The Mummy – Special Edition (1932/Universal DVD Set)
C+ Sound: C+ Extras: B Film: B
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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