Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Mummy: Classic Monster Collection (1932)
Studio Line: Universal Studios

Boris Karloff’s legendary performance has become a landmark in the annals of screen history. As the mummy, Im-Ho-Tep, he is accidentally revived after 3,700 years by a team of British archaeologists. It is revealed in a flashback that he was a high priest, embalmed alive for trying to revive the vestal virgin whom he loved, after she had been sacrificed. Alive again, he sets out to find his lost love. Today, over 50 years after The Mummy was first released, this brooding dream-like film remains a masterpiece not only of the genre, but for all time.

Director: Karl Freund
Cast: Boris Karloff, Zita Johann, David Manners, Arthur Byron, Edward Van Sloan, Bramwell Fletcher
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital Mono; subtitles French; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 18 chapters; rated NR; 74 min.; $29.98; street date 9/28/99.
Supplements: Feature Commentary by Film Historian Paul M. Jensen; "Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed" - An Original Documentary by David J. Skal; The Mummy Archives; Cast & Filmmakers' Bios; Production Notes; Film Highlights; 1932 Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: C/D+/B

Although I've never been a big fan of monster movies, I recently tried the DVDs of both Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein and enjoyed them very much. I followed up with Dracula and found it compelling as well. As such, I thought I'd push my luck by rounding out my collection with the other another title in the Universal Studios "Classic Monster" collection: 1932's The Mummy.

At the risk of inspiring flames, I must admit that I greatly preferred the 1999 version of the film. The 1932 edition is a decent movie but I thought it moved at a very slow pace and it often seemed dull to me. Really, not a whole lot happens in the movie. It starts out well and is quite creepy and effective for the first few minutes. The introduction of the Mummy (Boris Karloff) also appears in a surprisingly subtle and spooky manner, and I thought something quite compelling would follow.

Unfortunately, it doesn't. The Mummy comes across as more of a semi-mystical love story than it does a horror film. Such pieces can work well, but I felt this one didn't; even at 75 minutes the movie seems long and I just couldn't maintain my interest. The production is well-acted - especially by the ever-terrific Karloff - and nicely executed for the most part, but I simply couldn't muster much enthusiasm about it.

(As an aside, what's the deal with the extremely abrupt endings we find in these old horror films? They all just kind of stop as soon as they hit their climaxes. It's like monster's dead - BAM! End credits! Did anyone teach these folks about the denouement in high school? I find these conclusions to be rather jarring.)

The DVD:

The Mummy appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; as such, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although clearly it displays a lot of flaws, the film looked pretty decent for such an old effort.

Sharpness was one of the picture's strongest points, as the image usually looked fairly crisp and well-defined. Some softness intruded at points, but not with any great regularity. No moiré effects or jagged edges were detected.

Black levels also looked very solid. Dark tones were usually deep and rich, although occasionally the picture seemed a bit too gray. Shadow detail was fairly nice, though vaguely murky at times. Still, blacks were another good part of the transfer.

The image's main weakness came from the very frequent intrusion of defects. The print seemed very grainy, and other flaws appear on a nearly-constant basis. I witnessed scratches, hairs, speckles, spots and other problems like running vertical lines. The rest of the picture looked good enough to overcome these faults, but they were still quite intrusive.

Also flawed but acceptable is The Mummy's monaural sound. As one would expect, it's a very modest affair, with the emphasis on dialogue; although The Mummy features a minor score (unlike predecessors Dracula and Frankenstein), speech dominates the soundtrack.

Unfortunately, dialogue seemed rather flat and muffled; even for the era, it was excessively dull and lifeless, although it did usually appear intelligible. Effects sounded thin but decent, and the very occasional music also appeared adequate for its age. However, the weak quality of the speech really dragged down the rest of the soundtrack. A consistent layer of background noise - mainly in the form of pops and a vague hum - also marred the audio. I can't call it a horrible track for a film of its age, but it's clearly quite flawed.

All of the "Universal Monsters" DVDs pack in some nice extras, and The Mummy is no exception. We get a decent documentary called "Mummy Dearest: A Film Tradition Unearthed". This 30-minute program is hosted by film historian Rudy Behlmer and follows the same tradition of the programs found on the other "Classic Monsters" DVDs. In addition to a bevy of production photos, we find lots of interview snippets. These come from a number of sources such as film historians, other movie professionals like make-up artist Rick Baker, and relatives of Mummy participants like the son of the screenwriter and Karloff's absurdly-tanned daughter. This feature does a fair job of discussing the history of the project, its inspirations and imitators, but it seems a bit drier than many of the other shows in the series. Oddly, it doesn't mention the 1999 movie. Since both DVDs of both the 1932 and the 1999 editions appeared on the same day, one would expect they had time to discuss the story's most recent generation.

Film historian Paul M. Jensen appears in the documentary and he also offers the DVD's audio commentary. This track is fairly dry and is definitely the least stimulating of the various "monster" commentaries. At the start, Jensen spends much too much time describing what we're watching with a modicum of technique interpretation. This gets a bit better as he continues and he tells us about scenes that were cut from the original script; those parts were easily the most interesting aspects of the track. The commentary also suffers from Jensen's very stilted way of speaking; it can be hard to take, since Jensen sounds like he's reading a script, and doing so poorly. The track is worth a listen, but it's just not as delightful as most of the others.

The "Posters and Stills" section offers the usual conglomeration of film posters, lobby cards, and production photos but it does so in an unusual manner. Normally these would appear as still frames, but in this case, the entire program runs as a video, with pans in and out from different images, and all accompanied by music from the film. I like this presentation; it may ultimately be a little more awkward than the usual frame-by-frame access, but it shouldn't be a problem since one can easily fast-forward through the show, and I think the addition of the audio makes it a more dynamic and involving process. The total running time goes for a little more than nine minutes.

We also find some pretty good biographies of six actors and director Karl Freund. While these comments could have been a bit more detailed, they're still better than average and are worth a read. A trailer for a re-release of The Mummy pops up as well.

The DVD rounds out its supplements with some excellent text production notes. These consist of quotes from the actual cast and crew and more details on some subjects; they offer information we didn't hear elsewhere and they're quite interesting. Surprisingly, the DVD's booklet contains no production notes; Universal usually at least duplicate the comments on the DVD inside the booklet, but they declined to do so for any of the "Monster" productions

When I reviewed the first three DVDs in the "Universal Monsters" series, I recommended them without hesitation. I don't feel nearly as strongly about The Mummy but I do feel it's worth your purchase. The movie isn't as good as its predecessors but I think it's somewhat interesting. The Mummy doesn't look or sound very good, but it's watchable, and it features some good supplements. The Mummy isn't the best of the series, but it merits your attention nonetheless.

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