As primeval as the Nile, the sacrilegious side of amour fou. "Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?" The uncanny intro is practically Dreyer on the Universal lot, Vampyr is concurrent and Ordet adduces a detail or two: The camera pans to the occupied sarcophagus then back for a dolly-in close-up of the young archaeologist absorbed in the Scroll of Thoth, a cut gives a slowly opening eyelid on Boris Karloff's dust-encrusted visage followed by the uncrossing of ossified arms, it fades out on maddened cackling and a sandy handprint on the table. Osiris and Iris ca. 1932, the mummy unwrapped is a Cairo Museum benefactor in kaftan and fez, his beloved's latest incarnation is a Sudanese governor's daughter (Zita Johann) with a marked distaste for the "dreadfully modern." Told about closing hours while contemplating the princess' tomb on display, the sepulchral seeker answers with the weight of the millennia ("I did not notice the time"). Glowing eyes against parched skin like moonlight over the desert signal the rendezvous, the British explorer (Arthur Byron) and his son (David Manners) do their best to get in the way with the help of the "occult sciences" specialist (Edward Van Sloan). "I shall awaken memories of love... and crime... and death..." The most meditative of classic frights is an unanswerable drift of obsession, laid out by Karl Freund as a fugue of stillness and movement, indelibly embodied by Karloff as a decrepit vessel pulled onward by a wandering spirit's erotic torment. Johann in sacramental kalasiris is like nothing so much as one of John Singer Sargent's Egyptian maidens, the swirling magic pool is a camera obscura plus a rediscovery of silent-film gesture. "Make thee another self," so goes the sonnet, among the great admirers are Franju (transfixed lady in satin gown stepping over crumpled suitor) and Buñuel (exalted lover brought down by statue's moving arm). Cinematography by Charles Stumar. With Bramwell Fletcher, Leonard Mudie, and Noble Johnson. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce