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The Mummy (1932)

review by Anthony D.

 

Not Rated

Running Time: 74 Minutes

Starring Boris Karloff, Zita Johann

Studio: Universal

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 own homeland.

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 tannis tea?

(4/5, NOT included in final score)

(3.5/5)

(2/5)

(3/5)

(4/5, NOT an average)

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