I chanced upon a mention of this film on the internet recently and then read DVD Savant's authoritative review [...] of two years ago. I bought the DVD last week and watched it twice since. I just want to say that, if anything, Savant's review was not enthusiastic enough!
This is a transfer of a miraculously preserved print from the British Film Institute of a horror classic that was thought lost forever. Besides the thrill of watching a 1933 film that looks like a shiny new penny (not to mention the wonderfully sweetened sound by Sonic Solutions), many things about this production make it a "thorougly modern Mummy", if you'll pardon the expression.
The attractiveness of the young principals: The girl (Dorothy Hyson) is absolutely pretty and shapely as it should be, if a little stagey in her delivery, and the boy (Anthony Bushell) is a convincing stalwart, if a little stiff. But when it comes to taking stage directions and giving their all to an action scene, they're perfect. (Compare to David Manners and Fay Wray.) The assault scene in the bedroom and the final fist fight in the tomb are absolutely exemplary while remaining graceful, convincing and extremely well choreographed.
The perfection of Karloff: He speaks his lines like the consummate actor that he is then veers into silent film pantomime mode - with great conviction - in the rest of the film. What a graceful man! [His character's name, Morlant, means "mort lente" - slow death - in French, by the way.]
The direction: British director T. Hayes Hunter may be almost unknown nowadays but his long experience of the silents has certainly served him well. This is one film where the return to a perpetually moving camera is evident after the initial staginess of the first talkies. Not a single frame is static or wasted. Everything is economical, effective and to the point. Some inserts (like the two puzzling close-ups of Anubis during Karloff's death scene) are absolutely witty in retrospect. Scene for scene, I daresay this film compares favourably to James Whale's "Old Dark House" (1932), even if Whale's film was an influence and they both followed "The Cat and the Canary" (1927) and all of them were adapting a hoary stage tradition of supernatural mysteries with a "perfectly rational" explanation.
The photography, lighting and art direction by two megastars of the German expressionist era (Günther Krampf and Alfred Junge): I've never seen "London in the fog" scenes quite so effective and neither have you. And the interior decor will positively astound you!
The script: Almost every line is an Oscar opening montage moment and quotable for days. (My favourite line: Kathleen Harrison's speech at the well that starts with the very modern "I don't think so!" and ends with "And after that to Australia!".) The adaptation (from a stage play) is stupendous. I can't imagine a stage play having all those different actions going on at the same time or a tomb set on fire and then exploding on the stage for that matter. Compare to the sagging middle of "Dracula" (1931), if you will. The farcical interplay between the wonderful comedienne Kathleen Harrison (Kaney) and the unflappable straight man Harold Huth (Aga Ben Dragore) is much more than window-dessing. It goes through every phase of infatuation, coyness, seduction, duplicity, raunchy double-entendre, sexual exploitation, rejection and revenge, all the while serving a story that actually makes sense. Some of Harrison's double takes are outrageously funny. This film was meant to compete with the Universal horrors and American films in general. I think it succeeds admirably and actually shows the Yanks how it should be done. It even gives Hitchcock a run for his money. The main reason for this being the film's secret weapon, namely...
The music score: By Louis Levy and Leighton Lucas, who both eventually wrote film music for Hitchcock. Leighton Lucas has the added distinction of having weaved many of Jules Massenet's melodies and orchestral pieces into the popular British ballet "Manon" (1974). Massenet being my favourite composer and since I've always maintained in polite society - after a few drinks, anyway - that all fim music is derived from his operas' incidental music, this is a big deal for my ego. More to the point, the use of music in this film shows other composers how it should be done. This was the same year as Max Steiner's courageous and original "King Kong" score and two years before Franz Waxman's epochal score for "The Bride of Frankenstein" and many years before Hans J. Salter came to work for Universal in the forties.
I also have to mention Cedric Hardwicke doing a perfectly self-possessed impression of Mr. Rat from "The Wind and the Willows", Ralph Richardson going above and beyond the call of duty, Ernest Thesiger (Dr. Pretorius from "The Bride of Frankenstein" and of "Have a po-tah-to" fame in "The Old Dark House") outdoing himself in sheer eccentricity and the two "Arabs" giving performances that would be imitated for decades to come (by Akim Tamiroff, among others). Did I forget anyone? The doctor (George Relph) would eventually turn up as Tiberius Caesar in "Ben-Hur" (1958) [as Thesiger, come to think of it, would turn up as the very same character in "The Robe" (1953)] and even the uncredited delivery boy speaks his two lines ("Carrier!" and "I'll oblige you, Guv'nor, I was going straight back as it was.") with great aplomb! And the landlady who welcomes the visiting Arab with: "We don't want no lino nor nothing!" Priceless!
Long story short: This is a DVD with great repeat value and, as far as I'm concerned, an immortal instant - if reborn - classic!