Discs Are Rated
The Mummy (1932)
review by Anthony D.
Running Time: 74 Minutes
Starring Boris Karloff, Zita Johann
Directed by Karl Freund
Retail Price: 29.99
Features: Production Notes, Commentary by Film
Historian Paul M. Jensen, Documentary, Trailer
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Frame, 2.0 Dolby Digital English
Mono, English Captions, Chapter Search
"No man ever suffered as much as I did for you," utters
Boris Karloff in a revealing scene in 1932's original
thriller, THE MUMMY. Poor guy, he has lived for over 3,700
years; mostly confined in a state of "un-deadness," locked
in a sarcophagus, wrapped from head to toe in bandages, not
to mention being buried alive! Ah! The indignities suffered
for the sake of love.
In Egypt, in 1921, the British Museum Expedition unearths
a unique mummy, complete with a mysterious gold box.
According to the experts, this mummy has "died" a
sensational death, fighting tooth and nail all the way to
the grave. When curiosity gets the better of him, Norton
opens the gold box containing the "Sacred Scroll of Thoth,"
as well as ancient inscription guaranteed to raise the dead
if read aloud. So what does our gallant hero do? The most
logical thing of course: he reads the incantation, the very
incantation used by the ancient goddess Isis to bring her
beloved Osiris back to life. Unbeknownst to him, the mummy's
eyes take on an ominous glow, and a bandaged hand falls as
the mummy comes to life. Seeing this, our young hero
promptly goes insane rather quickly.
Jumping ahead eleven years, a mysterious Boris Karloff
approaches the newest British Museum Expedition with a
proposition to show them the burial site of the Princess
Anck-es-en-Amon, a treasure trove even greater than that of
King Tutenkhamen. Karloff couldn't dig it up himself, since
Egyptians are forbidden to do archeological digs in their
The Expedition promptly puts the goods on display in a
museum in Cairo which attracts the attention of young Helen
- - a half-Egytpian, half-British woman of exotic look and
voice. Helen feels an unnatural affinity towards the museum,
and trance-like, she leaves a wonderful party only to faint
on the steps of the museum. Inside of the museum kneels
Karloff in silhouette murmuring softly. It would seem that
Karloff, as Ardath Bey, believes that Helen is the soul-mate
he has been waiting centuries for, and he will do ANYTHING
to regain his lost love.
All kidding aside, this IS the skeletal synopsis of Karl
Freund's extraordinary 1932 film, THE MUMMY, the film itself
served as a jumping off point for Steven Sommers' 1999
tongue-in-cheek blockbuster featuring Brendan Fraser.
Freund's classic film has been given a classic digital
presentation courtesy of Universal, preserving this
dream-like film for posterity.
As befitting a sixty-seven year old film, THE MUMMY is
presented in a full-framed, 1.33:1 aspect, black and white
transfer. And what wonderful blacks and whites they are
here! Deep, black shadows dominate many scenes, subtle
shades of gray abound in a print of such gorgeous quality,
that I was constantly amazed by the clarity of a film this
old. Sure, there are a few speckles here and there - - none
of them are distracting. What little grain there is, is only
evident on stock footage shots which establish location. A
proper mood is established through an excellently balanced
and near-perfectly contrasted transfer. Subtle changes of
lighting abound in place of special effects, satin fabrics
glisten, gentlemen's tuxedo shirts remain white against the
gray lapels of their black jackets. All in all, this is a
damned fine print.
With few pops, and some very minor hiss, THE MUMMY's
sound is properly centered Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. Dialogue
seems natural, music is never harsh. A typical soundtrack
for a film of its era.
Universal is well-known for the care that they put into
Supplemental Materials, and THE MUMMY'S case is no
exception. As well as the standard Production Notes and Cast
and Film Maker's Biographies, we are treated to the original
release trailer promoting "Karloff - The Uncanny." The
feature length audio commentary, supplied by film historian
Paul M. Jensen, is concerned with the technical aspects of
the film, describing shot by shot how things were
accomplished. His lecture, as it were, is quite informative,
and valuable to aspiring film-makers.
The piece-de-resistence is David J. Skal's made for video
documentary, MUMMY DEAREST: A HORROR TRADITION UNEARTHED.
Here we are shown, through stills some of THE MUMMY's scenes
that were shot, but didn't make it into the feature film, as
well as a mesmerizing portrait of Karloff's Hungarian
costar, Zita Johann, and learn that her role could have gone
to Katharine Hepburn!
THE MUMMY ultimately is not a horror film, but a
dreascape predecessor to the film noir. Darkly lit, it
relies on creating tension and suspense by leaving it's
violence off-screen. Told with doses of humor - personally,
I love a flick where a man is given to hysterical screams
and laughter - - and photographed with dark shadows
encompassing the scenery, THE MUMMY is quite an achievement.
This is one of the best prints I have seen in Universal's
Classic Monster Collection, and one I will often go back to.
Karloff's portrayals of Ardeth Bey & Imhotep are classic
studies in self-restraint when compared to say, Bela
Lugosi's similarly themed DRACULA. Karloff and director Karl
Fruend have created a more menancing monster through
unforgettable imagery, rather than relying on the
DRACULA-derivative dialogue supplied by John L. Balderston -
- who coincidentally also scripted DRACULA. ( could he
possibly have sued himself for plagiarism?) Impressive film
for any era, THE MUMMY's latest incarnation is showing it
off to it's best advantage, and to paraphrase Karloff,"DVD
is but the doorway to new life." It cerainly is a
pleasurable experience to know that the films of the past do
not have to suffer death, but can be reborn through the
wonders of digital technology. Anyone else craving a cup of
(4/5, NOT included in
NOT an average)