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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 8/31/99

The Mummy
Classic Monster Collection - 1932 (1999) - Universal Studios

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

The Mummy: Classic Monster Collection Film Ratings: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/A/B+

Specs and Features

74 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1 aspect ratio), single-sided, RSDL dual layer (layer switch at 1:00:27, in chapter 15), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary track with film historian Paul M. Jensen, documentary Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed (written, directed and produced by David J. Skal), poster and stills gallery, cast and crew bios, rerelease trailer, web-links, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (18 chapters), language: English (DD mono), subtitles: English and French, Close Captioned

"Oh, Amon-Ra! Oh, God of Gods! Death is but the doorway to new life! We live today -- we shall live again! In many forms shall we return! Oh, mighty one!"

Here I am again, pouring over another edition of Universal's Classic Monster Collection with that same little boy feeling I had the last time. Even though I've always been a Wolfman man, I still have a tender spot in my heart for that dusty devil The Mummy.

Brought to life in 1932 by Boris Karloff (aka "The Uncanny"), The Mummy became yet another flagship in the Universal hall of horrors. Karloff endured 8 hours (8 HOURS people!) in Jack Pierce's make-up chair to be made up as the newly-unearthed mummy Imhotep, only to have maybe 3 minutes of combined footage in the costume in the final film. That's dedication. That's the stuff screen legends are made of. And of all the information you'll ever read about Karloff, not one thing ever shows him complaining about it. That's pretty impressive by today's standards.

The film begins in Egypt in 1921 (one year before the discovery of King Tut's tomb) -- an English archeology team for The British Museum has just unearthed the tomb of Imhotep, a temple priest who dared to fall in love with a sacred vestal virgin. For this act of treason, he was buried alive along with the mystical Scroll of Thoth, which that carries the curse of death to whomever unlocks it from its box. Of course, as curiosity killed the cat, it also brings the dead back to life sometimes. Out goes the Scroll, up comes the mummy, and a young archeologist named Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) goes laughing all the way to his dead bed.

Flash forward to 1932. A new team of explorers, lead by Frank Whemple (David Manners), is about to leave the dig site empty-handed, when a strange man named Ardath Bey suddenly introduces himself, and offers the team the location of the lost tomb of Anck-es-en-Amon. These guys are not stupid, and they indeed find the tomb, making Ardath Bey a very happy man. Why? Well, Ardath is in reality Imhotep (looking pretty good for a dead guy -- like 3700 years dead). Those 11 years since being dug up have been pretty good to our man Imhotep. Anyway, Anck-es-en-Amon was that vestal virgin Imhotep was buried alive for, and all those years haven't dulled his desire for her. Now all he needs is the body of Anck-es-en-Amon's latest incarnation Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), to raise her spirit back from the dead. It would seem, love doesn't die -- it just gets dusty, and walks around with one leg dragging behind. Imhotep'll use all of his incredible power to get what he wants, and murder isn't something he's gonna think twice about.

The Mummy works as a horror tale (although dated), and as a love story. You sympathize with Imhotep's love for his beloved Princess -- in a way you want him to be reunited with her. But you can also see the menace in his eyes. The first scene, when the Mummy first awakens, is a classic. And even though it's lost a bit of its punch over the years, you know the set-up -- and you know that it works. The Mummy is simply a great classic horror film, expertly directed by Karl Freund (German expressionistic cinematographer who helped bring Metropolis, Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue to life). Freund knows exactly where to put the camera to help stir up his audience, and his visual mastery is quite apparent in this film. He may have had problems working with actors, but he certainly had no problems with the camera.

For more information about Freund (and his problems with actors), look no further than this DVD. This special edition disc looks at the history of both the making of this film, and the people who united to make it. Karloff and Johann are gone over quite well here in both the commentary and the accompanying documentary. The commentary track features Paul Jensen, a man that definitely knows the ins and outs of The Mummy, but you have to struggle somewhat to get through his play-by-play commentating, to hear the really good bits of information -- the nuggets that make it all worthwhile. I absolutely hate commentary tracks that simply verbally spell out what is going on on-screen (this shouldn't be like watching Monday Night Football). Thankfully, the documentary does make up for the deficiencies in the commentary. I'm really enjoying these documentaries on the Universal Horror Collection DVDs. They are a lot of fun -- very informative, but funny and light. I guess you'd suppose that with a title like Mummy Dearest. My only complain it that it's upsettingly short -- just 30 minutes. I wanted more, and when the host signed off, I was pretty upset. Another complaint I have about the disc, is that in both the documentary and the commentary, they talk about how the theatrical cut of the film was edited down -- but there are no deleted scenes on this disc at all. No one says why -- they never say these cuts were destroyed, and in the documentary you do see stills from the missing footage. Grrr! I understand that sometimes stuff gets lost or destroyed, but they talk about this stuff like they've seen it recently, so it gives the impression that this stuff is out there, and we as DVD-fans are missing out. I wanna see it! Oh, well. Also included with this disc is a collection of stills put to music, production notes, cast and crew info, and the trailer. It's a fun and well-packed DVD that could have been better, but I'll take it anyway.

As I'm sure most of you know, this is an old film... and as such, it looks pretty old. Still, the film benefits from being on DVD. The transfer shows little to no artifacting, and there are only a few spots of noticeable edge enhancement. The source print is scratched, worn and beat up in spots, but overall, it looks pretty darn good for its age. The sound is a mono track that does great justice to the film. There is only minor hiss audible, and I didn't hear any pops or cracks at all. It's a pretty great transfer for such an old film.

The Mummy thrilled audiences 67 years ago, with its fez-capped villain with his hypnotizing glare. It continues to thrill to this very day. And on DVD, well... it doesn't get any more thrilling than this. If you want to know how this film was made, what it looked like in all of its previous incarnations, and how writer John L. Balderston qualified as the perfect person to write this film, you simply MUST get this disc. It's worth coming back from the dead for. Luckily, most of us don't have to.

Todd Doogan
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