Thursday, October 02, 2014

The Mummy (1932)

Who's In It: Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, The Black CatHow the Grinch Stole Christmas), Zita Johann (Tiger Shark, The Sin of Nora Moran), David Manners (Dracula, The Black Cat), Edward Van Sloan (Frankenstein, Dracula), and Arthur Byron (The Prisoner of Shark Island).

What It's About: An ancient, undead being (Karloff) preys on a young woman (Johann) as the men in her life (Manners, Van Sloan, and Byron) try to protect her.

How It Is: The Mummy is essentially a remake of Dracula, from the plot description above to Edward Van Sloan and David Manner's basically playing Van Helsing and Harker all over again. Also, The Mummy's director Karl Freund was officially the cinematographer of Dracula, but making that film was such a chaotic mess that Tod Browning unofficially let (made?) Freund direct most of it. Add in an Egyptian protective charm that substitutes nicely for Dracula's crucifixes and the similarities are too many to ignore.

But if it's a remake, it's better than the movie it's imitating. The plots of both hinge on their leading ladies and Zita Johann's Helen is way more compelling than Helen Chandler's Mina. That's partly because Johann is a better actress (Chandler's melodramatic performance nearly ruins Dracula for me), but her character also has stronger ties to the villain and takes a more active role in fighting him. In fact, she ultimately saves herself from Karloff's Imhotep and the men just rush in afterwards to help clean up.

The pacing of The Mummy is brisker than Dracula, so it's a more exciting film. It also has more genuine chills. Imhotep is much creepier than Dracula, though he sacrifices Dracula's charisma to get there. That's one place where Dracula beats The Mummy. Imhotep is scarier, but I like Dracula more. I also prefer the gothic aesthetic of Dracula to The Mummy's Egyptian one, but that's a minor advantage. From a storytelling standpoint, I'll take The Mummy every time.

Rating: 4 out of 5 resurrected princesses.

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