The Mummy (1932 film)

The Mummy

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Karl Freund
Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr.
Screenplay by John L. Balderston
Story by
Music by James Dietrich
Cinematography Charles Stumar
Edited by Milton Carruth
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release dates
  • December 22, 1932 (1932-12-22)
Running time
73 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $196,000[2]

The Mummy is a 1932 American Pre-Code horror film directed by Karl Freund. The screenplay by John L. Balderston was from a story by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer. Released by Universal Studios, the film stars Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Edward Van Sloan and Arthur Byron. The film is about an ancient Egyptian mummy named Imhotep who is discovered by a team of archeologists and inadvertently brought back to life through a magic scroll. Disguised as a modern Egyptian, the mummy searches for his lost love, whom he believes has been reincarnated into a modern girl.


An ancient Egyptian priest called Imhotep (Boris Karloff) is revived when an archaeological expedition in 1921, led by Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron), finds Imhotep's mummy. Imhotep had been mummified alive for attempting to resurrect his forbidden lover, the princess Ankh-es-en-amon. Whemple's friend, Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan) inspects the mummy and exclaims "The viscera were not removed. The usual scar made by the embalmers knife is not there." Sir Joseph Wimple responds, "I guessed as much." Muller then deduces that Imhotep was buried alive for sacrilege. Despite Muller's warning, Sir Joseph's assistant Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) reads aloud an ancient life-giving scroll – the Scroll of Thoth. Imhotep escapes from the archaeologists, taking the Scroll of Thoth, and prowls Cairo seeking the modern reincarnation of Ankh-es-en-amon.

10 years later, Imhotep is masquerading as a modern Egyptian named Ardath Bey. He calls upon Sir Joseph's son Frank (David Manners) and Prof. Pearson (Leonard Mudie). He shows them where to dig to find Ankh-es-en-amon's tomb. The archaeologists find the tomb, give the mummy and the treasures to the Cairo Museum, and thank Ardath Bey for the information.

Imhotep encounters Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), a woman bearing a striking resemblance to the Princess. Believing her to be Ankh-es-en-amon's reincarnation, he attempts to kill her, with the intention of mummifying her, resurrecting her, and making her his bride. She is saved when she remembers her past life and prays to the goddess Isis to save her. The statue of Isis raises its arm and emits a beam of light that sets the Scroll of Thoth on fire. This breaks the spell that had given Imhotep his immortality, causing him to age rapidly and then crumble to dust. At the urging of Dr. Muller, Frank calls Helen back to the world of the living while the Scroll of Thoth continues to burn.


Boris Karloff in a shot used about four times in the movie
In credits order


Film poster with text: "Karloff the uncanny in The Mummy"

Inspired by the opening of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922 and the Curse of the Pharaohs, producer Carl Laemmle Jr. commissioned story editor Richard Schayer to find a literary novel to form a basis for an Egyptian-themed horror film, just as the novels Dracula and Frankenstein informed their 1931 films Dracula and Frankenstein. Schayer found none although the plot bears a strong resemblance to a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle entitled "The Ring of Thoth". Schayer and writer Nina Wilcox Putnam learned about Alessandro Cagliostro and wrote a nine-page treatment entitled Cagliostro. The story, set in San Francisco, was about a 3,000-year-old magician who survives by injecting nitrates instead of via supernatural cause like with Imhotep's case. Laemmle was pleased with these ideas, and he hired John L. Balderston to write the script. Balderston had contributed to Dracula and Frankenstein, and had covered the opening of Tutankhamen's tomb for New York World when he was a journalist so he was more than familiar with the highly popular tomb unearthing. Balderston moved the story to Egypt and renamed the film and its title character Imhotep, after the historical architect.[3] He also changed the story from one of revenge upon all the women who resembled the main characters' ex-lover to one where the main character is determined to revive his old love by killing and mummifying her reincarnated self before resurrecting her with the spell of the Scroll of Thoth.[4] Balderston invented the Scroll of Thoth, which gave an aura of authenticity to the story. Thoth was the wisest of the Egyptian gods who, when Osiris died, helped Isis bring her love back from the dead. Thoth is believed to have authored The Book of the Dead, which was no doubt the inspiration for Balderston's Scroll of Thoth.

Karl Freund, the cinematographer on Dracula, was hired to direct, making this his first film in the United States as a director.[5] The film was retitled The Mummy. He cast Zita Johann, who believed in reincarnation, he also named her character 'Ankh-es-en-Amon' after the only wife of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. The real Ankhesenamon's body had not been discovered in the tomb of King Tut and her resting place was unknown, her name however would not have been unknown to the general public and no doubt drew people's attention in the post Tutankhamoun era. Filming was scheduled for three weeks. Karloff's first day was spent shooting the Mummy's awakening from his sarcophagus. Make-up artist Jack Pierce had studied photos of Seti I's mummy to design Imhotep; however, Karloff looked nothing like the mummy of Seti I in the film, instead bearing a resemblance to the mummy of Ramesses III. Pierce began transforming Karloff at 11 a.m., applying cotton, collodion and spirit gum to his face; clay to his hair; and wrapping him in linen bandages treated with acid and burnt in an oven, finishing the job at 7 p.m. Karloff finished his scenes at 2 a.m., and another two hours were spent removing the make-up. Karloff found the removal of gum from his face painful, and overall found the day "the most trying ordeal I [had] ever endured".[3] Although the images of Karloff wrapped in bandages are the most iconic taken from the film, Karloff only appears on screen in this make-up for a few minutes; the rest of the film sees him wearing less elaborate make-up.

A lengthy and detailed flashback sequence was longer than as it presently exists. This sequence showed the various forms Anck-es-en-Amon was reincarnated in over the centuries: Henry Victor is credited in the film as "Saxon Warrior", despite his performance having been deleted. Stills exist of those sequences, but the footage (save for Karloff's appearance and the sacrilegious events leading up to his mummification in ancient Egypt), has been lost. It was shot in Cantil, California, Universal City, and the Mojave Desert.

The piece of classical music heard during the opening credits, taken from the Tchaikovsky ballet Swan Lake, was previously also used (in the same arrangement) for the opening credits of Universal's Dracula (1931) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932); in 1933 it would be re-used as the title music of the same studio's Secret of the Blue Room.


The film was a success at the box office, particularly in the United Kingdom [2]

The film received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports a 93% score, based on 27 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The site's consensus states: "Relying more on mood and atmosphere than the thrills typical of modern horror fare, Universal's The Mummy sets a masterful template for mummy-themed films to follow."[6]



Unlike Frankenstein and Dracula, and other Universal horror films, this film had no official sequels, but rather was semi-remade in The Mummy's Hand (1940); and its sequels: The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1944), and The Mummy's Curse (1944). These were later followed up in the spoof Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955). These films focus on the mummy named Kharis. The Mummy's Hand recycled footage from the original film for use in the telling of Kharis' origins; Karloff is clearly visible in several of these recycled scenes, but he is not credited.

Hammer Film Productions series

In the late 1950s, British Hammer Film Productions took up the Mummy theme, beginning with The Mummy (1959), which, rather than being a remake of the 1932 Karloff film, is based on Universal's The Mummy's Hand (1940) and The Mummy's Tomb (1942). Hammer's follow-ups — The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964), The Mummy's Shroud (1966) and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971) — are unrelated to the first film or even to each other.

Remake series

The much later Universal film The Mummy (1999) also suggests that it is a remake of the 1932 film, but has a different story line. However, in common with most postmodern remakes of classic horror and science-fiction films, it may be considered as such in that its titular character is again named Imhotep, resurrected from the dead by the Book of the Dead, and out to find the present-day embodiment of the soul of his beloved Anck-su-namun, and features an Egyptian named Ardeth Bay (in this case, a guard of the city and of Imhotep's tomb). This film spawned a sequel with The Mummy Returns (2001), and a prequel spin-off of that sequel, The Scorpion King (2002), which in turn spawned a prequel, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior (2008), and two sequels, The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption (2012) and The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power (2015). Another sequel to the film series, titled The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, was released in 2008. Also a short-lived animated series simply titled The Mummy ran from 2001 to 2003.

Reboot and shared cinematic universe

Universal has announced another forthcoming remake of the film.[7] The new film will be directed by Alex Kurtzman. In October 2015, Kurtzman hinted that the new reboot could possibly feature a female lead as the mummy character which would be the first for the film franchise. Universal's The Mummy is planned as the first film in a series of interconnected monster films as Universal plans to build a franchise out of its vault of classic movies.[8] On January 21, 2016 it was announced that Tom Cruise would be starring in the remake, which is slated for release on June 9, 2017.[9]


Like other movies that take place in modern Egypt , The Mummy has been decried for the "othering" of Eastern culture.[10]

According to Mark A. Hall, of the Perth Museum and Art Gallery, film portrayals of Egypt, especially in Egyptian archeology, often deal with themes of appropriating and controlling the dangers of non-European cultures or otherwise deal with the past if it relates to legend and superstition. Mummies, Hall says, are a common example of this. While he commends the archeological wisdom espoused by Sir Joseph Whemple in this film: ‘‘much more is learned from studying bits of broken pottery than from all the sensational finds. Our job is to increase the sum of human knowledge of the past.’ he highlights that this is used only as a foil for the supernatural elements. (Hall 161).[11] Hall says, "what these mummy films retain is a depiction of archaeology as a colonial imposition by which cultural inheritance is appropriated" (Hall 161).[11]

Historical accuracy

The Scroll of Thoth is a fictional artifact, though likely based on the Book of the Dead. Thoth, the Egyptian god of knowledge, is said to the be the inventor of hieroglyphs and the author of the Book of the Dead.[12]

Conspirators were caught in a plot to assassinate Pharaoh Ramesses III around 1151 BCE.[13] Papyrus trial transcripts reveal the method of execution, which may have been being buried alive. Although not common practice, it is possible that a fictional priest such as Imhotep would be punished this way.[14]

There is no evidence to suggest that Ancient Egyptians believed in or considered the possibility of re-animated mummies. Mummification was a sacred process meant to prepare a dead body to carry the soul through the afterlife, not for being reincarnated and living again on earth. While it is possible that some individuals were mummified by being buried alive it is unlikely that ancient Egyptians would think resurrection was possible because they were very aware of the fact that all the necessary organs had been removed and the body would be of little use on Earth anymore.[4]


  1. "THE MUMMY (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. October 4, 2013. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  2. 1 2 Stephen Jacobs, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster, Tomohawk Press 2011, pp. 127-130
  3. 1 2 Vieira, Mark A. (2003). Hollywood Horror: From Gothic to Cosmic. New York: Harry N. Abrams. pp. 55–58. ISBN 0-8109-4535-5.
  4. 1 2 Freeman, Richard (March 18, 2009). "THE MUMMY in context" (Vol 4, No 1). doi:10.4000/ejas.7566 via
  5. "Turner Classic Movies -".
  6. "The Mummy (1932)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  7. Kroll, Justin, Snieder, Jeff, "U sets 'Mummy' reboot with Spaihts",, Published 2012-04-04, Retrieved 2012-05-04.
  8. "Female Lead Could Play Mummy".
  9. Kroll, Justin (2016-01-21). "Tom Cruise's 'The Mummy' Gets New Release Date". Variety. Variety Media. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  10. Schroeder, Carolyn T. "Ancient Egyptian Religion on the Silver Screen: Modern Anxieties about Race, Ethnicity, and Religion." University of Nebraska Omaha. Oct 2003. 20 Jan 2015.
  11. 1 2 Hall, Mark A. "Romancing the stones: archaeology in popular cinema." European Journal of Archaeology 7.2 (2004): 159-176.
  12. Book of the Dead
  13. Ramesses III
  14. Schablitsky, Julie (2007). Box Office Archaeology, p.21. Left Coast Press. ISBN 978-1598740561.

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