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Tod Browning
Aileen Pringle, Conway Tearle, Mitchell Lewis
Tod Browning, Waldemar Young

An American criminal imports a gang of Hungarian gypsies to gain control over a fortune.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 74 min.
Price: $69.95
Release Date: 10/17/2023
Available Only As Part of 3-Film “Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers” Collection

• Introduction by Film Historian David J. Skal
• Booklet


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The Mystic: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1925)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 26, 2023)

Though best known for films he made in the 1930s, Tod Browning first started as a director in 1915. For an effort he made in this silent era, we head to 1925’s The Mystic.

New York con man Michael Nash (Conway Tearle) goes to Hungary to recruit phony carnival psychic Zara (Aileen Pringle) and her crew. He takes them to the US, where they wow rich society folks – and allow Nash to swindle them.

Eventually Nash turns his attention to the fortune of heiress Doris Merrick (Gladys Hulett). Various complications arise – especially when Doris claims to actually see the ghost of her father.

Given that Browning’s two most famous films – 1931’s Dracula and 1932’s Freaks - tend to fall under the horror banner, Mystic sounds like a departure from that trend. Indeed, it shares the circus/carnival connection with Freaks, but it lacks that notorious classic’s sense of creepiness and weirdness.

Well, to a large degree. Much of the movie seeks to expose the fraud behind Zara’s act, so the film goes out of its way to demystify the mystic.

However, we do lurch into more supernatural – and spooky – territory when Doris claims to see the spirit of her dead dad. Don’t expect this to become a prominent plot point, however.

Oddly, Mystic teases us with the possibility that ghosts really manifest, but it loses this beat without much exploration. That turns into a disappointment, as the movie could’ve made better use of this concept.

Nonetheless, Mystic provides a surprisingly engaging thriller/drama. I say “surprisingly” mainly because – like so many folks – I can find it tough to adapt to the nature of silent films.

Oh, I’ve enjoyed some of these efforts, but the filmmaking styles can make them difficult for a modern audience to access. Comedies fare better in general since they often rely on physical beats, but a tale like Mystic seems like something that might become tough to prosper in this format.

Happily, Browning brings it together for a tense and well-paced affair. Mostly well-paced, I should say, as we probably get too many segments related to the ways Zara and company con the New Yorkers.

A little of this goes a long way. With repeated scenes, the exploration of the scams gets a bit tedious.

Still, Mystic otherwise moves at a good rhythm and it explores its characters well. While it doesn’t quite make them three-dimensional, they nonetheless manage to evolve into evocative personalities.

The cast helps, as they provide less hammy performances than I expect from silent films. Perhaps it seems unfair to use the term “hammy”, as I understand why actors needed to deliver broad work to compensate for the lack of speech.

Whatever the case, this group proves more subtle and nuanced than usual for the format. In particular, Tearle delivers a rich turn as the conflicted scammer.

All of this adds up to a largely compelling mix of thriller and drama. Even without the exploration of the supernatural one might expect, it turns into an engaging affair.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus D+

The Mystic appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The film’s vintage meant it came with issues, but it looked good given its age.

Sharpness seemed acceptable. While never razor-crisp and occasionally a bit mushy, overall delineation worked fine.

No issues with jaggies or moiré effects materialized. I saw no edge haloes and source flaws remained reasonably modest. I saw some lines at times and the image felt a bit jittery on occasion but nonetheless saw much less damage than I’d expect from a movie made in 1925.

Blacks could seem a little inky and contrast became slightly bright, but neither created real issues. Grading on a curve due to age, I thought this was a solid “B” image.

For this Blu-ray, we got a newly-written score from composer Dean Hurley. However, while most Blu-ray issues of silent films just provide music, this one went a different path.

The LPCM monaural track attempted to “sound period”. Not only did this mean that Hurley’s circa 2023 score lack modern fidelity, but also the mix added some sound effects and “dumbed down” the overall quality to fit the era. This even came with fake “flaws”, as the track included light pops and noise.

To me, this concept seems silly in theory. We know the movie didn’t come with the score and effects in 1925, so why pretend?

Despite those qualms, I thought the mix worked well, as its lack of 2023 quality allowed me to better engage with the movie’s era. Music and effects showed decent fidelity – even with more low-end than I’d anticipate – but they definitely kept dynamics restricted to fit the concept.

This brought us a track that seemed “period” but lacked real problems. Music and effects might’ve sounded semi-rinky-dink, but they didn’t come with distortion or shrillness.

The fake “noise” remained modest enough to add verisimilitude to the proceedings but not become a problem. I liked the execution of this unusual soundtrack.

An Introduction from Film Historian David J. Skal goes for nine minutes, 24 seconds. He offers background for Mystic, genre domains, cast and crew, and production notes. Skal offers a good overview – it’s too bad he didn’t record a commentary for the film.

Finally, we get a booklet with photos, credits and an essay from Farran Smith Nehme. It finishes the package well.

A look at scam artists, The Mystic holds up nicely after nearly a century. It gives us a moody and subtle tale that mostly succeeds. The Blu-ray comes with more than acceptable picture and audio but it lacks many bonus materials. I enjoyed this flick more than I expected.

Note that this Criterion Blu-ray of The Mystic only appears as part of a three-film collection called “Tod Browning’s Sideshow Shockers”. In addition to Mystic, it also provides 1927’s The Unknown and 1932’s Freaks.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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