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The Mummy, 1932

A team of archaeologists conducting a dig in Egypt unearths the body of an ancient priest, Imhotep (Boris Karloff) who was buried alive for some sort of religious transgression. When one of the scientists reads a scroll aloud, Imhotep is reanimated. Passing, just barely, as a wealthy Egyptian, Imhotep searches for his lost love, who just happens to share a bloodline with Helen (Zita Johann). As Imhotep's powers begin to take over Helen's mind, her fiance and others rush to stop Imhotep and save her.

This film made me think a lot about what I loved about Frankenstein. There are sequences that are odd and unsettling, and the whole film looks great. I was particularly fond of the way that shadows and off-screen events were used to suggest danger at the periphery. Karloff is imposing as the reanimated Imhotep, someone who knows just how much power he has over others. Johann is very sympathetic as someone who feels she is losing her mind, becoming fractured between herself and a past spirit.

This is a shorter film, but really well-paced. I quite enjoyed the scene where a man witnesses Imhotep's reanimation and simply goes crazy from the sight of it. His fate is revealed later, and it builds a sense of tragedy and mystery. While I'm not sure that the film meant the moment as commentary on British colonial policies, I appreciated the mention that Egyptians themselves were not able to dig up artifacts--only representatives from foreign museums. I also liked that Helen played a much more active role in the final showdown than I was expecting. (My expectation was that she'd basically be in a swoon as the dudes rushed in to save her, so having her actually participate in fighting Imhotep at the end was a nice surprise).

I was also relieved that the film didn't feel the need (that I could tell) for brownface with the Egyptian flashbacks. And there were several non-white characters who were actually played by non-white actors. Nice not to have to cringe through poorly-done makeup.

I suppose my only complaint, and a minor one at that, was that almost all of the male protagonists kind of blended together for me. Aside from the blond archaeologist at the beginning, they were all middle aged British guys, and they didn't leave much of an impression. Obviously Imhotep and Helen are the stars of the show, so it doesn't impact the viewing experience that much, but a few times I found myself thinking, "Wait, which guy is this?" and it was harder (ooh, this will sound harsh) to care when they were killed or endangered.