLUGS OF ANCIENT EGYPT

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1) David Manners’ character name here is absurdly apt: Frank Whemple. One just can’t imagine another actor embodying that name so perfectly.

2) I love how Karloff’s magic pool shows him flashbacks of Ancient Egypt without sound — because sync sound is a new development in Hollywood, so obviously they couldn’t have had it in Ancient Egypt.

3) They’ve shamelessly cloned the plot of DRACULA, but it gets even more interesting now that the threat isn’t just foreign, but non-white. The movie becomes a struggle for the soul of the half-English, half-Egyptian Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann). Obviously, her Aryan side has to win.

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4) Helps that Karloff is so thin — he actually has the perfect physique for this, whereas he needed padding out for FRANKENSTEIN.

5) That opening scene — “He went for a little walk” — is really a perfect horror short. It would stand alone without any trouble.

6) Karloff’s mummification scene gave me nightmares, or at any rate disturbed me deeply as a kid, watching the BBC2 Friday night horror double feature. Don’t know if I had actual nightmares, but I was too scared to sleep right away. I guess I saw DRACULA the first week but wasn’t allowed to stay up any later for FRANKENSTEIN. The second week must’ve been THE MUMMY and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, because I didn’t see the Whale films until a few years later. In week three, though, I saw SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, and found that far more exciting than the two more languid movies I’d thus far experienced.

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7) I love Karl Freund’s theatrical lighting changes — where did he get that idea? There’s the lighting change on Karloff’s eyes which shows his hypnotic power, and there’s the mood lighting around Boris’s psychic paddling pool.

8) Zita Johann (in her Vera West costumes) is indeed alluring. She was married to John Houseman but John Huston put her through his windscreen in a drunk driving incident, and did that lead to divorce? One can picture Huston trying to explain what she was doing in his car: “I put her face through the windscreen but that’s as far as it went, honest!” (She was OK.)

9) Edward Van Sloan doesn’t seem to be doing his strange quasi-Scottish accent here. Where did a Minnesotan with a Dutch name acquire that posh Kelvinside lilt?

10) Can’t wait to watch the Jack Pierce documentary, but Fiona would kill me if I ran it without her.

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Buy this thing ~

Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection [Blu-ray] [1931][Region Free]

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21 Responses to “Age Cannot Wither Him (more than it already has)”

  1. In his brief but potent Screening Hitory Gore Vidal artfully recalls how The Mummy scared tbe bejesus out of him as a kid, and remains potent to this very day.

  2. Yes! And he worked with Bramwell Fletcher in TV and asked him to do his crazy laugh again. “I have quite forgotten it,” sniffed BF. But Vidal hadn’t, and mimicked it as demonstration.

  3. I saw this at an outdoor screening in Bryant Park in New York years ago, and people forgot their picnics and conversations and were transfixed — it was amazing to see the shock moments working on an audience sitting outside in the middle of a city and yet apparently entirely unaware of that city.

  4. Nice.

    Certainly the most hypnotic of the classic Universals, and with more of a mystery/detective vibe than any of them. I live Mad Love, and wish Freund had done more in this mode.

  5. Eugene was an excellent mimic. Once when Sullivan’s Travels came up in a conversation we were having he did Robert Grieg’s speech about the poor not being interested in seeing a film about themselves vebatim with every inflection perfectly in place.

  6. I can almost do that myself — one of the best speeches ever handed to a bit player.

  7. Terrific movie, but you have to deduct half a star for the absence of Maya Deren.

  8. That’s true of all too many movies.

  9. There is a visual poetry in THE MUMMY that has always stuck with me. And the “flashbacks” of the burial, the killing of the slaves, all potent stuff.

  10. The first thing I think of, when I think of the Freund MUMMY, is of Zita Johann in her clinging gown staring off the balcony of the nightclub while the band can be heard playing a 3/4 version of the Victor Young song “Beautiful Love,” complete with xylophone. *Quel* romanticism! The song has lived on, performed by people like Bill Evans and Shirley Horn, but no one performs it as a waltz anymore

  11. This film has such a trance-like, absorbing effect when watching, that it’s like a rarefied form of meditation. The sequence with the Pool of images may be the closest thing to self-induced hypnosis in cinema; I’m drawn in every time, no matter how many times I’ve watched it. Oddly, the movie’s making wasn’t tranquil, at least for. Zita Johann, who recalled that her treatment by Karl Freund was brutal (she referred to him as the “monster”). Still, her deep, clotted-cream voice and her druggy inflections contribute beautifully to the movie’s entrancing effect.

  12. La Faustin Says:

    Speaking of Zita Johann, has anyone seen The Sin of Nora Moran (google the poster!)?

  13. The Sin of Nora Moran, doesn’t quite live up to its spicy poster — I was expecting more pre-code seduction of the innocent and a lot less Clyde Beatty lion-taming.

    Yeah, Freund seems to have picked up a bit of Fritz Lang style brutality and applied it to poor Zita, since he couldn’t bully the newly important Karloff. How could anybody be mean to Zita?

  14. Bramwell Fletcher, Dwight Frye, Peter Lorre etc. could all show any of the screen Jokers how to deliver maniacal laughter, “Now, *this* is how you laugh like a crazy person!”, as could Herbert Lom in The Pink Panther Strikes Again and the endearing pyromaniac lunatic in The Old Dark House. Truly a lost art.
    The “he went out for a little walk” sequence is so great, in later years the Mummy would have to rip the fellows guts out and strangle him with his own entrails (which stings) to get a scare. Here, all you get is a bit of bandage getting dragged out of shot and a man understandably going fabulously bughouse. Perfect hysteria.
    Interesting to compare the elegance of the Friend and freunds, I mean Freund and friends Mummy with Hammer’s sort-of remake; instead of the genius Pierce-designed Mr Karloff Lizzie Birdsworth off-of-Prisoner:Cell Block H/WH Auden lookalike we get Christopher Lee as something closer to the later lumbering Lon Chaney/Tom Something (Thumb? Tryon? Tykwer? -mmy Tune?) incarnation in a bold colourful world, yet he’s still powered by a kind of perverse love (though none of them can have any uh fluids). All marvellous.
    Mr Pratt/Karloff was a fantastic screen presence, and seemed a nice man too. Perhaps it was his charming lisp.

  15. Tom Tyler! Who’s really good as a baddie in Stagecoach, a commanding screen presence in the right hands (ie John Ford’s). But not in an immobile mask and bandages with his eyes painted out. The Hammer version is very much like the Universal sequels — as are all the other Hammer Mummy films, until you get to the rather delightful Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb.

  16. Love the story about Michael Carreras channeling the spirit of Seth Holt — it’s the only logical explanation, since the film doesn’t feel uneven at all, and the Carreras scenes live up to the rest of it.

  17. Yes, one of the great Late Hammers. O, Valerie Leon. Memorable ending. I wonder *would* it have been appreciably different if Holt had been able to see it through to the end (in body that is!)? Impossible to say, I suppose.
    Tom *Tyler*. Thank you. At least he got to make his mark at least once.
    As an irrelevant Hammer-related aside, watching two very different dvds brought home the ubiquity of certain character actors of yore, even outside their most familiar surrounds. In this case, the actor was the marvellous Michael Ripper who turned up unexpectedly in the original BBC Quatermass and the Pit (whose Hammer version would, of course, star Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb’s Andrew Keir. Curious!) and erm the Two Ronnies’ Piggy Malone and Charley Farley serial “Stop! You’re Killing Me” (bonus Hammer connection – Kate O’Mara. Here falling out of her dress while being quite funny). I don’t think British film and television really has Rippers any more, tho’ the US *does* with its Brad Dourifs, Leland Orsers, and Willie Garsons, etc.

  18. Oh, no. I just read about Tom Tyler’s career and his ultimate fate. How horrible, poor man.

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