The Mummy (1932 film)

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 archaeologists 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.

The Mummy
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKarl Freund
Produced byCarl Laemmle, Jr.
Screenplay byJohn L. Balderston
Story by
Music byJames Dietrich
CinematographyCharles Stumar
Edited byMilton Carruth
Distributed byUniversal Studios
Release date
  • December 22, 1932 (1932-12-22)
Running time
73 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States


In 1921, an archaeological expedition led by Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) finds the mummy of an ancient Egyptian high priest named Imhotep (Boris Karloff). When an inspection of the mummy by Whemple's friend Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan) reveals that the viscera were not removed, Muller deduces that although Imhotep had been wrapped like a traditional mummy, he had been buried alive. Also buried with Imhotep is a casket with a curse on it. Despite Muller's warning, Sir Joseph's assistant Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) opens it. He reads aloud an ancient life-giving scroll, the "Scroll of Thoth". Imhotep rises, the sight of which snaps Norton’s mind and causes him to laugh hysterically, as the Mummy shuffles off with the scroll.

Ten years later, Imhotep is masquerading as a modern Egyptian named Ardath Bey covering himself with makeup. He calls upon Sir Joseph's son Frank (David Manners) and Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie) and shows them where to dig to find the tomb of the princess Ankh-es-en-Amon. After locating the tomb, the archaeologists present its treasures to the Cairo Museum and thank Ardath Bey for making their discovery possible. It is further revealed that Imhotep's horrific death was punishment for sacrilege: attempting to resurrect his forbidden lover, Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon.

Imhotep soon encounters Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), a half-Egyptian 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 finally making her his immortal bride. Helen is rescued when she remembers her ancestral past life and prays to the goddess Isis to come to her aid. The statue of Isis raises its arm and emits a flash that sets the Scroll of Thoth on fire. This breaks the spell that had given Imhotep his immortality, causing him to 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.


In credits order


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.[3] Schayer found none although the plot bears a strong resemblance to a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle entitled "The Ring of Thoth".[4] Schayer and writer Nina Wilcox Putnam learned about Alessandro Cagliostro and wrote a nine-page treatment entitled Cagliostro.[3] The story, set in San Francisco, was about a 3,000-year-old magician who survives by injecting nitrates. Laemmle was pleased with these ideas, and he hired John L. Balderston to write the script.[3] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

Karl Freund, the cinematographer on Dracula, was hired to direct, making this his first film in the United States as a director.[8] 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 '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.

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".[5] 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.[9]

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:[10] Henry Victor is credited in the film as "Saxon Warrior", despite his performance having been deleted.[11] 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.[12]

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."[13]



Unlike other Universal Monsters films, The Mummy had no official sequels, but rather was reimagined in The Mummy's Hand (1940) and its sequels, The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1944), The Mummy's Curse (1944), and the studios' comedy-horror crossover movie Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955). These films focus on the titular character named Kharis (Klaris in the Abbott and Costello film). The Mummy's Hand recycled footage from the original film for use in the telling of Kharis' origins, where Karloff is clearly visible in several of these recycled scenes but was 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, apart from the appearance of The Scroll of Life in Curse of The Mummy's Tomb and Blood from The Mummy's Tomb.

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 it is produced-distributed by the same studio, its titular character is again named Imhotep, resurrected 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 two sequels with The Mummy Returns (2001) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008). The Mummy Returns also spawned 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 three sequels, The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption (2012), The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power (2015) and Scorpion King: Book of Souls (2018). Also, a short-lived animated series simply titled The Mummy ran from 2001 to 2003.


In 2012, Universal announced a forthcoming reboot of the film, more in-line with the horror films, from the Universal Monsters film franchise.[14] The reboot was directed by Alex Kurtzman. The Mummy was planned as the first film in a series of interconnected monster films, as Universal has planned to build a shared universe film series out of its vault of classic monster movies.[15] On January 21, 2016 it was announced that Tom Cruise would be starring in the film.[16] Sofia Boutella was cast to portray Princess Ahmunet / The Mummy for the film, while Russell Crowe would appear as Dr. Henry Jekyll / Mr. Hyde, two roles which had previously been portrayed by Boris Karloff in the studios' previous film franchise. In June 2017, the studio announced the name, logo, theme music (written by Danny Elfman), and upcoming schedule for the shared universe titled Dark Universe. The series of films will continue with Bride of Frankenstein (2019).


The Mummy has been decried for "othering" Eastern culture, especially portraying it as being more primitive and superstitious than Western culture. In one scene, Helen Grosvenor longs for the "real" (Classical) Egypt, disparaging that she is in contemporary Islamic Egypt. This is viewed by critic Caroline T. Schroeder as a slight against Islamic culture at the time.[17]

According to Mark A. Hall, of the Perth Museum and Art Gallery, film portrayals of Egypt, especially in Egyptian archaeology, often deal with themes of appropriating and controlling the dangers of non-European cultures, or deal with the past if it relates to legend and superstition. Mummies, Hall says, are a common example of this. While he commends the archaeological wisdom espoused by Sir Joseph Whemple in this film, he writes that "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).[18] Hall says, "what these mummy films retain is a depiction of archaeology as a colonial imposition by which cultural inheritance is appropriated" (Hall 161).[18]

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 be the inventor of hieroglyphs and the author of the Book of the Dead. The film also makes reference to the Egyptian myth of the goddess Isis resurrecting Osiris after his murder by his brother Set.

Conspirators were caught in a plot to assassinate Pharaoh Ramesses III around 1151 B.C.E. Papyrus trial transcripts reveal that the conspirators were prescribed ‘great punishments of death’, and archaeological evidence led to the suggestion that at least one of them may have been buried alive. Although such punishment was not common practice, this discovery probably influenced the film’s screenplay.[7]

There is no evidence to suggest that the ancient Egyptians believed in or considered the possibility of reanimated 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.[6] However, Egyptologist Stuart Tyson Smith notes that ‘the idea of mobile mummies was not entirely alien to ancient Egypt’, citing one of the Hellenistic-era stories of Setna Khaemwas, which features both the animated mummy of Naneferkaptah and a fictional Book of Thoth and may have inspired screenwriter John Balderston.[7]


  1. "THE MUMMY (PG)". British Board of Film Classification. October 4, 2013. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  2. Stephen Jacobs, Boris Karloff: More Than a Monster, Tomohawk Press 2011, pp. 127-130
  3. Robson, David (2012). The Mummy. San Diego, CA: Capstone. p. 11. ISBN 9781601523204. OCLC 882287316.
  4. Retrieved October 12, 2019. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. Vieira, Mark A. (2003). Hollywood Horror: From Gothic to Cosmic. New York: Harry N. Abrams. pp. 55–58. ISBN 0-8109-4535-5.
  6. Freeman, Richard (March 18, 2009). "THE MUMMY in context" (Vol 4, No 1). doi:10.4000/ejas.7566 via Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. Smith, Stuart Tyson (2007) “Unwrapping the Mummy: Hollywood Fantasies, Egyptian Realities” in Box Office Archaeology: Refining Hollywood’s Portrayals of the Past (ed. Julie M. Schablitsky), Left Coast Press, page 20–21; ISBN 978-1598740561
  8. "Turner Classic Movies -".
  9. Mank, Gregory W. (2009). Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff : the expanded story of a haunting collaboration, with a complete filmography of their films together. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers. pp. 126–128. ISBN 9780786434800. OCLC 607553826.
  10. Mank, Gregory W. (2009). Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff : the expanded story of a haunting collaboration, with a complete filmography of their films together. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers. pp. 126, 131, 133. ISBN 9780786434800. OCLC 607553826.
  11. Mank, Gregory W. (2009). Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff : the expanded story of a haunting collaboration, with a complete filmography of their films together. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers. p. 133. ISBN 9780786434800. OCLC 607553826.
  12. Mank, Gregory W. (2009). Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff : the expanded story of a haunting collaboration, with a complete filmography of their films together. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers. p. 134. ISBN 9780786434800. OCLC 607553826.
  13. "The Mummy (1932)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved February 13, 2016.
  14. Kroll, Justin, Snieder, Jeff, "U sets 'Mummy' reboot with Spaihts",, Published 2012-04-04, Retrieved 2012-05-04.
  15. "Female Lead Could Play Mummy".
  16. Kroll, Justin (January 21, 2016). "Tom Cruise's 'The Mummy' Gets New Release Date". Variety. Variety Media. Retrieved January 21, 2016.
  17. 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.
  18. Hall, Mark A. "Romancing the stones: archaeology in popular cinema." European Journal of Archaeology 7.2 (2004): 159-176.


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