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HTF DVD REVIEW: The Mummy 2-Disc Special Edition (1932) (1 Viewer)

Kevin EK

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THE MUMMY
LEGACY SERIES SPECIAL EDITION



Studio: Universal
Original Release: 1932
Length: 1 hour 13 mins
Genre: Horror/Adventure/Romance

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Color/B&W: Black & White Feature/Color Supplements

Audio:
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono


Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: Not Rated (Mildly Scary Moments, Intense Karloff Stares)






Release Date: July 8, 2008


Rating: 3 ½ :star: :star: :star: ½/ :star: :star: :star: :star: :star:

Starring: Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Bramwell Fletcher, Arthur Byron and Edward van Sloan

Written by: John L. Balderston
Based on a story by: Nina Wilcox Putnam and Richard Schayer
Directed by: Karl Freund




The Mummy is a curious addition to the line of Universal horror films from the 1930’s, in that it is more of an adventurous romance than a scare fest, but it still has that opening image of Boris Karloff in exquisite Mummy makeup to get the viewer going. The plot is clearly designed to take advantage of the interest in Egypt and mummies after the 1922 discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. At the same time, many scenes are designed to echo the prior year’s hit, Dracula, with the same screenwriter brought back, along with cinematographer Karl Freund, promoted here to director. The grotesque “monster” moment of the film passes quickly, and the next hour or so is spent with the heroes as they deal with the attempt by Karloff’s revived Imhotep to similarly revive his lost love. Since her soul has already been reincarnated, Imhotep embarks on a mad plot to kill the current incarnation and return her soul to her original body. While this sounds like typically scary material, it actually plays in a more tragic vein. This is greatly enhanced by the performance of Zita Johann as the the lost princess and particularly by Karloff, whose stillness and intensity is simultaneously moving and chilling. And I should note that the filming techniques are very much in a vein with silent films, particularly for a flashback sequence to Ancient Egypt. In the hands of Karl Freund, this is all fairly effective stuff – not that scary, but still quite atmospheric.

The current DVD is a 2 Disc “Legacy Series” special edition, and is the third time this film has been released on DVD by Universal. The current incarnation includes what looks like a new transfer of the same print used for the earlier releases, along with the same special features as the last two go-rounds, along with a new commentary and some featurettes. It feels like this edition was intended for the 75th Anniversary of the film, as was done with Dracula and Frankenstein, but was held back to coincide with the upcoming release of a new Mummy movie in theatres. If you already own the 2004 Legacy Collection Release, you will likely be happy with the materials you already have – but if you have never owned or seen this film before, the new release is certainly worth your time.

VIDEO QUALITY: 3/5
:star: :star: :star:

The Mummy is presented in its original 1.33:1 full frame in black and white. The print source appears to be the same as the original DVD release in 1999, as the picture skips in the same places – during an early bit of dialogue, and at the very end of the story – and has the same damage visible in some scenes. (The sequence of Helen walking her dog to the house of Imhotep/Ardeth Bay has the same vertical line running down the screen in both releases.) This looks like a new transfer of the print, in that it’s a little brighter and the flicker in some scenes has been reduced. It would be interesting to see if there were any other prints available anywhere that are in any better condition – but it is likely that we are seeing the best one Universal has in the vault.

AUDIO QUALITY: 3/5 :star: :star: :star:

The Mummy is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix in English that sounds a little clearer than the 1999 release, but still contains some hiss and some other extraneous noise. (The same sequence of Helen walking to the house of Imhotep that has the vertical line also is marred by a high pitched whine.) But there has been some cleaning-up done here, and the dialogue is quite easy to understand, even when the characters lapse into the ancient tongues.


SPECIAL FEATURES: 4/5 :star: :star: :star: :star:
The Mummy comes with a bunch of special features, spread over the two discs. Most of these features are from the earlier DVD releases, but there is a new group commentary and a new featurette on makeup artist Jack Pierce to add to the value.


On the first disc, we find:

Feature Commentary by Paul M. Jensen – This commentary was available on both the 1999 and 2004 DVDs. It’s a bit dry, and sounds as though Jensen is reading from a prepared script. There’s a lot of information on tap here, but it’s more of a lecture on the subject of the film than a specific interaction with it.

Feature Commentary by Rick Baker, Scott Essman, Steven Haberman, Bob Burns and Brent Armstrong - NEW COMMENTARY - This commentary is a new group discussion, with all the participants clearly being fans and students of the film. This is a scene specific group commentary with everyone chiming in with their reactions as the film unspools. Rick Baker has recorded some comments separately to specifically discuss the makeup work of Jack Pierce, which are inserted at appropriate points during the film.

Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed (30:09, Full Frame) – This featurette has been available on both the 1999 and 2004 DVDs. It’s an informative look back at the making of this film, with a brief discussion of the sequels that followed it. Since pretty much all the original participants have passed on, the stories here are second-hand, coming from people who conducted interviews with the actors and filmmakers when they were alive. There’s some good stuff here, including a graphic description of how difficult it was to do the heavy Mummy makeup seen at the beginning of the film. And there’s a general recounting of the difficulties onset between director Freund and Zita Johann, culminating in a discussion of a deleted sequence of a past life of her character being fed to the lions. (The discussion of deleted material is fascinating, but none of these scenes has ever been found, to my knowledge.)

Posters & Stills (9:44, Full Frame) – This feature has been available on both the 1999 and 2004 editions under the title The Mummy Archive. It’s a nearly ten minute display of various posters, lobby cards and production stills, backed with score from the film, including the opening titles and their signature lift from Swan Lake.

Trailer Gallery – (6:34 total, Full Frame) - Trailers for the original Mummy movie and its four sequels are presented here, as they were in the 2004 Legacy Collection. Picture and sound quality is a bit distressed, but they’re fun to watch as a quick romp through the stories of the five films. There’s also a lot of fun to be had in seeing how the studio will try to sell the same story in each succeeding instalment. (In the sequels, the Mummy effectively just shambles his way through the movie strangling people – who stand still, screaming their heads off - until somebody does something rash, like set him on fire. On the other hand, the Mummy really could be seen as an early incarnation of a zombie...)

On the second disc, we find two more featurettes and a documentary:

He Who Made Monsters: The Life and Art of Jack Pierce (24:58, Anamorphic) – NEW FEATURETTE - This 25 minute featurette explores the work of makeup artist Jack Pierce, who created multiple horror makeups for Universal over 75 years ago, including Frankenstein and the legendary smile for The Man Who Laughs, which is universally acknowledged to be a primary origin of Batman’s nemesis, The Joker.

Unraveling the Legacy of the Mummy – (8:06, Non-anamorphic) - This featurette is really a promo for the 2001 film The Mummy Returns, only starting with a very brief look at the original 1932 film, tracking forward to the 1999 remake and spending the bulk of the time on the sequel. This featurette is also available on the new editions of the 1999 and 2001 films. Given that the material stops at 2001 and promotes, it feels like this may have been put together and used at the time. But I’ve been unable to weed through all the releases and editions of all the Mummy movies to know for certain. Anyone who reads this review and can place the original appearance of this featurette will get applause from me.

Universal Horror (1:35:14, Full Frame) – This 1998 documentary, narrated by Kenneth Branagh, has previously been seen on television and has been available on the 75th Anniversary DVDs of Dracula and Frankenstein. It essentially covers the gamut of classic Universal horror films, starting from before Dracula and including several lesser-known films to boot. As is usual with these documentaries, the piece consists of interviews with surviving crew members and cast (including Fay Wray from King Kong and various scholars and family members, intercut with footage from the films and the odd production still for variety. There's also a bit of color on-set footage from a test for Son of Frankenstein, showing Karloff mock-strangling Jack Pierce and revealing the monster in all his green glory. (One wonders if that had any impact on the eventual coloring of The Incredible Hulk...) It’s fascinating material, for those who have not seen these interviews before.



Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish for the film itself, as well as for the special features. A standard chapter menu is included for quick reference.

IN THE END...

The Mummy finally receives its own 75th Anniversary edition a year late, with a couple of new items to make the new 2 Disc SE a bit more enticing. Fans who have the Legacy Collection are likely to be fine with what they already possess. Fans who have never purchased or even seen this film before may be very happy to get this latest incarnation.


Kevin Koster
July 13, 2008.
 

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