DIVE-In Dinner & Movie Combo: feat. The Mummy (1932)
Time & Location
About the Event
ABOUT THE MOVIE: 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.
Pleased with the Cagliostro concept, Laemmle hired John L. Balderston to write the script. Balderston had contributed to Dracula and Frankenstein, and had covered the opening of Tutankhamun'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. He also changed the story from one of revenge upon all the women who resembled the main character's 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. 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 may have been the inspiration for Balderston's Scroll of Thoth. Another likely source of inspiration is the fictional Book of Thoth that appeared in several ancient Egyptian stories.
Boris Karloff and Zita Johann in a climactic scene from the movie.
Karl Freund, the cinematographer on Dracula, was hired to direct, making this his first film in the United States as a director. Freund had also been the cinematographer on Fritz Lang's Metropolis and later photographed the television series I Love Lucy. The film was retitled The Mummy. Freund cast Zita Johann, who believed in reincarnation, and named her character 'Anck-su-namun' after the only wife of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. The real Ankhesenamun'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.
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". 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 the opening vignette; 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-su-namun 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.
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.