The Mummy (1959)

The Mummy (1959) (1959)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee
Extras: Trailer, Cast List

While fans of Hammer films have been well served by Anchor Bay’s many fine releases from the British studio, the big three from Hammer — ’The Horror of Dracula’, ’The Curse of Frankenstein’, and ’The Mummy’ — have been inexplicably absent on DVD. At long last, Warner Brothers Home Video has decided to release ’The Mummy’ in an obvious attempt to capitalize on the new-found interest in the shambling monster generated by Universal’s recent and ongoing ’Mummy’ series. Fortunately for fans, the disc offers up a superb presentation. Unfortunately however, Warner Brothers Home Video has made it clear that this release does not indicate that further Hammer films from their library are likely to be forthcoming from the studio.

Hammer’s ’The Mummy’ offers up the same familiar storyline used to great effect in Universal’s earlier line of ’Mummy’ classics. Peter Cushing stars as John Banning, an archaeologist searching with his father Stephen (Felix Aylmer) for the lost tomb of Princess Ananka. As they are about to breach the tomb’s walls, the men are warned by the mysterious Mehemet Bey (George Pastell) that if they disturb the tomb they will unleash a terrible curse. Ignoring the warning they enter the tomb and begin preparing its contents for return to England. In an off-screen incident, the elder Dr. Banning goes mad and is institutionalized back home for three years before coming to his senses and warning his son that they have unwittingly freed a terrible monster.

For Mehemet Bey has followed the men to England and with the help of the mummified priest Kharis (Christopher Lee) is now seeking vengeance in the name of the Egyptian god Karnak. When Kharis’s killing spree takes him to John Banning’s house he comes upon Banning’s wife, Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), who bears an uncanny resemblance to his long lost love Ananka. As fans of horror films well know, nothing good ever comes of love.

While Universal’s ’Mummy’ movies beyond the 1932 original began a slow descent into unintentional camp, Hammer’s version retains much of the suspense and horror that makes the mummy such a memorable monster. Jimmy Sangster’s story is well-paced and hits all the right chords while Terence Fisher’s direction is once again superb, featuring many of his trademark shots and framings. The cast is solid as well with Christopher Lee’s mummy standing out as one of Hammer’s best monster creations. This Kharis is no shambling slow poke in toilet paper. He moves with steady determination and bears down on his prey so fast and furiously that they are helpless to defend themselves. This is the mummy at his absolute best.

’The Mummy’ is presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and is framed at roughly 1.85:1. The opening credits are a windowboxed 1.66:1 and I have no idea which aspect ratio is more accurate. As is the case with many of Warner’s few and far between catalog releases, the overall image is wonderful. Colors are lush and solid although flesh tones do tend a bit toward orange. Black levels are surprisingly good and the many dark scenes are nice and clear. The picture is also quite sharp with only a few soft scenes here and there. There is a very slight lack of fine detail throughout that might be mistaken for softness but is really just a by-product of the film stock and grain. I noticed no glaring edge enhancement and had to look hard at high contrast scenes to detect any at all. The physical elements have also been cleaned up as there are only a few minor nicks and blemishes and the odd stray reel change marker to mar the image. All in all this is an excellent video transfer.

Audio is presented in English and French <$DD,Dolby Digital> mono mixes. The soundtrack exhibits a decent dynamic range although there is no deep bass and the highest notes of the musical score tend to distort. But dialogue is always clear and blends in well with the music and sound effects for an overall pleasant-sounding experience.

The only extras on the disc are the film’s original theatrical trailer and a very basic cast and crew list.

While I’m extremely pleased with this DVD release I’m also a bit saddened by Warner’s blasé attitude toward their catalog titles. While ’The Mummy’ is a fine disc in its own right (although a few bonus features wouldn’t have hurt), Warner Brothers ruins what could have been a positive moment by stating upfront that fans shouldn’t expect more of the same anytime soon. Ah well, guess I’ll just have to be content with Anchor Bay’s Hammer Films Collection and this one, lone offering from Warner Brothers.