The Mummy (1932) Classic Movie Review 47

The Mummy (1932) Stamp

The Mummy (1932) Stamp

You seem to think this thing has all the devils of hell in it. Why not burn it and be done with it?

The Mummy (1932) is classic horror from Universal. This movie features Boris Karloff as the mummy and Edward Van Sloan as a professor of the occult.

The Mummy (1932) – Rough Script

I am very excited to get to The Mummy (1932). When I watched this for the show I found that Boris Karloff is still scary as Ardath Bey with his deadpan stare and wrinkled skin. So I will jump right in with Boris Karloff.

Boris Karloff the king of the movie monster played a dual role or three depending on how you count. In this movie he was the living Im-Ho-Tep, the dead Im-Ho-Tep AKA the mummy, and Ardath Bey the mummy in his seconding life. I covered Karloff pretty well in Episode 9 Son of Frankenstein (1939) so I won’t go into any more detail now.

Zita Johann played the love interest Helen Grosvenor. She was apparently a big deal in Hollywood but I didn’t see it from this role. She had a very expressive face that seemed to be a holdover from the silent film days.

Johann was born in 1904 in Austria-Hungary in what is now Romania. Her family moved to New York City when she was 7. In high school she began acting. When she later applied to the Theater Guild she immediately started getting leading roles. She obtained her first Broadway role in 1924.

In all she was only in 8 movies. The first of these was The Struggle (1931). This was the last film directed by D.W. Griffith. This film was followed by Tiger Shark (1932) and The Mummy (1932). Johann also worked on Broadway between movies.

Johann was active during the war years with soldier relief projects. She died in upstate New York in 1993 at the age of 89. [i]

David Manners played the role of Frank Whemple. Manners was from a well to do Canadian family. Manners was discovered by Director Frank Whale of Frankenstein fame. His first film was Journey’s End (1930). In all he made 39 films starring with the biggest stars of the time. Manners became bored with film and walked away. He occasionally did theater but mostly painting and writing. He died in 1988 in California.

Arthur Byron played the role of Sir Joseph Whemple. Byron was born in 1872 in New York. I’m seeing a trend. Byron began in films later in life. His first film was Fast Life (1932) and was followed the same year with The Mummy (1932). Of the 26 movies, he was in quite a few are very good. These films include The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932) The Mayor of Hell (1933) where he was cast as Judge Gilbert playing opposite James Cagney. His last film was The Prisoner of Zenda (1937). He died in 1943 in Hollywood.

Edward Van Sloan played Doctor Muller professor of occult knowledge. I use to laugh at Van Sloan when he was fighting the lord of the dead in Dracula (1931). The joke was could they find an older guy to fight creatures of the night. However, that was in my foolish youth long before I discovered that the coke-bottle glasses wearing quinquagenarian faced down all three of the four major monsters in his film roles. Van Sloan was Professor Van Helsing in Dracula (1931), Dr. Waldman in Frankenstein, but the monster won that time, and Doctor Muller in The Mummy (1932). He never faced off with the wolf man.

Van Sloan was born in Minnesota in 1910. By 1927 he was in the role of Van Helsing on Broadway with Bela Lugosi. When he was cast in the movie version, he and Dwight Frye became the only actors to be in both Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931).

In all Van Sloan had 88 credits. He was active in all genres. He played Professor Von Helsing in Dracula’s Daughter (1936). His last movie was in 1950 and he died in 1964 in California.

Another actor that was touched on in Episode 1 King Kong (1933) was Noble Johnson who played the native chief in Kong. In this film, he is known only as The Nubian.

Leonard Mudie played the role of Professor Pearson. Mudie was born in England in 1883. By 1908 he was doing stage work. By 1914, he was acting on Broadway. In 1921, he went to Hollywood where he made two silent films before returning to Broadway. With the advent of sound, Mudie returned to Hollywood. In all he had over 150 credits. He played the hanging judge with Errol Flynn in Captain Blood (1935) and the chief alien inquisitor in The Story of Mankind (1957), in which I believe Vincent Price played the Devil. However, most of Mudie’s roles were smaller. Before the end of his career, Mudie got into television and even did a Star Trek episode. His last films were released in 1965 and he died that same year at the age of 82.

Bramwell Fletcher had the small role of Ralph Norton. During this brief time, he was able to show everything you should not do as an archeological assistant. Fletcher was born in England in 1904. Fletcher was in Svengali (1931) with John Barrymore. He later married Barrymore’s daughter Diana. His other movies include The Mummy (1932), The Monkey’s Paw (1933), The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), and Random Harvest (1942). Fletcher was married four times. His last wife was Helen Chandler, the woman who played Mina Harker in Dracula (1931) and later drank herself to death. Fletcher died in 1988.

Henry Victor was credited as the Saxon Warrior but all his scenes were cut before release.

Universal Studio Head Carl Laemmle, Jr. got the idea for The Mummy (1932) because of all the publicity created when Howard Carter opened the tomb of Tutankhamen better known as King Tut in 1922. Immediately following the excavation there were stories of a curse associated with the act. I will speak about this in just a bit.

Unlike Dracula and Frankenstein, there wasn’t a novel on which to base The Mummy. There was an earlier version of The Mummy (1911) which had reanimated mummies. The original treatment was titled Cagliostro and based on a man said to be 3500 years old through the use of nitrate injections and kills women that look like his betraying lover. The story was approved and passed to writer John Balderston who changed the setting from San Francisco to Egypt and made it mummies. To quote Frank Miller “…it was Universal and writer John Balderston who created the idea of a reanimated mummy trying to bring back the woman of his dreams.”

Balderston also did some clever things with names. He named the mummy Im-Ho-Tep which means “he who comes in Peace” and was the name of an Egyptian De Vinci type from the 27th century BC. His reanimated name was Ardath Bey, which is an anagram for “death by Ra.”

Karloff was put through the paces in Frankenstein (1931) by make-up artist Jack Pierce with his green skin and 8-pound shoes. However, this was easy compared to what he had to go through for this film. It took 8 hours to apply the full mummy effect. The process that Jack Pierce applied was”…layers of Fuller’s Earth, beauty clay (the same clay used to remove wrinkles on women), cotton soaked in collodion and 150 feet of rooted linen bandages to his body.” When Karloff was Ardath Bey he only had to sit for a few hours each day while cotton strips were applied to his hands and face to make the wrinkled effect. [ii]

So back to the curse. As an archeologist, I am pretty familiar with Kings Tut’s curse. But what I found out is that this is part of a larger group called the curse of the pharaohs. The curse is said to affect anyone that disturbs a mummy but you get extra cursed for disturbing a pharaoh. As you may or may not know the ancient Egyptians were very fond of mummification and often did it on cats, monkeys, baboons, or whatever else they could get their hands on. I would pay to see the Curse of the Baboon Mummy. I think I’ll start on the script tonight.

In reality, there were very few hieroglyphic inscriptions that were curse although they did exist. However, most of the curses are located in the 19th century or later literature as a mummy curse in Louisa May Alcott’s 1869 story “Lost in a Pyramid, or The Mummy’s Curse.”

When Carter opened the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922 he sent a messenger to his house. When the man arrived he found that a cobra had eaten his canary. Of course, the cobra is the symbol of Egyptian royalty and is the image is worn on the pharaoh’s crown. This started the whole curse idea and when Lord Carnarvon died of blood poisoning six weeks after the opening it was on. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle added flame to the firing saying it was a curse.

Carter was not concerned even keeping a severed mummy hand in his office. Carter died in 1939 at the age of 64 and the last person to die from the curse passed in 1961, 39 years after the event. Worst curse ever.


The movie begins by showing The Scroll of Thoth. Thoth is the Egyptian god of knowledge and the scroll shows the spell that Isis used to raise Osiris from the dead. It switches to night in an archeological field laboratory. The year is 1921 and Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) is trying to teach his idiot assistant Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) how to do some archeology the right way. You can’t be jumping around to the goodies. You’ve got to catalog in order. Whemple gives this great quote that sums up the archeological field. Whemple’s friend Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan) professor of occult studies is there as well. Muller examines the mummy and states that mummy was buried alive and the hieroglyphics that would help him reach the other world where scratched off. He also translates the name of the mummy as Imhotep, chief priest.

The idiot is hopping from foot to foot so Whemple agrees to open the box that accompanied the mummy’s sarcophagus. Inside of the wooden box is a golden box that had an unbroken seal. They pause for a second and rip the seal off. No photographs! There is a nasty curse on the lid for anyone that disturbs the mummy. Inside is Scroll of Thoth. Muller insists that the mummy be reburied and the two older men walk out into the night to discuss the problem leaving the idiot inside alone. So idiot gets the scroll and reads the spell aloud. The Mummy (Boris Karloff) slowly begins to move and starts heading for the door. Idiot see him and goes insane laughing until he finally dies. The mummy slips past the two men outside carrying the Scroll of Thoth.

The movie jumps forward to 1931. Shouldn’t Indiana Jones be running around there about this time? With the idiot dead and the mummy missing Sir Joseph Whemple refuses to return to Egypt. Whemple’s son Frank (David Manners) and Prof. Pearson (Leonard Mudie) are now excavation the site. Their expedition is a bust until a strange man by the name of Ardath Bey (Boris Karloff) arrives and tells them the location of the burial of female Ankh-es-en-amon’s tomb is located.

I am somewhat interested and they don’t explain why it took ten years. In later Mummy movies he had to build up his power. Was something like that going on? Maybe it took him that long to find her burial. Anyway they did up the burial tomb and recover the sarcophagus of Ankh-es-en-amon. The archeologists turn everything over to the Cairo Museum in what at the time was a very enlightened movie.

By in Cairo, Ardath Bey is hanging around the museum, burning incense, and staying overnight in the locked building. Whemple has returned from England to work on the finds.

Dr. Muller is at a dance with Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann). She is half English and half Egyptian. When Frank sees her he falls fast for her good looks. Ardath Bey is chanting the name Ankh-es-en-amon by the mummy and Helen falls into a trance and travels to the museum. Whemple and his son Frank find her beating on the door of the museum. When she faints they take her back to the Whemple home where she keeps saying Imhotep.

That night a guard at the museum is killed by Ardath Bey. Dr. Muller tracks her down. Frank make flirty time with Helen. The guard managed to take the scroll from Ardath Bey. Muller convinces Whemple to burn the scroll. Ardath Bey takes mind control over The Nubian servant (Noble Johnson). When Ardath goes into the house and sees Helen. Ardath thinks she looks like the long dead princess. Frank takes Helen back to her hotel. Whemple and Muller question Ardath. Ardath comes clean on being a mummy.

Ardath Bey goes to his spa which gives him a television view of Whemple. Ardath kills him with magic before he can burn the scroll. The Nubian retrieves the scroll and takes it to Bey. Muller finds out the scroll has not been destroyed.

Muller and Frank head to Helen’s house but Ardath Bey summons her and her dog. The Nubian is at Ardath’s house. He takes Helen’s dog and kills it. Ardath uses his spa television to show Helen that he was buried alive for trying to raise her from the dead thousands of years before as princess Ankh-es-en-amon.

After the little history lesson, Helen realizes that he wants to kill her, mummify her, and bring her back to life where she will be his bride.

Helen returns to her room without the dog and Frank gives her the third degree. She remembers that a white cat, the goddesses Bast, had killed the dog. She realizes she is going to be killed and she doesn’t want any.

Mueller tells Helen to go to Ardath next time he calls. They plan on following her and killing the mummy. Ardath attacks Frank with his spa and Helen escapes unfollowed. Ardath and Helen go to the museum to finish the ceremony. He tells her she will have to die. Nope. Ain’t goona happen. He destroys Helen’s mummy body and she gets scare. Helen starts to remember her past.

Muller finds Frank and they head to the museum. When they bust in Ardath is distracted. Helen prays to the goddess Isis to save her. The statue of Isis raises its arm and shoots a laser beam at the scroll. When the scroll starts to burns Ardath Bey/the mummy/Imhotep turns to dust.

Dr. Muller urges Frank to call Helen back to the real world. As the scroll burns, she returns to normal.

I have assembled a little list of movies by Universal, Hammer, and others that follow the mummy line. They are: The Mummy’s Hand (1940), The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), The Mummy’s Ghost (1944), The Mummy’s Curse (1944), Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955), The Mummy (1959), The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964), The Mummy’s Shroud (1966), Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971), The Mummy (1999), The Mummy Returns (2001), The Scorpion King (2002), The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (2008), The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008), The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption (2012), and of course Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955).. One day I hope to review all of these movies and place them under a mummy theme.

I also have a list coming over very soon that ranks the top 30 movies with archeologists or anthropologist so look for that on the site.

World-Famous Short Summary – older man gets a little stalky

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Beware the moors


[ii] Frank Miller

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