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1921: The British Museum's Egyptian Expedition of professor Joseph Whemple
(Arthur Byron) makes an amazing discovery - the mummy of Im-Ho-Tep, a priest
who was buried some 3700 years ago without the usual honours for such an
occasion for some sacrilege he committed. & imbedded with the mummy, the
expedition also finds the scroll of Thoth, that contains a spell to bring the
dead back to life. Unfortunately, young scientist Ralph Norton (Bramwell
Fletcher) cannot resist transcribing the scroll, & by doing so, he indeed
awakens the mummy, who takes the scroll walks off, driving Norton nuts ...
11 years later, another Egyptian expedition led by professor Pearson
(Leonard Mudie) & Whemple's son Franklin (David Manners) finds nothing ...
until one day, the mysterious Egyptian Adith Bey (Boris Karloff) shows up &
directs them to the tomb of Anks-Anam, a princess from 3700 years ago (yes, the
princess high priest Im Ho Tep was in love with).
The findings from the grave, including Anks-Anam's mummy, are brought to the
Cairo museum, where soon Adith Bey - in fact Im-Ho-Tep, who has since adapted
to walking among the living again well enough - starts to hang out, even after
hours, & starts to recite spells from the scroll of Thoth to Anks-Anam's
Cut to Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), half English, half Egyptian lady of
the society, who by some strange hypnotic force seems to be drawn to the Cairo
museum, & only when she finds the main doors locked is she stopped &
collapses, right in front of Joseph & Franklin Whemple, who take her to
their house & inform doctor Miller (Edward Van Sloan) a mutual friend of
them & Helen, about what happened. He soon suspects some otherworldly
goings-on, & his suspicions are confirmed when a guard is murdered at the
museum - unbeknowest to them by Adith Bey of course -, & the scroll of
Thoth is found next to the dead body. Furthermore, Adith Bey shows up at the
Whemple's home, & he seems to have some hypnotic power over Helen, who
proves to be the reincarnation of Anks-Anam.
Adith Bey demands back the scroll of Thoth, which is now in Joseph Whemple's
possession, but he refuses, & at doctor Miller's demand agrees to burn it
... but Adith Bey has great powers & kills Whemple from afar by a heart
attack before he can set fire to the scroll, & has Whemple's Nubian
servant (Noble Johnson) bring him the scroll.
Later he hypnotically draws Helen to him & shows her their mutual past,
when Anks-Anam died from a fever & Im-Ho-Tep tried to revive her again with
the scroll of Thoth, but instead was cuaght by the pharao's (James Crane) men
& buried alive together with the scroll, so his sacrilege could never be
repeated. By this way, Adith Bey tries to bring Helen's Anks-Anam persona to
the fore again, but Helen'sown persona is still too strong, so Adith Bey lets
her go for the time being.
But, much to the concern of doctor miller & Franklin Whemple, Helen
grows ever weaker - both physically & mentally - until Miller sees no other
way then to tell her to give in to Adith Bey's call & let her Anks-Anam
persona take over, so she can lead them to Adith Bey.
At the Cairo museum, Adith Bey has prepared everything to - with the scroll
of Thoth - turn Helen/Anks-Anam to a living dead being like himself ... he
hasn't accounted for the resistance of Anks-Anam though, who has no desire to
die to be reborn as a living dead, & she delays the ceremony long enough
for Miller & Franklin to catch up with her.
In the end though it's not them but (a statue of the) Egyptian deity Isis who destroys both
Adith Bey/Im-Ho-Tep & the scroll of Thoth.
Opposed to most other Universal horror pics of its time, The Mummy
relies less on horrific scenes (though at least the scene in which Karloff is
mummified alive is gruesome enough) but on atmosphere created by excellent
camerawork, lightning & moody direction by ex-cameraman Karl Freund. So,
the slow pace of the movie actually works in favour of its overall effect
instead of against it. It is of course also helped by a comprehensive &
coherent script (not a necessity for Universal mummy-films, or horror-movies in
general, for that matter) & fine central performances by Karloff (of
course), Edward Van Sloan & Zita Johann.