Year of Monsters: The Mummy

I adore The Mummy (1999). I adore The Mummy Returns. I do not adore The Mummy (2017) with Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella, but to be fair, I only watched about ten minutes of it. Maybe it gets better. (It doesn’t get better. We all know it.)

Now it’s time to see where all these movies began.

May I present The Mummy (1932) with Boris Karloff and Zita Johann.

Year: 1932
Director: Karl Freund
First Watch or Re-Watch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yup

Truthfully, I don’t have very much to say about our mummy himself. Imhotep is an okay monster, and Boris Karloff is fine in the role, except for the fact that he’s very obviously not Egyptian. Neither Mekaela nor I were prepared for the fact that, in this movie, Ardeth Bay is just Imhotep’s sneaky undercover alias (and yes, an anagram of Death by Ra), instead of this dude:

(Looks like he could kill you, is actually a cinnamon roll. Ardeth is the best.)

Anyway, Imhotep is fine, but the people I really want to talk about are Helen and Frank. Let’s start with Helen (Zita Johann) who, for my money, is easily the most interesting person in this whole movie. Helen is the reincarnated soul of Ankh-es-en-Amon, Imhotep’s forbidden love, and spends most of this movie in peril, as Imhotep entrances her, awakens the memories from her past life, and plots to kill/mummify Helen so that he might resurrect his immortal bride. But unlike some other damsels, Helen isn’t a wholly passive figure in her own story. She’s witty and sharp, even when she’s under the influence of the Mummy’s spell, and I like her a whole lot. Alas, Helen’s love interest is Frank (David Manners), and unfortunately for us all, Frank is the Worst.

Judging from this, The Black Cat, and–when we eventually get there–Dracula, David Manners appears to be the dude you get when you need a handsome and functionally useless love interest. In The Black Cat, he’s mostly just boring, but in The Mummy, he’s considerably more aggravating, coming across as an entitled rich kid who’s incompetent at his job and seriously falling down on the whole filial duty thing. After Imhotep murders Frank’s father, our hero manages to muster about 30 seconds of vague sorry before it’s suggested that Helen, you know, likes him likes him, and then poof! “A pretty girl I’ve spoken to literally once might wanna marry me! Better make sure she doesn’t die!” Frank, it will shock you, never makes mention of his dead father again.

Helen and Frank’s love story is a failure, partially because Frank sucks, but also because their romance makes so little sense. There’s this thing that happens in movies sometimes where the heroine is very clearly Not Into the hero, but the script says they luv each other, so suddenly they just . . . do. Padmé in Attack of the Clones is probably the most obvious example of this. “Oh, Ani, you’ll always be that little boy I knew on Tatooine” remains one of my favorite, most clear-cut shutdowns I’ve ever seen, yet despite the fact that Padmé shows zero romantic interest in Anakin for most the movie, she’s suddenly, tragically in love with him by the end, and we’re all just supposed to nod along?

Well, that’s basically what happens here, too. Frank first meets Helen when, bewitched, she tries to break into the museum where Imhotep is performing a resurrection spell. Helen, by contrast, first meets Frank when she wakes up on his couch with no idea how she got there or who he is. He briefly tells her the basics, clearly trying to impress her by mentioning how he dug up Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon’s body, and is, of course, characteristically oblivious to just how much this disturbs Helen. “Had to!” Frank insists cheerfully. “Science!” As if he’s given a shit about science at any other time in this movie. Frank then confesses that, though it’s silly, he fell a little in love with the princess’ mummified corpse when he discovered her.

Helen, speaking for us all:

Frank, undeterred by this amazing burn, realizes that Helen reminds him of the very, very dead princess–what every woman longs to hear, I’m sure–and continues to flirt. And by flirt, I mean he places a pillow under her head and then continues to linger, getting uncomfortably close as they speak.

Frank: “You really want to know why I didn’t take you to the hospital? Because when I held you in my arms–”
Helen: “Hadn’t you better not commit yourself? What girl could fail to make a conquest who collapsed at a man’s feet in the moonlight?”
Frank: “Oh, I know it seems absurd when we’ve known each other such a short time, but I’m serious.”
Helen: “Don’t you think I’ve had enough excitement for one evening, without the additional thrill of a strange man making love to me?”

Nevertheless, they’re kissing when the other characters come back into the room. Because sure. She’s seemed into this.

Things don’t get any better the next time they meet, either. First, Frank tells Helen he loves her, like, uses the L word and everything, and dude. DUDE. You’ve known this woman ten minutes, and she hasn’t been wholly herself for any of them. He also gets a little too happy when Helen admits she’s frightened. “Save me from it, Frank,” Helen says. “Save me.” To which this motherfucker offers a huge smile and a dismissive, “Oh, everything’s going to be all right, now that you’ve asked for help. I’ll never leave you alone.” This turns out to be demonstrably false, BTW, as Frank is the one who inadvertently puts Helen in danger. He’s supposed to wait until she goes into another trance and follow her to the Mummy; instead, he takes off his magic protection necklace and hangs it uselessly around her doorknob. This leaves him open to psychic attack, so that he’s completely incapacitated when Helen takes off. If Helen had been mummified, it would legit be Frank’s fault; luckily, Diet Van Helsing (played by the dude who also portrayed Actual Van Helsing) suddenly knows the Mummy is at the museum. Somehow.

Meanwhile, when it became apparent that Frank, sadly, had survived the attack, Mek and I reacted the exact same way:

There’s another character we really need to discuss, too, and that’s Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon. In The Mummy Returns, Anck-Su-Namen is a bad guy, fully on board with Imhotep’s apocalyptic plans. In fact, it’s her idea to be resurrected in the first place. Meela, the latest reincarnation of Anck-Su-Namen, is also a willing participant in her own sacrifice. But here, both Helen and Ankh-es-en-Amon turn against Imhotep. (I mean, arguably, it’s not really Ankh-es-en-Amon herself, just Helen with A.e.e.A’s memories, but she does speaks about herself as two separate people, so that’s what I’m doing here.) Both women are cognizant of the other, and neither wants to go through with Imhotep’s mummification/resurrection plan, all of which I find super interesting. It’s Ankh-es-en-Amon, praying to Isis, who actually defeats Imhotep. Frank, the useless motherfucker, does shit. (All right, fine, he calls to Helen, who I guess is lost in her memories? Or something? It’s apparently her love for him that gives her the motivation to come back cause sure. Frank is the only motivation Helen needs to live.)

Finally, some random asides:

1. The Mummy and The Mummy Returns both have a few callbacks to the original film that I wasn’t expecting. The memory pool, for instance, or the fact that Imhotep doesn’t like to be touched. The brainwashed slaves are presumably a nod to the Nubian servant who’s immediately enthralled by Imhotep, though frankly, both movies would likely be better off without this nonsense.

2. Diet Van Helsing gets involved in all this because he’s Helen’s doctor, I guess? He refers to her as his patient, at least, although I’m confused on what this actually entails, like, is he a medical doctor? Does she have a condition? Is he her therapist? Or is this all just a cover so Helen can travel with him, rather than joining her father?

3. Lot of bizarre and abrupt cuts in this movie. Overall, I’m not a huge fan of the editing. I do enjoy the one shot of the Mummy’s glowy eyes, but they use it way too often.

4. Alas, my friends, this is another film where the dog doesn’t make it. RIP, poor doggie.

The Current Ranking

1. The Black Cat
2. Creature from the Black Lagoon
3. The Mummy

4 thoughts on “Year of Monsters: The Mummy

  1. I was something like 10 when I first saw this and it was arguably the first film I wanted to rewrite entirely so that Ankh-es-en-Amon/Helen ran off to have adventures on her own, maybe with Dr. What’s His Name as a sidekick because even 10-year-old me in 1979 knew that Frank was THE WORST. Maybe she found a therapist to send back for Ardeth Bey/Imhotep, because he seemed lonely and like he needed someone to talk to about his problems.

    • Frank is just truly terrible. It’s so unfortunate he didn’t die. Helen should definitely have run off to have adventures. Also, I kinda want to see all the Universal monsters in therapy now.

  2. I haven’t seen this, though given how often I watched The Mummy and The Mummy Returns as a kid, I should. I’m also somewhat curious about the Tom Cruise remake, though yeah, I hear it’s bad.

    BTW, have you seen the third movie in the franchise (Tomb Of The Dragon Emperor, that is) and what did you think? I was not optimistic because it was written by the Smallville showrunners but felt obligated to check it out; it was as mediocre and forgettable as I was expecting.

    • I never did see Tomb of the Dragon. It just didn’t seem right with Maria Bello replacing Rachel Weisz. I kinda wish they’d just written out Evelyn’s character, like, not kill her off anything (NO), just, she could be exploring a tomb in some other country, or whipping the Bembridge scholars into shape. Though I’ll admit, I’m now looking at the IMDb cast, and there are a lot more people in here than I realized: Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh, Liam Cunningham. Still, “mediocre and forgettable” is about what I was expecting, too, so I’ll probably never get there unless someone REALLY wants me to watch it with them. This seems . . . unlikely.

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