Considering how early it came in the horror cycle, it is surprising how restrained and unsensational The Mummy is. On the other hand it is that very restraint that helps to make it a classic. If one accepts The Bride of Frankenstein for its theatre and The Body Snatcher for its literacy, then one must regard The Mummy as the closest that Hollywood ever came to creating a poem out of horror. -- William K. Everson, Classics of the Horror Film
When Helen arrives at the closed museum, both Frank and his father, Sir Joseph, are about to drive off.They watch her as she tries to open the front door, and Frank is soon within arm's reach when she swoons. He sweeps her up in his arms and they take her to their apartment, where Dr. Muller arrives moments later. As Sir Joseph and Dr. Muller discuss the matter, Ardath Bey, still at the museum intoning his spell, is interrupted by a guard and extinguishes the small oil lamp he used to read the scroll. A circle of light from the guard's flashlight searches the room and finds Bey crouching in a corner. The guard turns on the lights and starts yelling at Bey, who, with complete calm, walks away. Chasing after him, both the guard and Bey go off screen. The guard's voice drops to a stifled gurgle as he's murdered, although no sign of harm can be found on his body later. In the tussle, Bey drops the scroll. Leaving Helen and Frank at the apartment, Sir Joseph and Dr. Muller go to the museum after they receive a phone call alerting them to the murder, and discover that the scroll, lost then years ago, is now in their hands. They return to the apartment with it, and, along with Frank, retreat to Sir Joseph's study to discuss what it all means.
Ardath Bey, wanting the scroll back, visits Sir Joseph, leading to a confrontation between Bey and Dr. Muller. Balderston rewrites his drawing room scene in Dracula, where Van Helsing (also played by Van Sloan) confronts the undead count, and substitutes the mirror box with a photograph of Im-Ho-Tep's mummy. The action is similar; Dr. Muller shows the photo to Bey, who becomes annoyed and defiant as his true identity is revealed, and both engage in a battle of wills.
Another dynamic Balderston takes from his Dracula screenplay involves the use of a religious symbol--a crucifix--to ward off Dracula's occult power. Given the ancient Egyptian religion propelling the story, Balderston replaces the crucifix with an image of the goddess Isis holding an ankh. Dr. Muller gives the talisman to Frank for his protection, but in his romantic ardor Frank misuses it and barely escapes being throttled from a distance by Bey, who reaches out with mystical power through a pool of water from which he can see across time and space. A similar pool with magical properties is used by Ayesha in Balderston's treatment for She.
At some point after he started work on Cagliostro, Balderston received a second assignment from Universal--to adapt She. ...Balderston worked on both projects simultaneously and submitted his first, 33-page treatment of She on July 17, just four days after completing the second version of his Mummy script. -- Paul M. Jensen, The Mummy, in Midnight Marquee Actors Series: Boris Karloff (edited by Gary J. and Susan Svehla)
In She, Ayesha (She Who Must Be Obeyed) also longs for a lost love. Unlike Im-Ho-Tep, Ayesha remains alive for thousands of years by bathing in her Flame of Eternal Life, waiting for her lover to reincarnate. Both Ayesha and Ardath Bey use the surface of water to show past events to their reincarnated lovers. Numerous--and arguably action-stopping--past-life scenes involving Helen Grosvenor's reincarnations were eventually deleted from The Mummy, but Bey "awakens memories of love... and crime... and death" to reveal how she died as Princess Anck-es-en-Amon, his subsequent sacrilege stealing the Scroll of Thoth to resurrect her, and his mummification while still alive. Like a silent film, the events are shown accompanied by James Dietrich's music, which accentuates Im-Ho-Tep's tragedy, giving emotional weight to his otherwise sinister appearance.
Finally overpowering Helen's resistance, Bey begins a ritual to bring his Princess back. Unfortunately for Helen, it involves her death and a bath in natron. Understandably reluctant to become mummified herself--"I loved you once, but now you belong with the dead. I am Anck-es-en-Amon, but I... I'm somebody else, too. I want to live, even in this strange new world"-- Helen calls on Isis to save her.
The Mummy remains a highly watchable horror film that showcases the unique talents of Boris Karloff and Jack Pierce. With Balderston's screenplay, Freund's lingering camera, and Willy Pogany's ancient Egyptian atmosphere, this supernatural romance involving ancient Egyptian curses and gods is still mesmerizing.
Featurettes previously seen in the legacy editions are included in this 2-disc set. They include film historian Paul M. Jensen's highly informative but monotonous commentary; a more lively--if less informative--commentary track featuring fans Bob Burns, Scott Essman, Brent Armstrong, Steve Haberman, and a seemingly nonplussed Rick Baker; Mummy Dearest: A Horror TraditionUnearthed hosted by Rudy Behlmer; Unravelling the Mystery of the Mummy; trailers, stills, poster galleries, and the engrossing documentary Universal Horrors. Newly added is He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce, a twenty-five minute documentary on the makeup artist who brought Universal's unforgettable monsters to vibrant life. While not as in-depth as I would have liked, it nonetheless gives recognition to the man who made the monsters immortal.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.