Produced: Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Directed: Karl Freund
Script: John L. Balderston
Plot: Nina Wilcox Putnam, Richard Schayer
Special Effects: John P. Fulton
The Mummy / Ardath Bey: Boris Karloff and
150 yards of gauze
Helen Grosvenor: Zita Johann
Frank Whemple: David Manners
Dr. Muller: Edward Van Sloan
Sir Joseph Whemple: Arthur Byron
Ralph Norton: Bramwell Fletcher.
Originally, the story (by Nina Wilcox Putnam; screenplay by Richard
Schayer) was to have involved Boris Karloff playing Cagliostro,
an Egyptian magician whose immortality comes from his self-injections
of nitrates and who kills all women who remind him of one who
betrayed him, using even radio and television rays. The film would
have been called Cagliostro, or The King of the Dead,
or Im-Ho-Tep but to align the story better with the recent
Tutankhamen discovery, the following story was crafted, with the
name of Tut's queen Ankh-es-en-amon serving as that of Im-Ho-Tep's
Jack Pierce used photos of the remains of Prince
Seti I of Egypt from the Cairo museum to transform Boris Karloff
into the 3700-year-old, which required eight hours of stretching
the skin and applying cotton strips dipped in collodion, creating
a wrinkling effect after the skin was relaxed. Pierce brushed
Fuller's earth over the results to give the dry look.
"This is the Scroll of Thoth. Herein are set down the magic
words by which Isis raised Osiris from the dead. 'Oh! Amon-Ra--Oh!
God of Gods--Death is but the doorway to new life--We live today--We
shall live again--In many forms shall we return--Oh Mighty One.'"
A 1921 field expedition of the British Museum
has discovered ancient artifacts and a mummy of Im-Ho-Tep: "It
looks like he died in some sensationally unpleasant manner"
-- "the contorted muscles indicate that he struggled in the
bandages." The viscera were not removed, and we suspect
that we're looking at punishment for sacrilege. An inscription
on a box reads, "Death, eternal punishment, for anyone who
opens this casket. In the name of Amon-Ra, king of the gods."
Dr. Muller insightfully advises Sir Joseph Whemple to rebury
the box, but impetuous Ralph Norton opens it, unrolls a scroll,
and murmurs the text as he translates. The mummy grows animate,
grabs the scroll, and leaves. Norton screams and loses his mind,
In 1932, Sir Joseph's son Frank is about to
abandon another expedition. We hear about the consequences of
the 1921 incident: Norton "died laughing, in a straitjacket."
The weird Egyptian, Ardath Bey, arrives promising them the "most
sensational find since that of Tutankhamen. . . . I will show
you where to dig" for the tomb of the Princess Ankh-es-en-amon.
The archaeological findings are brought to the Cairo Museum,
where the question of Cairo keeping English findings arises (!)
and Ardath Bey acts weird: "I dislike to be touched -- an
Dr. Muller's local party includes the half-Egyptian
daughter of the English governor of the Sudan, Helen Grosvenor,
who muses about "dreadful modern Cairo." As Ardath
Bey reads from a scroll, Helen is long-distance entranced and
leaves the party. She rides to the Museum, bangs on the door,
and faints into the arms of FrankWhemple. Later, on the Whemples'
couch, she utters words in ancient Egyptian "not heard on
this earth for 2000 years." When awake, she talks to Frank,
asking about his archaeological violations, "How could you
do that?" "Had to! Science, you know!" Frank
confesses his attraction for the Princess when they opened her
tomb. "Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall
in love with?"
A museum guard discovers Bey with the scroll
and is killed. The scroll is taken to the Whemples, and Bey comes
seeking it but is also taken with Helen. She seems in a trance
again and insists that she has "never felt so alive."
Bey wants the scroll; Muller shows him a photo of the mummy Im-Ho-Tep;
Bey starts to cast a spell on Sir Joseph; and when Muller threatens
to destroy the scroll, Bey leaves.
He kneels by a pool in his home, performs mystic
rites whereby he chokes Sir Joseph to death long-distance, and
has a Nubian servant retrieve the scroll. He draws Helen to his
home where a servant takes her dog. He "shall awaken memories
of love and crime and death" by showing her visions in his
In 18th-Dynasty Egypt, c. 1730 bce, the Princess
Ankh-es-en-amon, a priestess of the temple of Karnak, died. "I
knelt by the bed of death." The High Priest Im-Ho-Tep pinched
the Scroll of Thoth from the compartment in the statue of Osiris
in order to revive her: "I dared the god's anger and stole
it." He attempted to perform the rites over her corpse,
but "They broke in upon me, and found me doing an unholy
thing." "Thy father condemned me to the nameless death":
live mummification and burial in an unmarked grave. The scroll
was buried with him so that there would be no more "disgraces."
The slave gravediggers were killed and the soldiers who killed
them were in turn also killed. "My love has lasted longer
than the temples of our gods. No man ever suffered as I did for
you." Now reincarnated in Helen, she must undergo the "great
night of terror and triumph until you are ready to face moments
of horror for an eternity of love." [Footage shot of Helen's
other incarnations (an early Christian, a Viking woman, a French
noblewoman) were left out of the film.]
Helen's dog has died, something to do with
Bey's white cat and Bast "the cat-goddess of evil,"
by the time she has returned home to a fretting Frank. She is
treated as ill and the men vow to destroy Ardath Bey / Im-Ho-Tep.
Bey transmits a curse to Frank, but an Isis charm saves the young
Helen goes to Bey again and appears in Egyptian
royal garb, speaking as if she were the Princess. He explains
that he could just raise the remains of the Ankh-es-en-amon, "but
it would be a mere thing that moved at my will without a soul."
So he must kill and embalm her to get rid of the Helen shell,
and then resuscitate her in immortality. She freaks: It is not
lawful for me . . . to touch an unclean thing!" in the embalming
room. "I'm young! . . . I loved you once but now you belong
with the dead. I am Ankh-es-en-amon, but I- I'm somebody else
too. I want to live! . . . You shall not plunge my body into
that!" Bey bays, "For thy sake I was buried alive.
. . . Let the deed be done." Princess Helen appeals to
a statue of Isis. Frank and Muller arrive but are held at bay
by Bey. When he is about to stab her, the statue raises its hand
and zaps Bey, who dries and disintegrates. Helen has fainted
again and Frank must "call her" back as the Scroll of
The mummy as mummy, the bandaged monster, appears only in the
opening scene; the "monstrosity" in this film is actually
the horror of static obsession. We have light but ample evocations
of necrophilia, which Helen picks up on in Frank's moronic comments
about unsealing tombs and which seem repressed just below the
surface of Im-Ho-Tep's line about the "disgrace": "They
broke in upon me, and found me doing an unholy thing."
The weirdness of what the Beatles would call
"filthy eastern ways" doesn't particularly work well
and seems more arbitrary than mystical -- that is, the visionary
pool, the remote-control spells and oppressions, and the caninocide.
What does succeed in lending a modicum of the haunting quality
so desireable here are the disturbed musings of Helen: that she
feels ill-at-ease in "dreadful modern Cairo," irrationally
recoils at archaeology, and does vaguely remember her Ankh-es-en-amon
life. But she has "moved on," with several lives in
fact (although the final editing cut this aspect), whereas Im-Ho-Tep
has emotionally fossilized, which is the real death, for as Joseph
Campbell says in The Power of Myth, "holding on to
yourself and not letting yourself become food is the primary life-denying
negative act. You're stopping the flow! And a yielding to the
flow is the great mystery experience. . . . You, too, will be
given in time." At the root of this myth, then, is the
that denial of death is an even worse death.