Hollywood Flashback: Universal's 'Mummy' First Rose From the Dead in 1932

Everett Collection
Boris Karloff’s wife Dorothy helped him take a tea break while he was in costume (an eight-hour process) for the 'Mummy.'

Director Karl Freund's original hit "really was a profound inspiration," says producer Sean Daniel, whose reboot starring Tom Cruise hits theaters June 9.

In 1932, THR was certain Carl Laemmle Jr.'s Universal Pictures was going to have a hit with The Mummy. The film stars Boris Karloff, the then-44-year-old English actor who THR said "steals the picture. He is weird, terrifying."

While the newest version of The Mummy, out June 9, has an ancient avenging princess going up against Tom Cruise, Karloff played the Egyptian priest Imhotep returning to life. The reanimated 3,700-year-old mummy immediately goes looking for his love, Ankhesenamon, who he believes has been reincarnated as a Cairo woman named Helen. "My love has lasted longer than the temples of our gods," is one of Imhotep's many pickup lines. (The relationship ends badly.) It featured the directorial debut of Karl Freund, who had done Fritz Lang's camera work on 1927's Metropolis. When he returned to cinematography, Freund received an Oscar for 1937's The Good Earth and in the 1950s lensed 149 episodes of I Love Lucy.

"The original Mummy really was a profound inspiration," says reboot producer Sean Daniel. "Karloff, Freund and Laemmle created a seminal work." And THR was right about the film being a hit: The $196,000 production ($3.5 million today) had by 1937 made $596,000 ($11 million currently).

This story first appeared in the June 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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