By the time THE MUMMY was released, Boris Karloff had become such a household name, he was merely billed as "Karloff" on the movie poster (more accurately, "Karloff the Uncanny"). Even today, the name Boris Karloff can evoke images of monsters and unholiness, or, at the very least, campy thrills. Even his name look strange and eerie printed on a page, doesn't it?
It's just too bad THE MUMMY is such a stiff, talkative film, because Karloff is terrific in it. Aided by Jack Pierce's superb makeup (has there ever been a better makeup artist?), Karloff as Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian mummy come to life, is one of the creepiest of all the Universal horror icons. Whenever he enters a room and looks around with that humorless face and those piercing eyes, time just seems to stop.
Unfortunately, time cannot stop forever, and the movie must get on with its business, which is essentially remaking 1931's DRACULA. Imhotep has a spell over a certain girl, and two of DRACULA's cast members - Edward Van Sloan as the expert in all things Egyptian and David Manners as the sappy guy who is in love with girl - try to defeat him. Or at least spend hours talking about trying to defeat him. Or talking about other things while looking worried. Karl Freund was a respected cinematographer (THE LAST LAUGH, METROPOLIS, DRACULA) making his directorial debut with THE MUMMY, but there are not that many ways to make two or three boring people chatting in a drawing room all that interesting.
Some of the few intriguing visuals come from Imhotep's flashback, filmed as a silent movie with Karloff's narration added later. Here, free from the endless talk, THE MUMMY starts to come alive (no pun intended). Alas... the flashback ends and it's back to the yakkety yak.
THE MUMMY has its admirers, but I am not one of them. Perhaps the best thing I can say about THE MUMMY (aside from my praise for Karloff and Jack Pierce) is that it inspired several sequels, all of which are more fun, if less classy. ½ - JB