Archive for the ‘Movies (M)’ Category

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976)

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED (1976).

You may have noticed that I’ve talked about MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED a lot.  I wrote about it only once, for my friend’s spotlight on Underrated Comedies.  As I wrote then, this isn’t only an underrated comedy in my eyes.  In my opinion, this may just be the most underrated American film of all time.  Am I exaggerating?  Read on, amigos.

MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED was written by Tom Mankiewicz, who worked on SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE, DRAGNET, and three James Bond movies.  It was directed by Peter Yates, best known for classic tough-guy movies such as BULLITT and THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE.  One of the producers on MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED is Joseph Barbera — that’s right — one half of the insanely prolific Hanna-Barbera cartoon team.

All of the above credits may begin to hint at the unique atmosphere of MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED — I could call it “cartoonish realism” if I thought the term might ever take off.  The story concerns an independent ambulance company competing against rival services in addition to the proper channels. They’re barely-legal L.A. outlaws, riding into life or death situations. Most of them do it for the kicks.

The veteran driver is nicknamed “Mother” and that’s the only name he’s known by. He’s a man of simple pleasures: He likes getting massages from pretty ladies, keeping a fully-stocked cooler in the rig, and “buzzing” gaggles of nuns with his siren as they’re crossing the street.

That’s Bill Cosby.

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The new guy is Tony Malatesta, a former police detective nicknamed “Speed” due to the bogus drug allegations that recently got him shitcanned from the LAPD.

That’s Harvey Keitel.

And the knockout receptionist with larger ambitions is nicknamed “Jugs” (which she hates, by the way.)

That’s Raquel Welch.

Those are three very different stars, which means that the movie is a collection of very different tones. This movie brims with raucous comedy and sober tragedy, on a scene-to-scene basis.  Somehow it all hangs together cohesively – credit to the sure hand of Peter Yates.  But even with that said, it’s probably still not what you’re expecting.  Cosby’s got a potty-mouth, for one thing!  Your Cosby Show memories will be forever changed once you hear him say “Bambi’s mom had great tits.”  But even as he’s doing that, he’s rocking some real pathos too.  His performance here is way more HICKEY & BOGGS (see that too, please) than GHOST DAD or LEONARD PART SIX.  There’s a real depth to his acting that could be frankly shocking even to longtime fans of his comedy.

Meanwhile, Keitel was best known at the time  for his work with Scorsese – he appeared in TAXI DRIVER the same year – but even though he’s cast as the straight man here, he’s totally down to play. And Raquel Welch, a sexual revolution in human form, is easily their equal and frequently their better. It’s one of her best-ever roles.

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Add to that a supporting cast that includes L.Q. Jones, Bruce Davison, Dick Butkus, Larry Hagman in brilliantly gross & bastardy form, and the sorely-underappreciated character-actor great Allen Garfield (THE STUNT MAN) as the low-rent boss of the gang, and you have one of the most fun movies of the 1970s, and arguably one of the most unheralded.  Name another great movie from that year – ROCKY, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, NETWORK – and then ask me if I’d rather watch MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED.  Apologies to Stallone, Hoffman, Redford, and Duvall, but I think you already know my answer.

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And check out this fun photo-article on the film’s shooting locations.

Manborg

The bad news is that sometime in the near future, the armies of Hell are coming to Earth.  Mankind simply does not currently have the resources to withstand their necro-technological might.  The seas will run with the blood of billions and the SuperBowl will presumably be cancelled.

The good news is MANBORG.

A soldier who is mutilated and left for dead by the ravenous hordes of Hell, the hero who will be come to be known as Manborg is reconstituted and outfitted with a cybernetic weapons system powerful enough to turn the tide.  He is re-captured by the Hell armies and forced to fight in an arena alongside a trio of super-powered martial artists — #1 Man, Mina, and her brother Justice — who will become his new friends and help him combat the overwhelming forces of Count Draculon, and at this point I admit I kind of lost the plot, but who cares?  MANBORG is so silly it’s beautiful.

This is a real movie I’m describing. I’ve seen it.  (Three times now!)  It wasn’t a dream.  I’m awake, and stone-sober.  MANBORG is an actual thing that exists.  You can experience it too, and I highly suggest that you do.  I can’t answer all of the questions you will probably have.  For one thing, the origins of the film remain hazy to me, as if shrouded by Hell-fog or the smoldering fires of an infernal battlefield.  IMDb lists the film’s creation date as 2011.  It traveled the festival circuit in 2012.  It appeared in stores on DVD in 2013, where I grabbed it immediately.  Could you resist that poster artwork?

MANBORG was made by a Canadian filmmaking collective known as Astron-6. They’re a bunch of guys who make movies on the cheap, pitching in on each others’ projects in every function including stepping in front of the camera.  The director of this particular outing is Steven Kostanski, who shows an impressive command of genre-cinema film-checking.  The movie, like Manborg himself, is a lumbering patchwork Frankenstein’s monster of other movies: ARENA, HARDWAREROBOCOP, TERMINATOR, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME, RETURN OF THE JEDI, HOWARD THE DUCK, ROBOT JOX, DR. STRANGELOVE, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, MORTAL KOMBAT, G.I. JOE, and TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE.  To name only a few.  If you, like me, spent countless sugar-fueled late nights in front of a TV screen mainlining action movies, you will be in hog heaven with this flick.  It’s not quite accurate to say that MANBORG is a snug fit on a shelf with some of the more esteemed films on that list, but it would be absolutely true to maintain that MANBORG completely captures the giddy rhythms of euphoric movie-love.  The way you felt when you were talking about these movies, the way you still may feel when talking about them; that’s the spirit in which MANBORG was made.

Another thing about the making of this movie:  The production budget for MANBORG was somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,000.  That probably wouldn’t even cover the price of the yellow tarp for a Scientology tent on a Tom Cruise movie.  It’s hardly any money when you’re talking about mainstream filmmaking.  However:  In absolute sincerity, I insist that this is incredibly impressive work for that budget.  Sure, it’s goofy-looking, but that’s intrinsic to the charm of the thing.  It says a lot about these filmmakers that they could stretch the money as far as they do.  It suggests that they have a future in so-called serious movies, if that’s what they want, although I kind of hope they don’t.  I want to see more movies like this one, although I’m fine with re-watching this one until then.

There’s something fantastically charming about this movie, the way it simultaneously feels like a bunch of film-fanatic friends getting together to make a movie and still invites just enough suspension of disbelief to enjoy as a somewhat corny, bizarrely sincere addition to the ranks of bizarro action movies.  In other words:  Even as you know it’s a goof, you still feel like going with it.  Because it’s just more fun that way.  And I don’t know, man — there’s even something touching to me about the fact that I could walk into Best Buy and see MANBORG sitting on the shelf.  Right in between MAGNUM FORCE and MARS ATTACKS!  This is one for us.  The weird kids.  The movie freaks.  The up-all-nighters.  We made it!  Feels like home.

 

P.S.  Be sure to stay through the credits for the trailer for… BIO-COP!

 

Read more about MANBORG at the official MANBORG site: http://www.astron-6.com/manborg.html

 

Listen to Brian Wiacek’s authentically-radical score here:  http://manborg.bandcamp.com/

 

 

And say hi to me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

 

 

 

manborg  ManborgTeaser_Mina Scorpius

lilguy   Baron

The Master Of Disguise (2002)

On this modern internet battlefield, where everyone considers themselves a writer, and descriptive adjectives have lost much of their impact, I still must insist that THE MASTER OF DISGUISE is best described as astonishing.

Mystifying.

Flabbergasting.

Dumbfounding.

Stupifying.

Every single thing about this movie is shocking — beginning with the fact that it was directed by Happy Madison’s in-house production designer.  Did you ever know that Adam Sandler movies have production design?!?

Next thing to wrap your head around: it’s a starring vehicle for Dana Carvey. In my opinion, Dana Carvey is never less than genuinely lovable, but even those of us who grew up on his comedy on SNL have to admit that, by 2002, Dana Carvey’s impersonation-heavy ways felt long past their sell-by date.

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Then there’s the plot: Carvey plays Pistachio Disguisey (really. Pistachio Disguisey.), a simple-minded waiter who finds out that he is descended from a long line of Italian masters of disguise, most recently his grandfather, Grandfather Disguisey, and his father, Fabrizio Disguisey (a traumatized James Brolin).  He sets about mastering the art of disguises.  Okay.  However.

Not a single disguise that this guy puts on is even remotely recognizable within the sphere of human behavior — or even the laws of physics. But to call this movie and Carvey’s antics “cartoonish” doesn’t begin to cover it, and would probably result in a defamation suit from Disney.

Pistachio Disguisey’s costumes are stunningly stupid, in a way that no one else could possibly ever imagine in twenty lifetimes. It goes far beyond comedy, past the Twilight Zone, into an entirely new dimension. You pretty much have to take your eyes off what Carvey is doing, and instead just watch his incredibly-mismatched romantic lead, Jennifer Esposito, as she very visibly tries to wrap her head around what’s going on next to her.

Thankfully, there is relief: The movie barely lasts a full hour. Then the filmmakers pad out the 80-minute running time with literally fifteen minutes of bloopers and outtakes.  A total calamity, but even those have their fans.  I might be one of them.  Ask me sometime when I’m not high off Skittles and grape soda.

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This piece originally appeared on Rupert Pupkin Speaks.

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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

 

 

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962, d. John Ford) is essential.  It’s essential as a work of storytelling art.  It’s essential as cinematic text.  It’s an essential piece of the careers of its stars, and of that of its director.

 

Stewart,  Ford and Wayne

 

This film came towards the end of John Ford’s directing career, and it’s the second-to-last he made with John Wayne. (DONOVAN’S REEF, a lark, was their final collaboration.)  This one has incredible symbolic power.  Without getting into a more fraught conversation about offscreen politics, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart are two of the stars in cinema history who most clearly represent America.  Wayne was the pioneering, swaggering, boistrous side of America, and Stewart represented a more relatable, emotional, idealistic, and valiant side.  THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE is where these two visions of America collide, and where they diverge.

 

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance PUNCH

 

This movie arrived at what was almost exactly the midpoint of American cinema.  It’s an explosive elegy for the great films of the 1930s, the 1940s, the 1950s.  From here, the 1960s dawned, and America changed.  The genius of this film is how it is about all of these things even while providing a terrific story.  The way that the film is bookended by scenes that take place in the character’s old age certainly confirms the historical reading of the film, but it’s certainly also possible to enjoy the film as a purely commercial old-school Western.

 

Wayne + Stewart

 

Stewart plays a lawyer whose Arrival in a frontier town called Shinbone begins with a brutal assault by the guy in the title, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin!).  He’s rescued by the Wayne character, the only man around who isn’t afeared of Liberty Valance.  What follows is nothing less than a battle between civilization and frontier justice.   Wayne wants to deal with the outlaw gang in the most effective way, while Stewart argues for the more democratic solution.  On top of that, both Wayne and Stewart are in love with the same girl (Vera Miles, best known to younger generations for her role in PSYCHO).  This movie has an incredible cast, including Ford stock players such as John Qualen and Andy Devine, and Woody Strode and Edmond O’Brien on the side of goodness and decency, and Strother Martin and Lee Motherfucking Van Cleef on the side of lawlessness and nasty-actin’.

 

 

And then there’s Lee Marvin, patron saint of shitkickers, who from this role graduated to leading-man parts.  He played heels and heavies for years before playing this, quite possibly the nastiest of them all (although he’s pretty fucking ugly in THE BIG HEAT).  Lee being Lee, he continued to play bad men, but they were a more likable breed.  This was arguably his last straight-up villainous role.  After this definitive bad-guy, there was no way to deny that Lee was not on the iconic level of a John Wayne, rather than playing support to him, which is why their next movie, DONOVAN’S REEF, literally isn’t much more than a series of epic slugfests between the two of them.

 

Van Cleef, Marvin, Stewart, Wayne

 

This movie is necessary in every way.  It’s a virtual textbook of masculinity, it’s a profound statement on history and mortality, and it represents some of the best work of all of its bold-faced participants.  Fail to see it and fail to have your opinions on film taken seriously.

Stare me down on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

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DAILY GRINDHOUSE BANNER

Daily Grindhouse would be pretty much my favorite website even if I weren’t writing for them, but since I am, here’s a collection of all my work so far.  It’s some of my very best stuff. Enjoy!

25TH HOUR (2002) 48 HRS. (1982) 52 PICK-UP (1986) 88  THE ACT OF KILLING (2013) ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948) Alex Cross (2012) ALIEN (1979) ALIEN ZONE (1978) ALPHABET CITY (1984) american sniper  AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) ANACONDA (1997) ANTS (1977) The Apple (1980) ARMY OF DARKNESS (1992) ARTISTS & MODELS (1955) Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) BADLANDS (1973) BAIT (2012) A Band Called Death (2013) BASKET CASE (1982)  BATMAN (1989) BATTLE ROYALE (2000) The Baytown Outlaws (2013). Beetlejuice (1988) BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2013) BEST WORST MOVIE (2009)The Big Lebowski (1998) Big Trouble In Little China (1986) BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) BLACK DEATH (2011) THE BLOB (1988) BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) The Brides Of Dracula (1960) brothers-2009 BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING (1965) untitled CARRIE (1976) CB4 THE MOVIE (1993) CEMETERY MAN (1994) Charley Varrick (1973) CHEAP THRILLS (2013) CHOPPING MALL (1986) class-of-1984-poster The Colony (2013) COMPLIANCE (2012) CON AIR (1997) Conquest (1983) THE CONTRACTOR (2013) Creature (2011) CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) CRIME WAVE (1954) THE CROW (1994) DARKMAN (1990) DEAD & BURIED (1981) DEADLY FRIEND (1986) deranged-1974-movie-review-jpeg-35312 THE DESCENT (2005) THE DEVIL’S EXPRESS (1976) dillinger-1973 DIRTY HARRY (1971) Django (1966) Django Unchained (2012).  DOG SOLDIERSDOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944) DRACULA (1931) Dredd (2012) DRIVE (2011) Drive Angry (2011) End of Watch (2012) EQUINOX (1970) Escape From New York (1981) Evil Dead (2013) THE EXORCIST (1973) Eyes Without A Face (1960) FACE-OFF (1997) Fast Five A tumblr_n2u9s565B11rscnczo1_500 Fist Of Legend (1994) FRANKENSTEIN (1931) GANJA & HESS (1973) the-gauntlet-1977 Get Carter (1971) ghostbusters GHOSTBUSTERS 2 (1989) ghosthouse 1988 GI Joe Retaliation (2013) THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) GOD TOLD ME TO (1976) GONE GIRL (2014) THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966) The Great Silence (1968) Gremlins 2 - The New Batch (1990) The Grey (2012) Halloween (1978) Hannie Caulder (1971) Hardbodies (1984) Hardware (1990).. Henry (1990) High Crime (1973)  THE HILLS RUN RED (1966) . IMG_8699 THE HIT (1984)Hit Man (1972) hobo with a shotgun HOMEFRONT (2013) The Horror Of Dracula (1958) the host - no words HOUSE (HAUSU) (1977) The Iceman (2013) The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus (2009) IN A LONELY PLACE (1950) THE INNOCENTS (1961) THE INSIDER (1999) The Invisible Man (1933) Iron-Man-3-2013 I SAW THE DEVIL (2010) Island-of-Lost-Souls-19331 Jackie Brown (1997) jaws jennifers body  JUAN OF THE DEAD (2011) The Keep (1983) KILLER JOE (2011) The Killers (1966) Killing Them Softly (2012) The-King-of-Comedy-1983 LADY IN CEMENT (1968) LADY TERMINATOR (1989) THE LAST CIRCUS (2010) BERRY GORDY’S THE LAST DRAGON (1985) Lawless (2012) LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) the-leopard-man-movie-poster-1943-1020199765 Leprechaun (1993) A LIFE LESS ORDINARY (1997) LINK (1986) Liz & Dick (TV, 2012) Lockout (2012) The Lords of Salem (2013) Lost Highway THE MAGIC BLADE (1976) MAN OF STEEL (2013) THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (1997) The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) Maniac Cop (1988) THE MANITOU (1978) MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976) men-in-war-1957 MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977) MILANO CALIBRO 9 (1972) MULHOLLAND DR. (2001) MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D (2009) My_Darling_Clementine_1946 NakedSpur-1953-MGM-one navajo-joe-1966 NEAR DARK (1987) NEON MANIACS (1986) night of the comet NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1986) THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955) Night of the Living Dead (1968) NOSFERATU (1922) NOTORIOUS (2009) OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (1983) ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) OUT OF THE PAST (1947) PACIFIC RIM (2013) pet-sematary-1989 Phenomena (1985) POOTIE TANG (2001) POSSESSION (1981) PREDATOR (1987) Premium Rush (2012) PRIVATE SCHOOL (1983) PULP FICTION (1994) Pursued (1947) q-the-winged-serpent-movie-poster-1983-1020195479 quick-change-poster BERANDAL (2014) RAVENOUS (1999) RAW FORCE (1982) Raw Meat (1972) RE-ANIMATOR (1985) Rear Window (1954) RED RIVER (1948) RED ROCK WEST (1992) Relentless (1989) RIDDICK (2013) tumblr_njo3upN5tn1sy67obo1_540 the road  ROBOCOP (1987) ROBOCOP (2014) SCANNERS  Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) SCROOGED (1988) Shaft (1971) Sheba, Baby (1975) SHOCK WAVES (1977) shogun_assassin SORCERER (1977) source-code Spring Breakers (2013) SQUIRM (1976) STARSHIP-TROOPERS-1997 story of ricky  STREET TRASH (1987) Streets-Of-Fire-1984 THE STUNT MAN (1980) SUDDEN IMPACT (1983) Super (2011) SUSPIRIA (1977) switchblade_sisters_poster_02 (1) TAXI DRIVER (1976) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) THE THING (1982) THIS IS THE END (2013) thriller TORQUE (2004) touch of evil The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) TREMORS (1990) TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007) THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE (1972) THE UNKNOWN (1927) Under The Dome VAMPIRE’S KISS (1988) VERTIGO-1958-649x1024 Vigilante (1983) vigilante force THE VISITOR (1979) WHICH WAY IS UP (1977) WHITE HUNTER  WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL THE WICKER MAN (1973) winters-bone WITCHBOARD (1986) worlds-greatest-dad-2009 ZODIAC (2007) ZOMBI 2 (1979) ZOMBIELAND (2009)

Make Daily Grindhouse your daily destination for genre movie news, reviews, and interviews — there’s a ton of truly great content over there, beyond just the parts with my name on ’em.

And follow me on Twitter for updates!: @jonnyabomb

I can’t stand repetition.  I certainly don’t like to repeat myself.  But I put a lot of work into my thoughts on THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS, and I know that some people who follow me on Demon’s Resume might like to have alerts on when I write elsewhere, so I wanted y’all to know about my piece for Daily Grindhouse.  I tried hard to make it worth your time!

Click here to read about >>> THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS <<< !!!

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And now here are pictures of Jamie Chung:

“They broke in on me, and found me doing an unholy thing.” — Im-Ho-Tep, THE MUMMY.

THE MUMMY arrived a year after the one-two punch of Universal’s DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, both in 1931.  It’s a fascinating case, because while it is a major departure from those two films, it also couldn’t exist without them.  THE MUMMY has both nothing and everything to do with DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN.

DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN were such massive successes for Universal that the studio started looking around for other intellectual properties to turn into the next great horror character.  DRACULA had come from the legendary 1897 novel by Bram Stoker, and FRANKENSTEIN had been the great creation of Mary Shelley in 1818.  Universal had seen prior success with 1923’s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, which was not technically a horror movie but is still to this day a terrific entertainment with a great Lon Chaney performance, and with 1925’s THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, which is most definitely a horror movie and also has a great Lon Chaney performance, but realistically, The Phantom is probably considered by most to be a distant second-stringer behind Frank, Drac, and Im-Ho-Tep.

The inspiration for 1932’s THE MUMMY, unlike all of Universal’s major horror hits up until that time, came not from literature but from actual human history.  Ten years earlier, in 1922, the landmark discovery of the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen was a national sensation, as big a story to Americans then as Kanye dating Kim is to Americans now.  Inspired by the King Tut finding, Universal’s story department (primarily Richard Shayer and Nina Wilcox Putnam) came up with the basic concept from which John Balderston wrote the final script.  Balderston reportedly contributed to the scripts of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN also, and THE MUMMY shares not only a writer with those films, but also a cinematographer and a supporting cast (DRACULA) and of course a star (FRANKENSTEIN).

Karl Freund is not generally considered an auteur director, the way DRACULA‘s Tod Browning and FRANKENSTEIN‘s James Whale are, but he’s earned his place at the horror round table.  Freund was the cinematographer on DRACULA, and he reportedly took over the director’s chair for scenes where Browning’s alcohol troubles disrupted filming.  Freund as a director may not have had the same creativity and affinity for the bizarre that Browning and Whale did, but his acuity with making dark horror scenes stylish as a cameraman is certainly a boon to THE MUMMY.  Still, the twin shadows of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN loom large over THE MUMMY.

THE MUMMY begins with a melancholy orchestral cue that sounds awfully familiar.  I couldn’t place it until I looked it up:  It’s from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.  If that doesn’t ring a bell, try this one on for size:  It’s the main credits music used in DRACULA.  Then, after a title card gives a little pseudo-history on the ancient pharaoh Im-Ho-Tep (sic), the story begins.  An archaeological expedition unearths Im-Ho-Tep’s tomb and opens the sarcophagus, revealing this fantastic make-up design by the legendary Jack Pierce:

If Jack Pierce’s masterpiece was the make-up design for FRANKENSTEIN, his work in THE MUMMY must surely be a close second.  It’s as thoughtful as the design on the earlier film — though it’s obviously not a strictly realistic take on what a millenium-old mummified human being would look like, it’s a fitting approximation of how most people would imagine one.  It’s a figure from our imagination, come alive.  It’s a truly striking image.  But it can’t have been fun for poor Boris Karloff to slog on every day, so the movie doesn’t linger on this visage of The Mummy for long.

As the story goes, one of the more headstrong adventurers, against the warnings of Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan, who played Van Helsing in DRACULA), reads aloud an incantation from the ‘Scroll Of Thoth’ that brings Im-Ho-Tep lumbering back to life.  The Mummy strolls out of the sarcophagus, then shuffles his way out the door.  The sight of the impossible drives the archaeologist mad, and he begins cackling wildly, maniacally, as The Mummy escapes.  It’s an over-the-top capstone to the scene, but one that fits in neatly with both director Karl Freund’s background in German Expressionism and the example of the madman Renfield in DRACULA.

When Im-Ho-Tep re-enters the movie, he’s amped down the Mummy look considerably (perhaps as a concession to Mr. Karloff, who after all was as big a star in 1932 as Channing Tatum is in 2012).  Im-Ho-Tep is now cutting a more dapper figure, clad in fine robes and a fez and introducing himself as “Ardeth Bey”, which does makes me think a little bit of how Mos Def is now going by the name “Yasiin Bey“.  That’s just how my mind works.  Anyhow, Ardeth Bey is much more eloquent than the initial Mummy from the first scene, and the more civilized incarnation of the character gives Karloff the chance to show what he can do with a line like “With your pardon, I dislike to be touched. An Eastern prejudice.”  He’s a far better actor, in my opinion, than he gets credit for being.  The thing is, Ardeth Bey is a man on a mission, and don’t let his fancy diction fool you, he’s not the greatest guy.  Or maybe you can tell just by looking at him.

Honestly, doesn’t he look a bit like Tommy Lee Jones on that HOPE SPRINGS poster?

Mummy Lee Jones.

Since every Tommy Lee Jones needs his Meryl Streep, Im-Ho-Tep searches the entirety of Cairo for his immortal beloved, Ankh-Es-Un-Amon.  He finds her at a party, in the person of Helen (Zita Johann), who is also being wooed by Frank (Paul Rudd look-alike David Manners, who played Harker in DRACULA).  Frank is the son of one of the archaeologists who exhumed Im-Ho-Tep, and he and Dr. Muller become rightly convinced not only that Ardeth Bey is the returned Im-Ho-Tep, but also that he is after Helen.  If this is starting to sound a little dry, that’s appropriate because that’s how it plays.  For whatever reason, THE MUMMY lags more than its predecessors (and more than its several sequels).  There is a lot of exposition, a lot of scenes of people hunched over scrolls, and not all of it compelling.

There are a few highlights, though.  There’s the delightfully over-wrought line, highlighted in the classic trailer, where Ardeth Bey lays out his intentions to Helen, “I shall awaken memories of love and crime and death.”  There’s the still-disturbing scene, a flashback to ancient Egypt, where Im-Ho-Tep is captured and wrapped in bandages and buried alive — it’s not shocking by today’s standards, but if you stop to give some thought to how that process might actually feel, you might be able to approximate how frightful such a scene might have been in 1932.

And there’s “The Nubian”, a memorable if somewhat problematic character who is a servant to one of the archaeologists but is compelled by Ardeth Bey to do his bidding.  (Like Count Dracula, Im-Ho-Tep has hypnotic abilities.)  The Nubian is played by Noble Johnson, a black actor of an unforgettable countenance who was also seen in 1932’s THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (from the team who would next make KING KONG.)  Unfortunately, this was long before Hollywood movies figured out how to showcase black actors in any remotely flattering way.  So The Nubian is a very physical character, no pushover, but a plot device, a prop, a type, not in any other way delineated.  It’s arguably refreshing to have a splash of color in an early horror movie, a genre that is otherwise very very Caucasian, but that may not be saying much.

But back to the story.  In the end, Frank, Dr. Muller, and Helen confront Im-Ho-Tep, and since Frank and Dr. Muller are powerless to stop Im-Ho-Tep, it falls to Helen to remember her past life as Ankh-Es-En-Amon and invoke the god Isis to destroy Im-Ho-Tep.  (If the movie doesn’t have much for the black character to do, at least the lone female character is the one with the hero moment.)  A statue of Isis raises an arm and shoots light at Im-Ho-Tep, who starts aging rapidly — you get to see his skeleton! — before completely disintegrating (off-camera).

And that’s THE MUMMY.  Karl Freund only directed a few more movies before returning to his post as cameraman on movies like 1948’s KEY LARGO.  The only major player to return to the character was Jack Pierce.  While he did return to playing Frankenstein’s Monster (in SON OF FRANKENSTEIN), Karloff never did reprise the role of The Mummy.  The character would return in several unofficial sequels, with Lon Chaney Jr. eventually taking over the role.  Beyond the Mummy pictures of the 1930s and 1940s, however, the character accumulated in popularity and became a Halloween-time standard.  THE MUMMY, taken as a film on its own, may not quite be as timeless as some of the other Universal horror pictures, but the work of Freund, Karloff, Pierce, and their collaborators ensured that The Mummy would become as iconic a figure as Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monsters and his Bride, the Wolfman, and The Creature From The Black Lagoon.  He’s a pantheon character, as eerily lovable and oddly romantic as any of them.

@jonnyabomb