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Case Number 05544

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The Mummy: The Legacy Collection

The Mummy
1932 // 73 Minutes // Not Rated
The Mummy's Hand
1940 // 67 Minutes // Not Rated
The Mummy's Tomb
1941 // 71 Minutes // Not Rated
The Mummy's Curse
1944 // 62 Minutes // Not Rated
The Mummy's Ghost
1944 // 61 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Universal
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // November 9th, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge Paul Corupe is still a little bummed that his toilet-paper mummy costume wasn't a big hit on Halloween.

Editor's Note

Our review of The Mummy: Special Edition, published August 1st, 2008, is also available.

The Charge

"Death and eternal punishment for anyone who opens this casket, in the name of Amon-Ra, the king of the gods!"

Opening Statement

Unlike The Wolf Man, Dracula and Frankenstein—Universal's holy trinity of monster horror—The Mummy was not born of literature or folklore, but scraped and shuffled his way onto the big screen in the wake of a real, tragic event. Although Howard Carter's 1922 discovery of King Tutankhamen's sealed tomb is still considered one of the most important archeological discoveries of the 20th century, misfortune seemed to befall the crew when at least 25 of the diggers, archeologists, and guides who entered the tomb, including Lord Carnarvon, the man who funded the expedition, died shortly after. Today, their demises are commonly attributed to allergens spawned from the mummified food that Tut was buried with, but the media of the day sensationalized the story for all it was worth, blaming an unheeded ancient warning against desecrating the burial site.

Looking for a way to capitalize on Boris Karloff's rising star, Universal brought The Mummy to life just a decade after the discovery of Tut's tomb, at a time when Carter, a survivor of the "curse," was removing the final pieces from Egypt. While firmly within the familiar and creepy conventions of the Universal monster films, The Mummy is notable for exploiting the then-public fascination with Egyptology and the embellished occult curse, and it makes for one of the more memorable and effective horror films of the 1930s.

Universal's second wave of classic monster rereleases in the lauded "Legacy Collection" unearths the 1932 classic version of The Mummy for DVD aficionados yet again, along with its four inferior sequels—The Mummy's Hand, The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Ghost, and The Mummy's Curse.

Facts of the Case

• The Mummy (1932)
In a prologue set in 1922 that mirrors Howard Carter's real-life find, Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron, Murder in the Fleet) and a team of professional British tomb raiders discover a 3000-year-old mummy named Imhotep, buried with a strange piece of parchment. An impetuous archeologist named Norton (Bramwell Fletcher, The Monkey's Paw) reads the ancient scroll aloud, and goes mad with fear when the creature awakens from its eternal slumber. When Whemple returns ten years later with his son Frank (David Manners, The Black Cat), they meet the enigmatically wrinkly Ardath Bey (Boris Karloff, Frankenstein) who helps them locate the hidden tomb of Princess Anckesen-Amon. Bey, of course, is the unwrapped Imhotep: a man who was buried alive 3000 years ago for stealing the forbidden Scroll of Thoth to raise his beloved Anckesen-Amon from the grave. Bey plans to complete his resurrection ceremony once Whemple exhibits his beloved mummified princess at the Cairo Museum, but soon discovers that this will not be necessary—she has been reincarnated as a local woman, Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann, Tiger Shark), whom he brings under his control with supernatural powers. Problem is, Frank has fallen in love with Helen too, and he is the only one who can save her from Bey's sinister plans.

• The Mummy's Hand (1940)
Forget about Imhotep and Anckesen-Amon, and get acquainted with your newest mummy couple, the shambling Kharis (Tom Tyler, Silver Bullet) and Princess Ananka. Less a sequel than a reinvention of the first film's plot, The Mummy's Hand finds archaeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran, Horror Island) and his dull-witted partner Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford, Spellbound) on the trail of Ananka's burial place. Working in the shadows against them is Cairo Museum curator Professor Andoheb (George Zucco, The Black Raven), who is secretly a High Priest of Karnak, an Egyptian sect sworn to protect the tomb. Andoheb brews a drink of ancient tana leaves that reanimates Kharis-Ananka's lover who was buried alive in the same circumstances as Imhotep—in order to throw the less-than-dynamic duo off the trail and put a permanent end to the intrusive expedition.

• The Mummy's Hand (1942)
This time, Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolf Man) steps into the bandages as Kharis in a sequel that brings the Mummy's curse to North America three decades later. Andoheb sends a new agent of Karnak, Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey, Dragon Seed) to Mapleton, Massachusetts to seek revenge on the temple desecraters with Kharis's carefully preserved body and a fistful of tana leaves. The older, but obviously not wiser Steve Banning and Babe Jenson are the first to feel the grip of the mummy's hand, leaving the youngest Banning, John (John Hubbard, One Million B.C.) and his girlfriend Isobel (Elyse Knox, Black Gold) to track down the owner of the moldy bandages that conveniently keep snagging on tree branches outside each murder scene.

• The Mummy's Ghost (1944)
For a supposedly eons-extinct tree, the Karnakians sure have a healthy supply of tana leaves lying around. With the remains of Princess Ananka now secured in Mapleton's museum, it's now up to Yousef Bey (John Carradine, Dr. Terror's Gallery of Horrors) to return the artifacts to their rightful resting place. More tana leaves are cooked up into a life-giving brew, and Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr., again) once again walks the streets of Massachusetts in search of his lost love. Borrowing a plot twist from the first film, the Egyptian princess is found to be reincarnated as a local girl, Amina (Ramsay Ames, The Black Widow). Unfortunately, Kharis has some stiff competition in young college student Tom Harvey (Robert Lowery, McLintock!).

• The Mummy's Curse (1944)
Kharis (still Lon Chaney Jr.) finally gets his comeuppance 25 years later (which would be at least 1995 for those keeping track) when another batch of tana leaves finds him alive and inexplicably transported to the swamps of 1940s Louisiana. This time, Dr. Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe, House of Frankenstein) is the priest responsible. When Dr. James Halsey (Dennis Moore, The Imposter) plans to exhibit Kharis and Ananka at the Scripps Museum, an excavation crew working in a nearby swamp becomes leery of the Mummy's curse. Luckily, when they run across the revived Princess Ananka (Virginia Christine, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)), she appears not as a mummy, but as a young girl suffering a bout of amnesia. To get his forgetful lover back, Kharis does what he does best: a little stalking and the occasional murder, capped off with a hot cup o' tana tea for a job well done. As crewmembers begin to drop off with telltale mold on their necks, Halsey intervenes and tries to stop Illzor's evil plans.

The Evidence

It wasn't until the four cheaply-made sequels to The Mummy—often referred to as the "Kharis" cycle—that tana leaves and shuffling creatures in dirty bandages became synonymous with mummy films. First time viewers of Karloff's portrayal of Imhotep are bound to be surprised with the grace and subdued terror of the original film, which is really less of a typical monster epic than it is a romantic thriller that just happens to feature a 3000-year-old couple.

The romantic overtones in The Mummy give it an undeniable kinship with Tod Browning's Dracula, but the similarities between these two pillars if Universal horror don't stop there. Not only was this film directed by Karl Freund, the accomplished cinematographer of the Lugosi classic, but astute viewers will even notice that the main title song, taken from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, is also used under the titles in Dracula. Add to that a plot in which the titular character is a secretly undead monster that wields great supernatural power, and The Mummy becomes a virtual retelling of the world's most famous vampire story, transplanted from the gothic castles of Transylvania to the ancient crypts of Egypt.

Boris Karloff only appears in mummy make-up for the first ten minutes of the film, in a simple yet amazing reanimation sequence proves to be one of the most chilling in any of the Universal creature films, if not in horror as a genre. Although his rebirth is only really hinted at with subtle movements by Karloff and sparse camerawork by Freund, Imhotep is able to cast his long shadow over the rest of the proceedings from just a few mumbled lines of scroll, a barely perceptible flicker of life, and a moldy handprint. By the time that the stoic Ardeth Bey makes his first appearance in the film, his reputation precedes him as a figure of evil incarnate. Of course, Bey was specifically created to showcase Karloff's talent, and this powerhouse of an opener is backed up by one of the master's best performances—truly the success of the film is almost wholly attributable to Karloff's stoic and restrained Bey, who absolutely seethes with repressed power. Freund does a fine job behind the camera as well, making the most of one particular close-up of Bey's eyes smoldering with hellfire; an image that is destined to stay with viewers long after the film has finished. Even though The Mummy as a film isn't quite as fascinating as James Whale's Frankenstein, Karloff's performance equals his haunting portrayal of the Monster in his earlier classic by bringing a bittersweet humanity to Imhotep and emphasizing the romantic nature of the everlasting love that Bey pursues at any cost.

The Kharis films that make up the rest of the content on this set didn't hit theaters until eight years after the original, and rarely rise above typical B-monster fare. Where the first film was more akin to Dracula, the sequels downplayed the romance and followed the lumbering, barbaric path of Frankenstein. Instead of embodying evil in these stories, Kharis is cast as a slave to the life-giving tana leaves, doled out by an unending and undeniably malevolent stream of Karnak priests. The ultimate effect of this mummy makeover is that the character becomes sympathetic not for the eternal love story that lies at the center of the first film, but as a gentle-hearted monster controlled by fiends—a far less complex and effective reading of the creature, and a disservice to the excellent first film.

Kharis's debut picture, The Mummy's Hand, is easily one of the better sequels. As the archeologists looking for Ananka, Dick Foran and Wallace Ford have an intermittently whimsical Abbot and Costello-like chemistry. It's a major violation of tone from the first film, but it occasionally works, and keeps the picture bouncing along until the ultimate and obvious conclusion. One of the most surprising aspects of this film is that there was no horror icon behind the moldy bandages; this time, the marauding mummy is animated by stuntman and B-western bit player Tom Tyler, who proves to be the creepiest creature of the whole Kharis run. With the help of a little post-production magic in which the Mummy's eyes were scribbled out with black ink, Tyler's Kharis has an eerie intensity missing from the remaining sequels. Unfortunately, the de-bandaged Tyler also gives the series some of its most embarrassing moments. Although each of the Mummy sequels pad out their barely 60 minute running times with footage recycled from the creatures' earlier adventures, none is quite as bad of an offender as The Mummy's Hand, which takes almost the entire flashback of Imhotep's transgressions from the original and clumsily replaces Boris Karloff's shots with inserts of Tom Tyler.

Lon Chaney Jr. may have been the worst Kharis, but it's not entirely his fault. The look of the Mummy progresses from Jack Pierce's meticulous make-up job for Karloff in the first film to the dirty bandage wrap of the second film, but by the time we get to the last three films, Chaney runs around in what looks like a pair of pants and a shirt accessorized with the pasted-on rags. Like Chaney's performance, The Mummy's Hand, The Mummy's Ghost, and The Mummy's Curse are all relatively interchangeable sequels, haphazardly directed by B-movie stalwarts who had never dipped into the horror genre before. Not only does Kharis run around in daylight and attack his victims with all the poise of a grandstanding professional wrestler, but on arriving on America, he also has to trade in his atmospheric crypt settings for run-down barns and canvas tents. Blame the budgets, if you must, but this Mummy is more likely to produce chuckles than chills.

The Mummy's Tomb has a well-staged climax to look forward to, and The Mummy's Curse garners some interest from its Cajun locale, but of the final three sequels, only The Mummy's Ghost offers something different and compelling. This installment benefits greatly from the addition of John Carradine's recognizable face as the mummy manipulator, plus it has one of the most shocking finales in all of Universal monsterdom; a curiously romantic conclusion that seems far more in keeping with the spirit of the original than the formulaic endings that dogged The Mummy's sequels and most of the latter entries in the Dracula and Frankenstein canons.

While the presentation of these films is acceptable considering their age, they don't quite make the grade in comparison to the other "Legacy" sets. Sadly, The Mummy fares the worst of the lot, with no perceptible improvement over Universal's original release. Detail and contrast are generally nice, but the print itself full of nicks and scratches, and even a few obvious splices. The mono soundtrack exhibits some crackling background noise, and the volume is recorded a little too low. I recommend turning on the subtitles so as not to miss any of the occasionally muddled dialogue. Given the improvement in clarity over VHS editions, I'm sure Universal used the best print they had, so it seems to me like the results are more of a disappointment than they are an opportunity to point fingers.

The quality improves somewhat when we get to the sequels, although it's important to keep in mind that these films came out a decade or so after the original. The soundtracks seem moderately cleaner, but still obviously limited in fidelity. Brightness and clarity tend to get better in each sequel up until The Mummy's Ghost, with better rendering of darker, shadowy sequences. The final film in the set, The Mummy's Curse is not quite as nice as the much-improved The Mummy's Ghost, but it is certainly adequate, especially since only the original film that will see multiple replays in most DVD players.

An adequate smattering of extras also gives life to this disc. Each film has been buried with its original theatrical trailer, and the first disc features a few extra treats. The "Mummy Archive" is a ten-minute tour of posters, press materials, and stills. Clocking in at 30 minutes is "Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed" documentary is—again—a little lightweight in comparison to the other Universal monster docs, but Tod Browning expert and classic horror DVD mainstay David J. Skal provides some fascinating back story. Only sporadically informative, Paul M. Jensen's scholarly commentary is quite dry, mostly focused on how film technique is used to communicate certain concepts. It's like Jensen is reading directly off a script used in Film 101, and the track lacks the freshness of other "Legacy" collections. Still, there aren't any thinly-veiled Van Helsing ads to be seen, which definitely has to count in this release's favor.

Closing Statement

While The Mummy is an essential Universal monster title, those who plan on picking up only a few "Legacy Collections" shouldn't slot this one too high on their lists. With silly sequels, and only an adequate presentation in comparison to the others collections, it's far from the best of the lot. However, those who know what to expect and those intent on buying all the titles should not hesitate in unwrapping this package immediately. Now that Universal has unleashed its six monsters in their original "Legacy" films on DVD, I'm curious to see if we'll get a Abbot and Costello Meet the Monsters: Legacy Collection to officially round out the collection.

The Verdict

Death and eternal punishment for all who resist the supernatural will of The Mummy!

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Genres

• Classic
• Horror

Scales of Justice, The Mummy

Video: 73
Audio: 72
Extras: 77
Acting: 88
Story: 79
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, The Mummy

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 73 Minutes
Release Year: 1932
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Mummy

• Theatrical Trailer
• Feature Commentary by historian Paul M. Jensen
• "Mummy Dearest: A Horror Tradition Unearthed" Documentary
• Still Gallery

Scales of Justice, The Mummy's Hand

Video: 75
Audio: 74
Extras: 77
Acting: 73
Story: 75
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, The Mummy's Hand

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 67 Minutes
Release Year: 1940
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Mummy's Hand

• Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Mummy's Tomb

Video: 76
Audio: 75
Extras: 77
Acting: 71
Story: 69
Judgment: 71

Perp Profile, The Mummy's Tomb

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 71 Minutes
Release Year: 1941
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Mummy's Tomb

• Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Mummy's Curse

Video: 73
Audio: 72
Extras: 77
Acting: 68
Story: 66
Judgment: 67

Perp Profile, The Mummy's Curse

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 62 Minutes
Release Year: 1944
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Mummy's Curse

• Theatrical Trailer

Scales of Justice, The Mummy's Ghost

Video: 76
Audio: 75
Extras: 77
Acting: 75
Story: 71
Judgment: 71

Perp Profile, The Mummy's Ghost

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 61 Minutes
Release Year: 1944
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Mummy's Ghost

• Theatrical Trailer








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