I owe Brendan Fraser a big apology.
I like his movie, the 1999 remake of The Mummy, a lot. It's loads of fun. But I always thought it annoying that the mummy in that movie is an actual mummy for only two seconds before he gets a new body and sheds the wrappings. I was also irritated that all his actions are based on bringing back his girlfriend, dead for some thousands of years. Ugh, don't you know that the Mummy doesn't talk but just shambles around strangling people?
I had, obviously, never seen the original 1932 The Mummy, because to my shock, when Carol and I watched it, the Mummy quickly becomes a normalish looking guy without all the wrappings and spends the movie trying to resurrect his girlfriend.
So, my apologies, Brendan.
The Mummy is the third in the Universal Monsters series and the first not to be based on a pre-existing novel, but rather inspired by the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1925. The story is pretty straight-forward. British archaeologists in Egypt, acting like they own the place - which they did at the time - dig up a sarcophagus with a mummy inside. When one of them ignores the warnings in an ancient scroll and reads an incantation, the mummy comes alive, scares the guy so much he ends up in an asylum, and disappears for eleven years.
The movie jumps forward to 1932 and the next generation of archaeologists is on site, the previous incident having become just lore. At this point, I'm already thoroughly confused because what was a shambling, wrapped mummy doing for eleven years?!? Turns out, he unwrapped himself and has become established in Egypt. He is Imhotep and he looks like this.
Look at that makeup! It's utterly fantastic, especially for 1932.
Imhotep identifies himself as Ardath Bey to the archaeologists and tells them the location of another buried sarcophagus, which, unbeknownst to them, contains the mummy of his lover, the princess Ankh-es-en-amon, whom he intends to resurrect. They dig up this second mummy and the rest of the movie involves Imhotep trying to bring back his love, while the archaeologists try to stop him.
Also along for the ride is the female lead, Helen Grosvenor, the current incarnation of Ankh-es-en-amon. She's the half-Egyptian daughter of a British governor and the characters discuss her bi-racial heritage in wonderfully un-bigoted fashion. She's also a strong, smart character, a notch above Mina Harker from Dracula and Elizabeth from Frankenstein. I liked her a lot and wish she was in the movie more.
**SPOILER** Even more shocking for the time, she's the one who destroys the Mummy! Awesome!
Other items of note . . .
The opening theme for this movie is a movement from Swan Lake, the same used in Dracula the year before.
The movie is pre-Hays code and actually just a bit racy. Two characters meet and are making out just minutes later (yeah, it's kind of ridiculous). Also, check out the top on Zita Johann above.
Boris Karloff, who also played Frankenstein's monster, plays the Mummy and he's great in the role. Mesmerizing, focused on his goal, and even strangely charming, he brings an elegance and danger to the part.
The plot itself is very similar to Dracula in many regards, even to entire scenes having the same beats and purpose. The Mummy's powers are also very similar to Dracula's. Late in the movie, Imhotep tells the good guys that they cannot hurt him and they never even try. They don't shoot him, stab him or anything. I guess he's invulnerable like he says but they just take him at his word.
The body count is very low for a horror movie. I think he only kills two guys.
Here's the obligatory 1001plus review who made many of these same points, way before I did.
In short, The Mummy was great.