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To What Extent Did Napoleon Help Create THE MUMMY?

Are you familiar with the term “Egyptomania”? It refers to the craze that swept Europe after Napoleon’s forces invaded Egypt in the late 1700s/early 1800s. The diminutive emperor himself was fascinated with ancient Egypt. (That whole thing about one of Napoleon’s soldiers shooting the nose off the Sphinx is complete bullshit. Had any disrespectful gendarme done such a thing, Napoleon would have had him drawn and quartered.) I don’t know if Egyptomania ever really died down after Napoleon, but it sure flared up again, brighter than ever, after Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen in 1922. Ancient Egypt became so chic that it even inspired its own fashion trend! But people weren’t just fascinated by Egyptian history, culture, or fashion. They were also captivated by the possibility of King Tut’s “curse.”

Carter opened Tut’s tomb in 1922. Ten years later, Universal Studios would unleash THE MUMMY on the world. The movie starred the newly-minted Horror icon Boris Karloff and featured a screenplay writer by John Balderston, who had revised the already extant stage play for DRACULA and whose scripts served as the foundation for such Universal projects as FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, and DRACULA’S DAUGHTER. Carl Laemmle Jr., head of Universal, was inspired to create a new Horror flick featuring a mummy after Carter discovered Tut’s tomb. Since both DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN had been huge hits for the company, and both movies had started life as novels, Laemmle wanted to find a literary project upon which he could base his mummy flick. As there is no one definitive mummy Horror story, one was cobbled together, borrowing from Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “The Ring of Thoth” and the life story of Alessandro Cagliostro. (More on him in a later article.) Laemmle then hired Balderston to rework the treatment, and his script became the storyline for THE MUMMY.

Ironically, as was the case with both DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY ended up bearing little resemblance to its literary precedent(s).

Also ironically, John Balderston, working at the time as a journalist, had been present at the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb!

TheCheezman • November 19, 2018

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