Of the six new double feature DVDs that come as part of Universal’s “Classic Monsters” collection, two of them present features that revolve around the Mummy. Some folks seem to view this in a cynical light, as they believe these flicks saw the light of day just to capitalize on the recent success of The Mummy Returns.
I won’t argue that the box office take of that blockbuster didn’t influence the appearance of this DVD and sibling The Mummy’s Ghost/The Mummy’s Curse, but the attitude ignores a couple of factors. For one, two of the remaining four DVDs also relate mainly to one character: Frankenstein’s monster. We find Son of Frankenstein/Ghost of Frankenstein plus Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man/House of Frankenstein, but no one seems to take a suspicious attitude of their release.
The Mummy’s Hand starts the series, and it provides the most satisfying experience of the four. Though one could view it as a sequel to 1932’s The Mummy, it really has little to do with that flick; the connections between Hand and its three sequels are much clearer
Granted, two of those movies - Meet and House - are a hodge-podge of different monsters; they don’t stick solely with Franky. On the other hand, you’ll find no signs of Franky, Dracula, the Wolf Man or any other creature in the four Mummy flicks. Nonetheless, their simultaneous release makes sense from another point of view because the four movies all relate to each other. Seen together, they create one long story; as my reviews will note, they’re a disjointed tale, but I liked the fact that I got all four films so I could see how they related to each other.
Hand did nothing to reinvent the wheel, but it provided a reasonably compelling experience nonetheless. Actually, I thought the 1999 Mummy bore more similarities to Hand than to the original 1932 film. The plot line seemed pretty close in many ways, and I even felt that a few specific shots were echoed in it.
The film follows some adventurers/archaeologists as they pursue the tomb of Egyptian Princess Ananka. Steve Banning (Dick Foran) is the handsome, heroic one, while Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford) comes along more as comic relief. Aided by financial support from a magician (Cecil Kellaway) and his hot daughter Marta (Peggy Moran), they go off in search of treasure and fame, with some ominous elements out to stop them.
While there’s nothing terribly special about Hand, I thought it was a fun piece. In fact, it’s probably the most entertaining of the five “vintage” Mummy flicks I’ve seen. It definitely tops its three sequels, and while it lacks the elegantly creepy atmosphere of the 1932 flick, it still provides a more exciting and lively program that seems more compelling as a whole. This is a nice little “popcorn” movie that doesn’t shoot for the moon, but it achieves its goals as a crisp and brisk adventure.
The Mummy’s Hand appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture wasn’t bad for a 60-plus-year-old movie, but it definitely showed some concerns.
Sharpness provided some of the strongest aspects of the transfer. The image looked consistently crisp and well defined. I saw few examples of softness, as the movie was fairly detailed and distinct. Moiré effects and jagged edges showed no concerns.
Black levels appeared to be nicely deep and rich, but contrast was more of an issue. At times I felt parts of the image took on an excessively gray tones, and shadow detail also displayed some modest problems. Low-light sequences came across as a bit muddy and ill defined, though these tendencies weren’t a serious problem.
More distracting were the print flaws. As one might expect from an older film, Hand offered a slew of defects. I saw examples of grain, speckles, grit, hairs, blotches, and nicks throughout the movie. At times the image looked quite good, but these concerns often interfered and made the result less than stellar. It still seemed strong enough to merit a “C-“, though, once I account for the age of the film.
Less satisfying was the monaural soundtrack of The Mummy’s Hand. Dialogue usually sounded reasonably accurate and distinct, though I heard definite edginess at times. Music and effects both seemed to be thin and somewhat strident; they lacked significant distortion, but they failed to appear clear and concise, as they showed mildly harsh tones.
These issues were within the “norm” for an older movie, but the track collapsed due to excessive background noise. Hand demonstrated a mix of popping, crackling, and humming that became very distracting. These problems occurred through most of the movie and they detracted from the experience. I “curve” my audio grades even more strongly than I do my picture marks, which should how weak the sound of Hand really was.
The supplements found of The Mummy’s Hand match up closely with those found on the other Universal Monster double feature DVDs. We get the film’s trailer plus some good text Production Notes. In addition, we find Cast and Filmmakers biographies of director Christy Cabanne and actors Dick Foran, Peggy Moran, Wallace Ford, Cecil Kellaway, Eduardo Ciannelli, George Zucco, and Tom Tyler. Those offer short but decent looks at their careers.
Picture/Sound/Extras: The Mummy's Tomb C/C/D-
You can’t keep a good mummy down, so while The Mummy’s Hand ended with the apparent destruction of Kharis, The Mummy’s Tomb proved differently. Our bandaged friend is back for more fun, and he’s still manipulated by a priest of Karnak. Now they’re after revenge, for they want to destroy all of the folks who desecrated the temple during the first flick.
This sends the action to America, where Kharis is sent to kill the returning participants and their relatives too. Essentially that’s all we find in this movie. It takes place about 30 years after the events of Hand. From that film, we simply see Kharis chase after Steve, Babe, and their offspring. Apparently Steve married Marta and had a kid, but she died in the interim, probably because Moran didn’t want to appear in the film.
It’s a bad sign when the first 20 percent of a movie consists of a flashback to its predecessor, but that’s what we get with Tomb. This seems especially indicative of the thin plot and lack of creative inspiration when the film in question is so short; after the flashback ends, we only find about 48 minutes of new material. That makes this “movie” the same length as an episode of Matlock, which is weak for a feature film, even considering the abbreviated running time of many efforts from the era.
If you want additional proof that Tomb is a shoddy effort, look at this fact: Babe is called “Hanson” in this movie, whereas he was named “Jenson” in the Hand! Two years later and no one could recall the correct surname? That’s ridiculous.
Had the material of Tomb been more compelling, I could excuse the shortness, but this was a bland and uninspired piece. Hand was pretty perfunctory as well, but the characters added some mild spark to the piece; like the 1999 Mummy, it took an ordinary tale and spiced it up with some frisky elements.
Tomb featured no such delights. The returning characters played minor roles, and the new participants were exceedingly drab and lifeless. As such, the movie became a monotonous chase flick; Kharis pursued his victims, and that was about it. Tomb didn’t look too bad compared to its further sequels, but it had little to offer. I didn’t dislike the film terribly, but I thought it was a thin and lifeless affair that never grabbed my attention.
The Mummy’s Tomb appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the movie itself wasn’t as good as Hand, I thought Tomb offered a mildly stronger picture.
Actually, the two seemed to be quite similar for the most part. In my notes that I took during Tomb, I wrote that it was a “virtual copy” of Hand. However, further text amended that to note that Tomb provided a moderately cleaner image than did its predecessor. I still saw examples of the same kinds of speckles, grit, grain, and other flaws, but these didn’t appear to the same degree as they did during Hand. Otherwise, the picture really was quite similar, so my comments for Hand stand.
The monaural soundtrack of The Mummy’s Tomb marked a more significant improvement upon Hand. In regard to most of the quality, it seemed much like Hand. Speech remained fairly clear but showed modest edge at times, while effects and music still showed some shrill and rough tones, but all of these elements stayed well within the realm of acceptability for the era.
Where Tomb demonstrated the biggest gains revolved around the background problems. Tomb was nowhere near as noisy as its predecessor, though it featured some concerns of its own. A little crackling occurred at times, but this didn’t approach Hand levels, and virtually none of the popping took place. Tomb presented a modestly more substantial hum, though. This seemed to be a little distracting, but I didn’t regard it as a huge problem. Ultimately, the soundtrack of The Mummy’s Tomb seemed to be very average for the era.
The supplements of Tomb strongly echo those found with Hand and all the other double features. We find the movie’s trailer and additional solid text Production Notes. Yup, more Cast and Filmmakers biographies appear as well; we get repeated entries for Wallace Ford, Dick Moran, and George Zucco plus new listings for director Harold Young and actors John Hubbard, Elyse Knox, and Turhan Bey. These remain short but interesting.
I like the concept of these double feature DVDs, as they potentially provide a good value. Of course, that depends on the quality of the movies included, and this package presents some fairly weak material. Actually, I thought The Mummy’s Hand was an insubstantial but generally entertaining piece, but its sequel The Mummy’s Tomb was a nearly total dud.
In regard to DVD quality, Hand was fairly weak in both picture and sound, while Tomb was more average for its era. Neither are great, but nor are they poor. Mummy fans will probably want to grab this DVD just for the fun of The Mummy’s Hand, but its sequel remains much less compelling, which is the only reason I can’t strongly recommend this DVD. It’s a good purchase for established partisans, but others may want to be more cautious.