Tuesday 23 August 2022

The Mummy (1959)

"It Lives! Again!"

Second Sight are bringing out Hammer's THE MUMMY in a special limited edition on Blu-ray. It's been nearly nine years since Icon released their own three disc edition in. the UK. That sold out quickly and is hard to get hold of today, so if you missed out on that, or if it's on your shelf and you're wondering whether to pick this release up too, read on. But first a bit about the film itself.

Egypt, the late nineteenth century. The Banning family, comprising of father Stephen (Felix Aylmer), uncle Joe (Raymond Huntley), and son John (Peter Cushing) discover, and break into, the tomb of Ananka, high priestess of the Great God Karnak. On entering the tomb Stephen sees something he really shouldn’t, and it drives him mad. The family is cursed by Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), and when they return to England, Stephen is placed in an asylum. Bey moves into a large country house close by, and pretty soon a large wooden box filled with ‘Egyptian Relics’ is being delivered to there by Hammer character actor Harold Goodwin and his friend. Unfortunately they’ve both had a bit too much to drink and the crate ends up at the bottom of the local swamp. Luckily, Bey has recovered the Scroll of Life from the tomb, and pretty soon Kharis the Mummy is up and about and bumping off members of the Banning family. John is married to Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux) who, by a tremendous coincidence, just happens to resemble Princess Ananka and leads to Kharis’ downfall.

Hammer’s THE MUMMY is absolutely cracking stuff. After the success of their first two gothic horrors, Michael Carreras, usually relegated to Executive Producer duties, got the job of line producing this one, and it shows. While Anthony Hinds was undoubtedly one of the masterminds behind Hammers success, Michael’ love of spectacle is what elevates THE MUMMY to something greater than it might otherwise have been. Carreras’ input, a bigger budget, and the general increase in confidence of a company hitting its peak are all on display here. The movie ‘feels’ much bigger than either CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN or DRACULA, the cast is a lot larger, and just to put some truly spectacular icing on this particular cake, Franz Reizenstein’s music score is there to tell you that this is Hammer doing epic. And for a tiny company filming all this in a few sheds near Windsor this was a tremendous accomplishment and should be viewed as such. Bernard Robinson’s set design feels epic, and Jack Asher’s cinematography is gorgeous. Jimmy Sangster’s script condenses a whole cycle of Mummy movies into one film, and even if he mistook Karnak for a god rather than the location in Egypt it actually was, we can forgive him. Terence Fisher’s unobtrusive direction ensures that everyone’s skills are displayed to their best advantage.

Last, but by no means least, we come to the cast. As well as an entire cadre of familiar British character actors we get the immortal teaming of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. In their scenes of confrontation together it almost feels like VAN HELSING VS THE MUMMY, but the film is all the better for it. Even though Cushing is his usual accomplished self, the real star of the film is Lee, the first screen mummy to actually seem dangerous. He neither limps, nor drags bandages behind him, Rather, Lee plays Kharis as a lithe, and vicious killing machine, fully capable of both breaking bars on a prison cell and a man’s back. At the same time his gift for mime, coupled with the superb makeup that leaves little of his face visible but his eyes, allows him to convey Kharis’ eternal sense of longing and the utter tragedy of his situation.

Second Sight's Blu-ray provides us with the same excellent transfer as Icon's previous release, offering the film in two aspect ratios: 'open frame' (1.37:1) and the ratio in which it was shown in many British cinemas (1.66:1). The Universal DVD release of 19 years ago presented the film in 1.85:1 Comparing all of these, if you want to see as much picture information as possible then the ‘open frame’ ie 1.37:1 option is the one to go for.

Ported over from the Icon disc is the Marcus Hearn / Jonathan Rigby commentary track. New to Second Sight's release is a commentary from film academic Kelly Robinson which manages the difficult job of being entirely different from the Hearn / Rigby commentary by talking about the mummy's history in literature and film leading up to the Hammer version. Also ported over are the 30 minute making of documentary Unwrapping the Mummy and the Jonathan Rigby 15 minute featurette on The Hammer Rep Company”. For Bray fanatics there’s “The House of Horror: Memories of Bray” to keep you happy for 48 minutes.

Where Second Sight's disc wins is in its new extras, which finally provide some commentary and analysis on Franz Reizenstein's music score, something noticeably lacking from previous releases. In The Music of THE MUMMY David Huckvale provides a brief but thorough look at the Reizenstein score, and Mr Huckvale returns for An Appreciation of THE MUMMY in which he talks about the Universal Mummy movies and how elements of these were incorporated into Hammer's version. There's also a stills gallery and Hammer's original six minute promo reel for the film. Add in a soft cover book, art cards and have everything house in a rigid slipcase with lovely art by the lovely Graham Humphreys and this set is a beautiful presentation of one of Hammer's most gorgeous movies.

THE MUMMY is out on Blu-ray in a limited edition set on Monday 29th August 2022

No comments:

Post a Comment