Notes: Universal.
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.

Pre-Commentary: 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 forbidden lover.

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.

Summary: "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, laughing insanely.

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 eastern prejudice."

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 pool.

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 unconscious ass.

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 Thoth burns.

Commentary: 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 demonstration that denial of death is an even worse death.

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