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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Monster > Zombie > The Mummy – Special Edition (1932/Universal DVD Set)

The Mummy – Special Edition (1932/Universal DVD Set)

 

Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Film: B

 

 

When George Romero recently referenced The Mummy in his Diary Of The Dead (reviewed elsewhere on this site) as a gag, he was acknowledging that this famous monster was the first major zombie figure of any type to make an impact, though not revived by Voodoo or the potentially Sci-Fi means that put Romero on the map.  Though it seems unlikely students from any film school would make such a film, it reminds us how long it has been since a pre-digital Mummy had walked across the big screen versus the digital ones from the Brendan Frazier revival.  Yet, this is the legacy, influence and long, dark shadow the original 1932 Karl Freund-directed Mummy casts.

 

Over 75 years old now, the film has never been topped, few sequels or remakes have come close to adding anything to the mythos and when you watch the film again today, realize how brilliantly directed, edited and paced this film is to the point that you realize how underrated a classic it is.  Sure, it may have some similarities to the Lugosi Dracula, runs a strong-if-short 75 minutes and does not have the Lon Chaney “slowwalk” his sequels would permanently add to the legend, but the well-thought out suspense and terror is effective and the fact that the film is old and is about events that also happened 3,700 years earlier only add to its authenticity much like watching the first Raiders Of The Lost Ark over a quarter century later.  Age only helps it.

 

I like Chaney in the role very much, but here, it is Boris Karloff proving he was not just a one-trick pony as Frankenstein, applying his gentlemanly manner to subtly chilling ends as both the monster and impersonating “interested party” Ardath Bey.  As a result of the dual identity, we get to watch as he moves among the current living as he plots to take over the world and get his ages-old love interest back, all while the others have no idea what is really going on despite the archeologists following every lead in unraveling (maybe literally) the mystery before them of The Mummy and how it has gone missing.

 

By taking the indirect approach, the Nina Wilcox Putnam/Richard Schayer/John L. Balderston screenplay is a gem, giving some sympathy for the monster he might not otherwise have, but what he wants is wrong, unspeakable, immoral and he must be stopped.  Even with a fine cast that includes Zita Johann, David Manners, Bramwell Fletcher, Arthur Brown and Edward Van Sloan, it is the mighty Karloff who is larger than life, giving the film and title character power, edge and believability worthy of the best monster performances in cinema history, sound or silent.

 

Then there is the amazing make-up by Jack P. Pierce whose work was years ahead of any other make-up artist in Hollywood, a decade ahead of the innovations in Citizen Kane, way ahead of its time in general and as far as Mummy make-up and its digital equivalent in future films, have never been surpassed.  The stark detail and chilling authenticity is pure genius and from a time before effects make-up even existed.  He worked on White Zombie, the first film to deal with traditional zombies in 1932 connected to voodoo and along with making all the other major, original Universal Monsters and other unforgettable designs, to say this is among his best speaks volumes on his prolificness.  His work is the gift that keeps on giving.

 

Finally there is Freund, who only directed 10 films, but did the cinematography on so many more.  Like other later great cinematographers who turned director occasionally, he proved he could helm a picture as well as he could lens it and this is the most successful of all his directorial works, with the 1935 Mad Love (reviewed elsewhere on this site) not far behind.  Because of his shot approaches, the cinematic space he comes up with most would have never approached or thought to do, because of his understanding of light and angles, because of his serious detailed care of the material, this film, still holds up stunningly well and if you did not know better, you would think the film was made years later.  That is how groundbreaking this classic is.

 

 

The 1.33 X 1 black and white image looks pretty good for the DVD format, though the print has a few flaws, looks pretty good.  Though Freund was arguably the greatest cinematographer alive at the time, he tapped veteran Charles J. Stumar to lens this film for and with him and was so effective, that Stumar returned to the genre with Werewolf Of London and The Raven, both 1935.  He died in an airplane crash that same year.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sounds very good for any film from 1932 and the sound design just might be up there with Hawks’ Scarface for a film of its time, including an effective score by James Dietrich.  Extras include a trailer gallery for all the films in the original Universal Mummy Series, posters & stills section, Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed featurette and two fine audio commentary tracks on DVD 1.

 

Film Historian Paul M. Jensen’s commentary is highly informative and one of the best on any Horror film to date, while the second group track with make-up expert Rick Baker, Bob Burns, Steven Haberman, Scott Essman and Brent Armstrong is also informative and has some fun moments.  DVD 2 adds He Who Made Monsters: The Life & Art Of Jack Pierce featurette about his work, legacy and how he did not get enough credit for it, Unraveling The Legacy of The Mummy short featurette which is less than 10 minutes, is designed to promote the 1999 remake and jump cuts form 1932 to 1999 skipping the important Hammer Mummy films Universal actually participated in making and distributing (!?!) and the excellent Kenneth Branagh narrated Universal Horror remains an excellent documentary about the studio’s Golden Age with the genre and also features clips of other key genre classics.

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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