Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Mummy - 1932


Director:                           Karl Freund
Screenplay:                    John L. Balderston
Story by:                          Nina Wilcox Putnam & Richard Schayer
Photography:                 Charles Stumar
Makeup:                          Jack P. Pierce

Imhotep/Ardath Bey:       Boris Karloff
Helen Grovenor/
   Ankh-es-en-amun:        Zita Johann
Frank Whemple:             David Manners
Dr. Muller:                         Edward Van Sloan
Ralph Norton:                  Bramwell Fletcher
Sir Joseph Whemple:     Arthur Byron
The Nubian:                     Noble Johnson                  
Frau Muller:                      Kathryn Byron

“Death eternal punishment for anyone who opens       
 this casket in the name of Amon Ra the king of the gods.”

1932 was a banner year for horror movies.  Released in that year were: "The Old Dark House", "Murders in the Rue Morgue", "Freaks", White Zombie", "Vampyr", and our movie, "The Mummy"  In addition, "Frankenstein", released in November 1931 was still going strong at the box office. 
In searching for a new property the producers at Universal looked to two sources; one was a story titled “Cagliosto”, about an alchemist who achieves immortality.  The other was the public’s continued interest in the 1922 discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen, and the supposed “curse” which followed the members of the expedition.  These pieces were re-formed and shaped into a story about a 3700 year old mummy who returns to life and attempts to reunite with his long lost love.  The screenplay was written by John L. Balderston, who seemed to be everywhere in horror in those days – he co-wrote the play on which the movie “Dracula” was based, and he contributed to the screenplay for "Frankenstein".  He also happened to be a newspaper reporter in 1922 and covered the King Tut story. 

The plot starts in 1921 at the British Museum field expedition camp, where Sir Joseph Whemple has unearthed a very unusual mummy - Imhotep.  The body was not prepared in the prescribed manner, the internal organs are intact, and he appears to have struggled in the bandages.  He was buried alive and his soul cursed, doomed in this life and the next. We see the full figure of the mummy for only a few tantalizing moments, and so don’t have much time to appreciate Jack Pierce’s extraordinary make up covering Karloff.  After this scene, we don’t see the mummy again.  

Buried with him is a box containing the Scroll of Thoth, an ancient document which contains “the great spell with which Isis raised Osiris from the dead”.  Occult expert Dr. Muller warns Whemple of the curse which will strike anyone who opens the box.  Muller is played by Edward Van Sloan, who also played the wise Prof. Waldman in "Frankenstein:, and the know-it-all Van Helsing in "Dracula".  We all know by now that if he tells you not to do something you ignore him at your peril.

To his enormous peril, Ralph Norton, Whemple’s assistant does exactly that.  Director Freund does a brilliant job building the tension here, in one of the most unforgettable and classic scenes in horror.  The camera moves gracefully around the casket as Norton examines and finally opens it, removing the Scroll.  

It glides back to the mummy, then back to Norton as he translates the spell and reads it softly. Cut back to the body- we see slight movement – almost imperceptibly the eyes start to open, and we see a glimmer of life in them.  The arms slowly start to move, tearing away the rotted linen.  Back to Norton still reading the spell.  Next, we see the Scroll on the desk, and a horrifying bandaged hand slowly touching it.  Norton looks up to his right and screams.  As he backs away the camera stays only on him.  His laugh starts quietly and builds until it is a madman’s shrieking hysteria:  “H-h-he went for a little walk!!”  Of the mummy the only other thing we see are his bandages trailing out the door.     

We then move forward to the 1932 British expedition.  Frank Whemple, Sir Joseph’s son has failed to make any great discoveries.  Providentially (?), he meets Ardath Bey who offers to show him where to find the tomb of the Princess Ankh-es-en-amun.  Bey is actually Imhotep, now looking more human, but gaunt and stiff, his skin as dry and wrinkled as parchment.   It is a slightly less spectacular make-up effect, but terrifyingly real.  

The contents of the tomb are put on display in the Cairo Museum, where we see Bey gazing at the princess’s mummified body.  He uses the Scroll to try to revive her, but fails because her soul has been reincarnated into a modern woman, Helen Grovenor.  She is played by the beautiful stage actress Zita Johann.  Her exotic look fits the character perfectly. 

 But the intelligence, depth and wit she displays are an uneven match for her love interest, Frank.  He is played by our old friend David Manners who is once again a pretty but pretty useless hero.  Mr. Manners plays him as a callow, dull straight arrow.   When he describes opening the princess’s tomb, handling her things and unwrapping her, Helen asks sadly, “how could you do that?”  His soulful and thoughtful answer?  “Had to…science you know!”  It really makes you root for Imhotep.  At least he would have been a much more sophisticated and fascinating dinner date.  One of the least believable things in the movie is that she falls in love with Frank, and so quickly! 

Ardath Bey/Imhotep realizes that Ankh-es-en-amun’s soul resides in Helen’s body, and lures her to his home, where he shows her a vision of their past lives and deaths.  Ankh-es-en-amun was the pharaoh’s daughter and a priestess of Isis.  She and Imhotep were in love.  After her death, he used the Scroll to raise her from the dead and was buried alive as punishment for this sacrilege.  The scene of Imhotep being wrapped alive, struggling in panic as the bandages are wound over his mouth, with his eyes wide in un-imaginable terror as the bandages cover them forever is pure nightmare fuel.

At this point the movie starts to resemble a love story rather than horror.  Ardath Bey plans to use the ancient spells to mummify Helen’s body and bring Ankh-es-en-amun back to live with him for eternity.  “No man has ever suffered as I did for you”, he tells her in what may be the understatement of the last 3700 years.

As Peter and Dr. Muller arrive to save her, Helen wakes from her trance and falls to her knees at the foot of the statue of Isis.  She begs the goddess to forgive her for breaking her ancient vows and to save her now by teaching her the incantations she has forgotten.  She begins reciting in ancient Egyptian and the statue raises its arm toward Imhotep.

  The Scroll catches fire and Imhotep is destroyed, crumbling into bones and dust.   

Im-ho-tep/Ardath Bey is an interesting “villain”.  He has many things in common with Lugosi’s Dracula.  More than anything, he is a tragic lover.  He controls others with his mental power and glowing eyes.  He kills, but with his sorcery and not his hands.  Both are immortal, lonely, they are seekers, they are suave and urbane, and in a way surprisingly gentle.   They entrance and seduce the women they have chosen.  They are hunted by two men, one old but wise and the other young and foolish but in love (also played by the same actors in both films).  Mina Seward is saved from Dracula by the men in her life.  However, Helen is saved not by men, but by her own power assisted by the goddess Isis.  (Sisters are doin’ it for themselves!)

Karloff endured hours of make-up torture at the hands of Jack Pierce with magnificent results.  The make-up (both for the mummy and Ardath Bey) is undoubtedly one of the finest achievements in film history.  The story moves along briskly with an intelligent and literate script.  In addition, this was the first Universal horror to have an actual musical score.  It is used judiciously and to great effect.  For example, in the scene of the mummy’s awakening, there is no music whatsoever.  This focuses our attention and heightens the suspense.  

The camerawork is smooth and mostly unobtrusive but is tarnished ever so slightly by two awkward setups.  In one, as Helen looks out from a balcony she sees the pyramids, seeming to be only a few hundred yards away.  She glances down and sees the city sprawling out around her for miles.  It’s a very clumsy not to mention impossible juxtaposition.  Just before this, we saw Imhotep at the museum, intoning the spell to bring the princess back to life.  A rapid transition to Helen to show the connection between the two characters consists of a spinning diorama of the city.  It is effective, however we see the same buildings rush past over and over, reminding us that we are watching something glaringly artificial.

A bit of odd trivia - in the credits we see the name Henry Victor who played “The Saxon Warrior”.  When Helen is being shown the vision of her past glimpses of her other reincarnated lives are shown to her, including a French noblewoman, a Saxon maiden, and a Christian in ancient Rome.  These scenes were filmed, but then cut either by censors or simply for time.  Keeping the name of a character that never made it into the final cut of the movie was a strange oversight.  

With the Mummy we now had the third of the first four great Universal monsters.  "The Wolf Man" was still a few years away in 1941. (The greatest at least since the silent films and Lon Chaney, Sr.).  After his sensational debut in “Frankenstein”, Boris Karloff had his first starring roles in “The Old Dark House”, and “The Mummy”.   He became a star practically overnight at the ripe old age of 43, and a horror career was born.  In this film he gave possibly his finest performance and created one of the most unforgettable, frightening, and yet sympathetic creatures in the movies – one who indeed has achieved immortality. 

Have a comment about this post?  Please, be my guest.  Indulge yourself.  I would love to hear from you.  Click on “Comments” below.  Thanks!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Put a little Krampus in your Christmas (next year)

"Krampus?  I think I've heard of that.  What is it?"

"Holey moley!!!  What kind of weird freaked out deal is this??"

Here in the U.S. of A. we know that if we are good all year, the big guy in the red suit (aka Santa Claus) will visit our homes on Christmas Eve.   We wake on Christmas morning to find everything we asked for wrapped beautifully and sparkling underneath our brightly decorated tree or placed in the stockings which we had hung by the chimney with care.  Well, that’s the story we are fed as children and it’s the story that is perpetuated in seasonally relentless advertising, omnipresent xmas songs and especially in sickly sweet family oriented made for tv movies. 

But what if we weren’t good all year?  What if we were naughty?  What if Santa knows this (and we know he does) what happens then?   In that case, the other part of our fairy tale is supposed to kick in which says something about getting a piece of coal in our stockings instead of presents.  I for one have never heard of anyone finding any piece of compressed bituminous or carbonized material, not even a charcoal briquette, in a stocking or in any other garment on xmas morning, which kind of makes me question the whole thing. I mean, I believe in justice.  Shouldn’t there be some sort of tangible retribution for those of us who have misbehaved?   The nice guys should have a happy ending and the bad guys should be punished.  Right?  Right???

It just doesn’t happen.  As far as us New Worlders here in the US know, Santa is the only supernatural entity involved in the whole thing and so naughty children get presents along with everyone else.  Something needs to be done.  Here is Stephen Colbert on the subject of how to do the holiday right using a much more comprehensive approach:  


 We must look to The Old World.   Europeans, bless em’, have just the thing in the form of Krampus.  And just who is this Krampus, you ask?  He is a devilish companion/counterpart to Santa, or as he is known there, St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas was originally a third century c.e. Greek Christian bishop known as Nikolaos of Myra who was made a saint on the basis of his charity and several miracles attributed to him.  His feast day is December 6 and it has been celebrated traditionally in Europe for centuries with prayer and exchanging gifts.  St. Nicholas himself was said to visit homes and reward the good children with fruit, pastries, candy and toys.  

However, since Good and Evil usually come as a package in one way or another, St. Nicholas has an evil twin – Krampus.  This character doles out punishment to children who have neglected their prayers or disobeyed their parents.  He gathers them up, drags them off and usually gives them a taste of his birch rod on their backsides.  If they have really been bad they end up in his cauldron, cooked and eaten up by the Krampus.

The origin of Krampus pre-dates that of St. Nicholas and may involve pre-Christian Pagan identities and customs.  He is probably an example of how Pagan beliefs were merged with the early Christian church much like the holiday itself was merged with pre-Christian winter solstice festivals and Roman Saturnalia.

Primarily he has been part of the winter celebrations in the alpine countries of Austria and Germany.   Modern day Krampuslauf, or Krampus parades/running of the Krampus, are held annually in many towns in Austria.  Here is a sample of one from Graz, Austria in 2010.   


 However, he is also found in Northern and Eastern European traditions under a variety of names and presentations.  He is known in Austria as Krampusz or Klaubauf, but is also called:  Netherlands – Zwarte Piet or Black Peter;  Switzerland—Schmutzli;  Germany— Knecht Ruprecht or Pelznickel; Czechoslovakia—Certa, and many other names in many other places. 

Sometimes he has long horns and sometimes short, he can be red like the traditional Devil or  covered in black fur.   He often has one human foot and one cloven hoof, and usually has a VERY long tongue.  Sometimes he carries a chain or a cowbell or a birch switch.   He may be shown with either a large sack or a basket in which to cart off the unlucky children.   

Postcards featuring the Krampus were popular in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Mostly they reminded children to be good or else and some were pretty explicit about what Krampus would do, however many were much more lighthearted.   

 Adults were not left out of the fun entirely; some of the cards had a definite mature or even slighty racy flavor.

By the way, “Gruss vom Krampus” is German and means “Greetings from Krampus”.

Like everyone, Krampus had to keep up with the times.  He couldn’t always be on foot or using a sleigh.

There is an awareness of Krampus stirring in the US as we speak and more communities are including him in their December festivities.   There were at least two small public events in Chicago this year but they were criminally under publicized. 


I am planning to advocate during the coming months for more recognition and celebration around the Krampus-meister.  How about a parade, fellow Chicagoans?  We have a Zombie Parade so why not Krampus?  I will start on my costume soon – where in the heck am I going to get a pair of horns? 

Join with me!!!    KRAM…PUS!….KRAM…PUS!...KRAM-PUS!...

Here is one suggestion for a Krampus Carol.

If you are in Chicago during December, 2014 and you see someone dressed in fur and horned mask going house to house singing this, it will probably be me.
And, by the way….the devilish side of Christmas has not been ENTIRELY ignored in the Americas.  Here is a clip from a 1959 children’s movie made in Mexico entitled “Santa Claus” where the right jolly old elf is presented with a Satan toy which segues into a visit to hell where the red tutu wearing devils are putting on a floor show.  It’s not exactly Krampus but ... The only clip of it I have is from the Mystery Science Theater episode, so you will see and hear Mike, Crow and Tom riffing away at the film in their inimitable fashion.


Many thanks, kisses, acknowledgments and a tip ‘o the KissMyReview cap to Monte Beauchamp from whose 2004 book, The Devil in Design: The Krampus Postcards, most of the postcard images were taken.  Check out his new book, Krampus: The Devil of Christmas, as well as his other products.  

Check out the many websites devoted to Krampus while you're at it. 

merry Krampus and a happy new year!!

Have a comment about this post?  Please, be my guest.  Indulge yourself.  I would love to hear from you.  Click on “Comments” below.  Thanks!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Another holiday classic!

Jesus Was a Dreidel Spinner

By Jill Sobule.  


Jesus was a dreidel spinner
And this we can't forget
Paul was Saul before he was Paul and the last supper was a seder
Jesus was a dreidel spinner
And all his disciples were too
So all you Christians remember
Your Lord was a Jew

So light the menorah
tinsel the tree
give thanks to the wise men and the maccabees

Jesus was a dreidel spinner
Turned water into wine
He did lots of miracles but he never ate pork rind
Christmas is for everyone
Hannukah is too
All you remember
Your Lord was a Jew

Light the menorah
tinsel the tree
give thanks to the wise men and the maccabees

Jesus was a dreidel spinner
And this we can't forget
Paul was Saul before he was Paul and the last supper was a seder
Jesus was a dreidel spinner
And all his disciples were too
So Aryan Nations remember
He didn't look like you

Light the menorah
tinsel the tree
give thanks to the wise men and the maccabees

lyrics by Jill Sobule
video by TGJS Media

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Papa Ain't No Santa Claus (Mama Ain't No Christmas Tree)

Performed by Butterbeans and Susie, recorded in August, 1930.

Let's keep rollin' in the holiday spirit!  


This duo was known as "Butterbeans and Susie" and was an extremely popular act in the 1920's through the mid-1960's on the Black vaudeville circuit.  

In 1917 Jodie Edwards and Susie Hawthorne were teenage vaudeville dancers.  When another act,  "Stringbeans and Susie May" folded, an agent offered Edwards and Hawthorne fifty dollars to get married and take over the act.   They became "Butterbeans and Susie" and what started as a publicity stunt ended up being a life-long partnership both personally and professionally.  

They had fine voices as well as impeccable comic timing.  Susie portrayed the no-nonsense wife who has to put up with a fool of a husband, Butterbeans,  who can't do anything right especially in the bedroom.  They specialized in racy, suggestive songs with titles like, "I Wanna Hot Dog for my Roll", "My Daddy's Got the Mojo, But I Got the Say So", "Mama Stayed Out the Whole Night Long", and "How Do You Expect Me to Get My Lovin'?"

The act was a little too raunchy for most white audiences but killed on the circuit known as T.O.B.A. -(officially The Theater Owner's Booking Association, but known unofficially as Tough On Black Asses).  T.O.B.A. was a booking agency for Black talent with a reputation for low pay and rough conditions.  

Butterbeans and Susie were still working in the 1960's in venues such as the Apollo in New York.  In true show biz style, Butterbeans died in 1967 as he walked on stage to perform.  

This song is one of their best.  Enjoy!!  



And my usual annual reminder about my most favorite Christmas movie of all time....Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale