Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed (1999) Movie Script

Welcome to the gorgeously restored
Vista Theatre in Los Angeles,
which has re-created
the mystical Egyptian dcor
that was so popular
in movie palaces of the 1920s.
Egypt was all the rage then,
in the years following
the discovery of King Tut's tomb,
with all those legends
about its supposedly fatal curse.
So, what better place
could we have chosen
to celebrate Hollywood's
most famous restored Egyptian,
Boris Karloff as the mummy?
When Universal released The Mummy,
it had already established itself
as Hollywood's leading house of horrors,
with films like Dracula, Frankenstein
and The Old Dark House.
But The Mummy was something
radically different.
This time the monster was also
a halfway sympathetic lover,
and the timeless romantic fantasy
of a love transcending time and space
inspired countless other films.
So let's do a little
archaeological excavating of our own,
as we unearth the original story
of our... Mummy Dearest.
What's the matter, man?
For heaven's sakes, what is it?
He went for a little walk!
You should have seen his face!
By the time Boris Karloff took his
legendary midnight stroll in The Mummy,
the public was already familiar
with the mysteries of ancient Egypt
through the spectacular discovery,
a decade earlier,
of King Tutankhamen's
treasure-laden tomb.
Almost as fascinating as the treasures
were the stories,
fuelled by an eager press,
of a deadly curse believed to strike down
all those who disturbed
Tutankhamen's resting place.
"Death, eternal punishment,
for anyone who opens this casket."
Good heavens, what a terrible curse!
If anybody died
who was even distantly related
to anybody who was around when the
tomb was opened, this would be news.
This would be indirect evidence
of the curse at work.
Even if the curse was bogus,
the Egyptian belief in immortality wasn't.
To assure resurrection, an elaborate ritual
of mummification evolved.
The jackal-headed god Anubis
presided over the embalming rites,
which required 70 days for completion.
Curiously, the screenplay
that became The Mummy
was not originally an Egyptian story at all.
Asked to develop a vehicle for the new
horror superstar, Boris Karloff,
screenwriter and journalist Nina Wilcox
Putnam concocted Cagliostro,
based on the legend of a historical figure
who claimed to have lived for centuries.
The historical figure of that name
was a poor Italian in the 18th century
who passed himself off as an alchemist
and a hypnotist, conducted seances,
became a fashionable figure, apparently,
in the aristocratic world of France.
Putnam's story was substantially revised
by John L Balderston,
a playwright who had collaborated
on both Dracula and Frankenstein.
He also knew
a thing or two about mummies.
He was always a student of history.
He loved reading history. We had
all kinds of books around the house.
And Egypt, of course, was one
of the main parts of ancient civilisation,
and he was intrigued by it.
He was in London after World War I -
he worked for the New York World
as a correspondent -
and one of his assignments
just turned out to be
the opening of King Tutankhamen's tomb.
So, of course, he was in his element.
He loved it.
The Mummy marked
the directorial debut of Karl Freund,
the celebrated German cinematographer
who had already photographed
Universal's Dracula,
taking his trademark mobile camera
deep into Transylvanian crypts.
He also shot the highly expressionistic
Murders in the Rue Morgue,
in which Bela Lugosi
played the Dracula-like role
of a scientist who also needed
women's blood -
not for sustenance, but for mad
evolutionary experiments.
For The Mummy, Freund would get to call
all the shots, not just the visual ones.
"Lmhotep. High Priest
of the Temple of the Sun at Karnak."
Poor old fella. Now what could you have
done to make 'em treat you like that?
Balderston's screenplay
renamed the mummy "lmhotep",
after the real Egyptian architect
who built the first pyramid.
For a while, "lmhotep" was a working title
of the film, along with "King of the Dead".
Meanwhile, Universal was slightly
renaming the film's star as well.
Well, he was billed
as "Karloff the Uncanny",
and at that time, and today also,
there are very few stars
that are billed just by their last name.
So he had achieved an awful lot
between the years 1931 and 1933,
between the first Frankenstein film
and the filming of The Mummy.
Once more, Karloff would wear
an extraordinary make-up,
created by Universal's
resident wizard, Jack Pierce.
I think what made the mummy make-up
work was Karloff, and Karloff's face.
He had this great bone structure for it,
and his performance,
even though he was supposed to be
this dead thing coming back to life,
it was very subtle, but it was frightening.
I think the combination of Pierce and
Karloff was such a great combination,
and they were such a great team.
With the two of them together, they've
made these classic images in horror films
that I don't think will ever be matched.
In preparation for the make-up,
studio publicity claimed
that Pierce had carefully studied
ancient Egyptian embalming techniques.
I really have no clue what research he did.
When you look at real mummies...
The first mummy that I ever saw
was Boris Karloff
in the Jack Pierce make-up, and I thought
that's what mummies look like.
When I finally saw pictures of Rameses,
I found he was kinda different-looking.
It wasn't quite the same effect.
I think, actually, putting the make-up on
for The Mummy and taking it off
took longer than
the make-up for Frankenstein.
I only know what I've read,
and I read something about, I think,
eight hours to do the mummy.
Which I can believe - especially since
Pierce had to wrap his body as well.
Back in those days they only had spirit
gum, cotton, collodion, stuff like that,
but something we even do today
is called an old-age stipple,
where you actually stretch
the person's skin.
And I'm sure what he did
is paint a layer of spirit gum on Karloff,
stick some cotton on - and I understand
he used Egyptian cotton,
I think just because it was finer cotton -
glued that on, painted over it with either
more spirit gum or collodion, and dried it.
Then, once it was dry, he released it
and it would form these wrinkles.
And I'm sure he did many layers.
Where it didn't form enough
he'd add a bit more and build it up.
Very tedious, time-consuming,
very painful, I'm sure, for Boris.
I still can't believe... Having this collodion
and stuff around your eyes,
he must have teared up
through this whole process.
Had to hold his breath as well, I'm sure.
Fortunately, he didn't have
to wear the bandages as lmhotep
except for a very brief
period of time on camera.
But it was really excruciatingly painful
to take that make-up off.
I know that they spent hours and hours
and hours putting it on for the first day.
My understanding was
Pierce didn't even consider the fact
that Boris might have to relieve himself
some time during the day,
and that became a bit of a problem.
And when they completed it, he said
"You've done a wonderful job,
but you've forgotten to give me a fly."
For the exotic dual role
of Princess Anck-es-en-Amon
and her modern-day counterpart,
Universal cast the Hungarian-born
New York stage actress Zita Johann.
Zita Johann had been a powerhouse
Broadway dramatic actress of the 1920s.
She had played in Machinal,
in which she played a murderess who
goes screaming to the electric chair.
Terrific dramatic actress. She believed in
what she called "the theatre of the spirit".
She sat in her dressing room
before performing, said her prayers,
"died unto herself", as she put it,
and became her character.
There's death there for me.
And life for something else
inside me that isn't me.
But it's alive too, and fghting for life.
Save me from it, Frank. Save me.
With this almost sacred
approach to acting,
at the same time she had a very
enormous disrespect for Hollywood.
As she told me in her richly theatrical
way, "I had more respect
for the whores on 42nd Street
than I did for the stars in Hollywood."
When I met her in 1979,
at her pre-Revolutionary War house
by the Hudson River,
she was still drama incarnate.
She gave the interview
by sitting on a chaise lounge
and adjusting her lighting
before she began to talk.
And we weren't filming anything.
That was just her.
Zita Johann was a remarkable actress,
and when I first got to know her
it was rather guarded that she told me
about her interest in the occult.
But the more we got into the making
of The Mummy and the more she relaxed,
she actually began to discuss
her interest in the occult sciences.
I am Anck-es-en-Amon, but I...
I'm somebody else too.
I want to live,
even in a strange new world.
She was a devout believer
in reincarnation.
She told me that at one point in the 1920s
she had gone on a spiritual retreat
in the Adirondacks and had levitated.
Then she added
"Coming down was rotten."
So she was really a perfect choice
for Princess Anck-es-en-Amon.
She was absolutely
in spiritual key with the character.
- Look and wonder.
- A fgure of myself.
It is my coffn,
made by my father against my death.
What mummy has usurped
my eternal resting place?
It is thy dead shell.
I tried then to raise this body.
I could raise it now, but it would be
a mere thing that moved at my will,
without a soul.
Now, when I got to know her and visited
her in this wonderful old spooky house,
she had diagrams on the table
of cabbalistic symbols,
and she did yoga, and she would
teach acting courses as well.
But she incorporated all of this spirituality
and mysticism into her acting.
She'd say "All right,
if you're going to play Medea,
let's call upon Medea
to come into the circle."
She was a very headstrong woman
in the Katharine Hepburn mould.
And the irony of that
is that Katharine Hepburn,
had she not left for the East Coast
when she did,
would have screen-tested
for The Mummy.
Zita had a very headstrong,
determined kind of spirit,
and in 1932
that must have been a disaster,
because she was butting heads
with everyone.
She told me she walked
into Irving Thalberg's office
and said "Irving,
why do you make such rubbish?"
Even men didn't talk
to Irving Thalberg that way.
But he actually said "For the money,
Zita, for the money."
And she behaved in a way
that suited her character.
She was a stage actress,
and she was a very fine stage actress.
She had talent, breeding, looks,
and I think that she felt
that she was too good for Hollywood.
But the money was phenomenal.
And in 1931 and '32,
to make $7500 a week was something
you just couldn't turn down.
But the actress's handsome salary
was small compensation
for the legendary difficulties
she endured with her director.
Zita remembered that one day
on the Universal lot "a huge monster" -
the huge monster being Karl Freund, who
weighed 300lbs and was not a tall man -
came up to her and said "In one scene
you must play it from the waist up nude."
And she said "Why do I have to play it
from the waist up nude?"
And he said "The scene in The Mummy,
you must play from the waist up nude."
Well, what she soon realised was that
this was his first picture as a director.
He was looking for a scapegoat,
and he wanted to antagonise her
so he could say to the front office "I'm
working with this temperamental actress
and she refuses to do what I want."
So she said to Karl Freund
"I'll be happy to play it from the waist up
nude if you can get it past the censors."
And she said "And I had him there."
So it was a very unhappy working
relationship, Zita Johann and Karl Freund.
At one point she was debating
about the way to play a certain scene,
and here was Zita
with her "theatre of the spirit" approach
and Karl Freund,
who was a genius at cinematography
but had a very mechanical way
of shooting a picture.
She said
"I want to play it a different way."
And he said "Well, this is where
the camera is. You will play it here."
And Zita responded "Well, then move
the goddamn camera - it's on wheels."
So this was the relationship.
Karl Freund did not give her a chair
on the set with her name on it.
He made her stand
against a board for two days
so she wouldn't get a crease
in the skirt she was wearing.
His most remarkable atrocity was that
he saved for the last day of shooting
a reincarnation scene in which
Zita played a Christian martyr
who was to be fed to the lions.
The cameraman was in a cage of his own,
Freund was in a cage of his own -
as she said, "a very large cage" -
everybody was protected, and here
she had to walk in among these lions.
And, as she put it,
she was "exhausted beyond fear".
So she walked in among the lions
and thought "Who cares?"
She said "Those lions
looked at me and thought
'That's just a sack of exhausted bones.
Who cares?"'
And they didn't bother her.
My love has lasted longer
than the temples of our gods.
No man ever suffered as I did for you.
She adored Boris Karloff.
But she said something
very interesting about Karloff -
remember, this is probably after
Frankenstein, his greatest performance.
She said "When I first met him,
I felt this incredible wave of sadness."
She said "His eyes
were like shattered mirrors."
"Whatever his pain was, it was very deep
and very much a part of his soul."
And she said "I never intruded."
"He was always a perfect gentleman,
he always knew his lines."
He never complained about, possibly, one
of the most arduous make-up experiences
he would ever have at Universal,
under the hands of Jack Pierce.
Back in those days
they did not have 12-hour work days,
and they would sometimes
work until dawn.
And The Mummy
was an exhausting picture.
But Zita relied on the occult powers
of her faith to keep her going.
You will not remember
what I show you now,
and yet I shall awaken memories
of love and crime and death.
The most famous sequence in the picture
is probably the one in which
Zita and Karloff look into the pool
and she experiences her past lives.
And during this sequence, Zita -
because of lack of food
and working till late, late hours, and the
problems she was having with Freund -
she passes out.
And she claims she had what was
one of two near-death experiences.
She said "I could see myself
leaving my body."
And, of course, the first thing she sees
when she opens her eyes is Boris Karloff,
completely in make-up,
but out of character,
saying "Zita! Zita, darling!
Are you all right?"
And she, of course,
didn't want to let any of the crew know
that she had been on another plane.
The Mummy took Universal
to a new box-office plane,
as audiences thrilled to its unique
mixture of horror and romance.
Beyond the excellent performances,
careful art direction paid off handsomely.
The detailed re-creation of Egyptian
murals and hieroglyphics,
supervised by the noted
Hungarian artist Willy Pogany,
lent an unusual air of authenticity
to an otherwise fantastic story.
Technically and artistically,
it was one of the studio's most
accomplished fright films to date.
The best scene, perhaps, in this film
is the coming-to-life
of the mummy at the beginning.
But what is so remarkable
about that to me
is that they went to all the trouble to
make up Boris Karloff from head to foot
in the mummy wrappings,
in the extreme make-up,
and yet they just show his face a little bit,
they show his hand a little bit,
they move down the chest
as the hand moves,
but they don't show him walking around.
There's even a still of the standing Karloff
in the make-up reaching to take the scroll.
But they didn't have that shot
in the movie.
And what self-discipline
there must have been
to go for the implication
and the suggestion and the hint
rather than the blunt statement.
And as for Boris Karloff,
he was an actor who could very easily
be seen to be overacting.
His looks were so striking,
his voice was so distinctive,
that all he'd have to do would be
to do something fairly strong
and it's overwhelming.
So he had the wisdom,
or his directors, or the combination,
had the wisdom to understate things.
Have we not met before, Miss Grosvenor?
No. I don't think so.
I don't think one would forget
meeting you, Ardath Bey.
Then I am mistaken.
The voice has very little inflection.
He hardly moves physically.
But there's always that sense that there's
this great overwhelming force
ready to come out at any time.
In time-honoured Hollywood fashion,
The Mummy borrowed significantly
from a proven box-office sensation.
There is the shadow of Dracula
hovering over this story line.
John Balderston, who had done
the adaptation of the play Dracula
for the American stage,
when he was working on this script
it seems as though
he remoulded the material -
consciously or unconsciously,
perhaps unconsciously -
but remoulded it in the light
of some of the relationships
and situations in Dracula.
You have an undead person
who has a strong romantic
overtone to him...
My blood now flows through her veins.
She will live through
the centuries to come...
as I have lived.
The ancient rites must
be performed over thy body.
Then I will read the great spell with which
Isis brought Osiris back from the grave.
And thou shalt rise again.
A character in both cases who has
a powerful hypnotic control over others.
Come... here.
"Come here" says Dracula.
The mummy, by a much longer distance,
has the power to cause things
to happen across the city.
Even to the point of the talisman -
the cross in one case,
the Isis figure in the other case.
All that, if you phrase it a certain way, no
one would know which movie you mean.
After what happened,
you need rest badly.
But I don't. I was tired, but...
Why, I've never felt so alive before.
You're so... like a changed girl.
Oh, you look wonderful.
I feel wonderful.
I've never felt better in my life.
If I could get my hands on you,
I'd break your dried flesh to pieces.
And I will have Carfax Abbey
torn down stone by stone,
excavated a mile around.
I will fnd your earth box
and drive that stake through your heart.
As filmed, the Balderston script
told a much more elaborate story
of reincarnation than the public ever saw.
There were a whole series of different
historical periods represented,
in each of which she dies.
There was one in ancient Rome,
one where she is confronted by Vikings,
there is one in the Middle Ages
with crusaders.
There are stills that show
that they obviously had filmed this.
At some point it was decided
that this would slow the story line down.
When Universal began a new cycle
of horror thrillers just before World War II,
The Mummy was an obvious
candidate for reincarnation.
In The Mummy's Hand,
Western actor Tom Tyler was recruited,
not to play lmhotep, but a role so similar
that footage from the original film
was shamelessly recycled,
with close-ups of Tyler
substituted for Karloff.
The mummy was now called Kharis,
and instead of ancient scrolls and spells,
a new technique
was used to revitalise him -
an elixir brewed from
precious tana leaves.
Three of the leaves will make enough
fluid to keep Kharis' heart beating.
The mummy's already
ghastly appearance
was further enhanced
by a post-production optical effect
in which Tyler's eyes were meticulously
blackened frame by frame.
The effect was obviously not completed
in time for the theatrical trailer.
The film's exciting climax
was shot on an imposing temple set
left over from James Whale's
jungle adventure, Green Hell.
Stop him!
Spawned from the depths of doom
comes the most fearful monster
of the ages,
to strike with paralysing terror
the despoilers of ancient tombs.
Having already played the Frankenstein
monster and the wolf man,
Lon Chaney quickly added the mummy to
his stable of frightening characterisations.
In The Mummy's Tomb, Kharis
followed the characters from the last film
to a previously sleepy New England town.
Since the studio never explained
how Kharis returned from the ashes
following his immolation
in The Mummy's Hand,
there was no reason to think that
another fire would keep him down either.
Kharis still lives?
Lives only for the purpose
for which he was created:
To guard Ananka's tomb
until the end of time.
In The Mummy's Ghost,
John Carradine was appointed
the latest High Priest of Ananka,
the mummy's lost Egyptian love.
Ananka's reincarnations at Universal
had become so numerous
you almost needed a Rosetta stone
to decipher them all.
Do you not know who you are?
I am Amina Mansori.
You are the princess Ananka,
third daughter of Amenophis,
one-time Pharaoh of all Egypt.
You're mad.
This was the only film in the series where
Kharis and Ananka ended up together -
but, unfortunately, in the same
sorry state of preservation.
By the time of The Mummy's Curse,
Ananka's swampy grave had mysteriously
moved to Cajun country.
The new Ananka,
actress Virginia Christine,
shared the audience's
growing sense of discombobulation.
It's so hard to explain. It's as though
I were... two different people.
Sometimes it seems as if
I belong to a different world.
I fnd myself in strange surroundings
with strange people.
I cannot ever seem to fnd rest.
As usual, the mummy's amorous antics
had a tendency to bring down the house.
In the end, the mummy faced the ultimate
fate, reserved for all Universal monsters -
a meeting with Abbott and Costello.
- Where will we fnd the mummy?
- Don't worry, the mummy'll fnd you.
His love lasted longer
than the temples of the gods,
and our undying fondness for the mummy
shows no signs of letting up either.
Call him lmhotep, call him Kharis,
call him anything - just don't call him late
for his tana-leaf tea.
I'm Rudy Behlmer.