Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Mummy

New DVDs: ‘Vampyr’ and ‘The Mummy’

I recenlty read a brief review of the original 1933 version of "The Mummy", starring Boris Karlof. I have the blank version of the film, but another print is being release in conjunction with the newest mummy movie.

Critics are certainly welcome to their opinions. But the review makes some statements that I think should be challenged. First off:

...there are no sinuous camera moves...Rather, the film is characterized by the stillness within its vertically composed images and the studied stiffness of the performances, particularly that of Karloff, who holds himself ramrod straight, barely moving a muscle of his body or his face, which is covered in a network of narrow wrinkles..."

On the contrary, there's some inspired camera work. The scene near the beginning where the just discovered box containing 'The Scroll of Thoth" is opened is particularly memorable. In regards to Karlof's "stiffness", is he not 'of the living dead'? In "The Mummy", the character of Im-Ho-Tep wields his power through mastery of Egyptian magic and mysticism. Although immortal and able to magically effect those around him, he is a fragile being, kept alive through a curse and by his own will. People fear him, not because of his physical prowess, but because he can control--even kill--by thoughts and words alone.

But then the reviewer makes this comment:

... Disguised as a wealthy Egyptian aristocrat, he is in fact Im-Ho-Tep, a priest of Isis executed 3,600 years ago for daring to love a temple virgin...

Well, that's factually wrong. In the movie, Karlof's Im-Ho-Tep was a High Priest of Anubis, not Isis. It was the female lead, Im-Ho-Tep's love interest (in the played effectively by Zita Johann) who was a High Priestess of Isis. As far as I recall, the status of her maidenhood was never explored.

Btw, Zita Johann was an inspired choice for the roll of Anks-En-Amon/Helen Grosvner. According to the commentary, she practiced spiritualism. Someone even states that she 'cast circles'! However, I cannot find any independent confirmation of that.

I have the Universal "Legacy Collection" for 'The Mummy'. It's excellent and has good commentary. Sadly, the sequels Universal dreamed-up in the 40's, and included in the 'The Legacy' collection, were rather piss-poor. They didn't advance the story and the mummy devolves into a hulking murderer.


green_ghost113 said...

Good Grief! It sounds like the reviewer of the Karloff film didn't even SEE it!

I think you should write to them and point out their less than observant summations.

genexs said...

I don't know, maybe there weren't enough explosions, weapon fire, and car chases to hold the guy's interest. It bothers me when a reviewer seems incapable of putting themselves into the mindset of the time. I sure would not care about such things if this was something posted to Epinions by a 9 year old, But this was the NYTimes!

The move was made just after the discoveries of the Tombs of King Tut by Howard Carter. The general public was captivated by all things Egyptian. The latest discoveries coming out of Egypt got front page coverage in all the papers.

The attention to detail in the movie is remarkable. Bast figures prominently, as does Isis and Anubis. Watching the movie for the umpteenth time, I spotted the lion-headed figure of Bes as a belt buckle on Karlof. Karlof sports a leopard skin cape, firmly establishing him as a priest of Anubis. A charm of Isis is given as protection, just as charms were "in the time of the Pharaohs". (Although there's little evidence the concept of reincarnation figured prominently at the time, the fact that it's a theme of the movie only deepens its interest for Wiccans and Pagans.)

Near the end, Johann says "This is the place of embalment. It is not lawful for me, a Priestess of Isis, to see or touch an unclean thing...", so that nails the Priestess of Isis bit. However, in fairness to the reviewer, I must point out that she does say, when beseeching Isis, "I was a consecrated Vestal, I broke my vows..." But calling her a mere "temple virgin" does not do her justice.

green_ghost113 said...

Honestly, is our society that dumbed-down that they can't appreciate a beautifully made classic film because it doesn't have gratuitous Hollywood "special effects "? Rhetorical question.

Interesting that the reviewer didn't catch Karloff's Imhotep being a High Priest of Anubis and Johann's Princess Anck-es-en-Amon being a Priestess of Isis.
I thought reviewers/critics had to do more research before publishing an article. Or do they just expect min-wage Fact-checkers to catch their oversights?

Anonymous said...

Well, you've convinced me to Netflix the original version. Every time I see Karloff's name, I flash back to _Ed Wood_ and that great line: "Karloff's sidekick?! Fuck you!"

For what it's worth, I liked the Brendan Fraser version. Especially since in a former life I was a paralegal for a tall egyptian-american attorney with a shaved head, an intense stare, and an unhealthy passion for Rush Limbaugh.

genexs said...

Hi Cuckoowasp:
You'll like the movie. Hatshepsut is even mentioned briefly. I'm not sure if they knew her sex at the time of "The Mummy".