By 1932, Boris Karloff had already become famous as Frankenstein’s monster (Frankenstein), the crazy Morgan in The Old Dark House, and Dr. Fu Manchu (The Mask of Fu Manchu). So the time was right for him to add a mummy to his repertoire. In fact, his star had risen so much in that one year, he was billed only as “Karloff” in movie posters for The Mummy. He would lead the cast in the role of Imhotep, the Egyptian priest who was buried alive for attempting to resurrect his beloved Princess Ankh-es-en amon. Once his mummified remains are discovered and accidently revived by reading an ancient scroll, the mummy regains human form as Ardath Bey. Bey is in search of his reincarnated princess, who just happens to be in the form of Helen (played by Zita Johann). Bey is eventually thwarted and turned to dust by a ray from the statue of Isis. Amongst the cast is now recognizable Edward Van Sloan as Dr. Muller. Van Sloan is essentially playing a role very similar to that of Van Helsing, whom he played in the previous year’s Dracula. Johann only appeared in 8 movies, the last of which was in 1986, 52 years after her previous film.
Jack Pierce’s makeup on Karloff was very extensive and time-consuming. Karloff actually only appears as a mummy in the opening sequence but is very convincing. The rest of the film, he is the aged Ardath Bey and the removal of the makeup actually left his face burned, leaving a permanent scar. The flashback sequences were actually filmed to resemble a silent movie, adding an aged look to them. There was also extensive flashback sequences filmed that would have stressed the reincarnated princess through the ages. They were eventually cut and only stills from the sequences remain. This particularly upset Johann, who was a believer in reincarnation.
Although there were five films in Universal’s mummy series, the last four were actually separate from the original. In 1940, a new series began with The Mummy’s Hand, which starred Tom Tyler as the mummy Kharis, the character featured in all four remaining films. However, stock footage from The Mummy was used in flashback sequences. This mummy is brought to life through tana leaves in search of his beloved Princess Ananka. Lon Chaney Jr. assumed the role for The Mummy’s Tomb in 1942, The Mummy’s Ghost and The Mummy’s Curse, both in 1944. Because of the extensive makeup, Chaney hated the role of Kharis, which admittedly left him very little to do other than shamble around. Finally, Abbott and Costello met the mummy Klaris in a 1955 film that was probably the least enjoyable of the various movies in which they met the monsters. Klaris was played by stuntman Eddie Parker, who had previously doubled for Chaney. His makeup was rather unconvincing and appeared lazily slapped together, somewhat indicative of the Abbott and Costello series by this point.
The new Blu-ray is amazing with a much clearer soundtrack that is without the various hissing and scratches. Perhaps the best way to see how much improved the picture quality is on the Blu-rays are to pay attention to the footage used in the documentaries, which were on the original DVDs. Revisiting the mummy series was a lot of fun. The series did degenerate quickly but with latter films only an hour long, they are fun matinee flicks and recommended, while the 1932 original is essential viewing for any real monster movie fan.