Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Mummy Mummy Mummy I've Got Love in My Tummy

The Mummy (1932): adapted by John Balderston from a story by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer; directed by Karl Freund; starring Boris Karloff (Imhotep) and Zita Johann (Helen Grosvenor): Boris Karloff only appears in full Mummy garb for a few seconds in this Universal horror offering. For much of the film, he's slow-moving but recognizably human, having apparently doffed his bandages during the eleven years that pass between the movie's prologue and main story.

Karloff is Karloff, underplaying so as to instill menace, talking in a sepulchral whisper. Karl Freund's first American film as a director, The Mummy looks terrific in its play with shadows and light. The first Universal Frankenstein movie had made Boris Karloff a big enough star by the time The Mummy was released that the legend 'Karloff!' dominated the posters. And Karloff and the set design are really the stars here -- Karloff's co-stars are a terribly forgettable lot. I've forgotten them already. 

Of course, Karloff only appears in full mummy regalia for a couple minutes. For the rest of it, he's sinister but human-looking as the resurrected Egyptian priest Imhotep, mummified alive for the crime of loving the Pharaoh's daughter. But you can't keep a good monster down. 

Inspired by stories of the Curse of King Tut's Tomb, The Mummy sends Karloff on a tour of vengeance and love, as he seeks the reincarnation of his lost love. Yes, reincarnation. Not something the Ancient Egyptians were known for believing in, but what the Hell. Who can tell Hinduism from Egyptian mythology?

Karloff is great as Imhotep. In one of his first full speaking roles as a horror star, Karloff seems to intuitively understand something that a lot of early sound actors did not: Less is More on the big screen. He has that great Grinch Karloff voice, and he knows how to use it -- for the most part, insinuatingly, softly. His movements are slow and patient, befitting a 3700-year-old man-mummy. Every time I see Karloff in a movie, major or slight, I'm again impressed by what a natural-seeming, finely tuned screen actor he was. I can pretty much happily watch him in anything. Recommended.


The Mummy (1999): developed by Stephen Sommers, Lloyd Fonvielle, and Kevin Jarre from the 1932 screenplay by John L. Balderston, Nina Wilcox Putnam, and Richard Schayer; directed by Stephen Sommers; starring Brendan Fraser (Rick O'Connell), Rachel Weisz (Evelyn Carnahan), John Hannah (Jonathan Carnahan), Arnold Vosloo (Imhotep/The Mummy), and Oded Fehr (Ardeth Bay): Created for people who found Raiders of the Lost Ark to be too realistic, The Mummy is a perfectly disposable popcorn movie that vanishes almost entirely from the memory after you've watched it. The main cast (Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and John Hannah) pretty much defines affability.

Arnold Vosloo as the titular character almost seems to have wandered in from a different, better movie. He gives Imhotep, a role that originated back in 1932 with Boris Karloff, some heft and pathos. That he's stuck speaking ancient Egyptian (well, whatever the filmmakers decided that was) for pretty much the whole movie seems like a handicap the film-makers needed to fix. The central visual effects image -- the face in the engulfing sandstorm -- was striking enough to be recycled in The Mummy Returns and in the recent Tom Cruise version of The Mummy (2017). Lightly recommended, especially for kiddies.


The Mummy Returns (2001): developed by Stephen Sommers from the 1932 screenplay by John L. Balderston, Nina Wilcox Putnam, and Richard Schayer; directed by Stephen Sommers; starring Brendan Fraser (Rick O'Connell), Rachel Weisz (Evelyn Carnahan), John Hannah (Jonathan Carnahan), Arnold Vosloo (Imhotep/The Mummy), and Oded Fehr (Ardeth Bay): Not so much scripted as assembled from its predecessor and other sources. Those sources include the then-new computer game Diablo 2. I kid you not. 

Stephen Sommers just keeps shoveling as a director and writer, riffing on The Lost World in one scene, Raiders of the Lost Ark in another. He even throws in some gratuitous reincarnation stuff for, um, the sake of character motivation? There's also toilet humour, a precociously annoying boy, a steam-punky home-made dirigible, endless ranks of CGI soldiers, and a horribly rendered CGI Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the Scorpion King, soon to be spun off into his own movie. Enjoyable, just. Lightly recommended.

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