Foolish Wives (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
August 3, 2013 by Dennis Amith
“Foolish Wives” looks much better on Blu-ray and because of the film’s presentation, a lossless music track and many special features including a full-length audio commentary and 90-minute documentary and more! If you are a silent film fan, an Erich Von Stroheim fan or a cineaste wanting to watch a groundbreaking silent film from 1922 on Blu-ray, then “Foolish Wives” is definitely recommended!
TITLE: Foolish Wives
FILM RELEASE: 1922
DURATION: 143 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, B&W
COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber
Release Date: July 30, 2013
Directed by Erich von Stroheim
Story and Scenario by Erich von Stroheim
Titles by Marian Ainslee, Walter Anthony
Music by Sigmund Romberg
Cinematography by William H. Daniels, Ben F. Reynolds
Edited by Arthur Ripley
Rudolph Christians as Andrew J. Hughes
Miss DuPont as Helen
Maude George as Her Highness, Princess Olga Petchnik
Mae Busch as PRincess Vera Petchnikoff
Erich von Stroheim as Count Wladislaw Sergius Karamzin
Dale Fuller as Maruschka
Al Edmundsen as Pavel Pavlich
Cesare Gravina as Cesare Ventuci
Malvina Polo as Marietta
C.J. Allen as Albert 1 – Prince of Monaco
As artistically brilliant as it is gleefully perverse, Foolish Wives is Erich von Stroheim’s epic-scale account of an American diplomat’s wife (Miss Dupont) who falls under the spell of a phony Russian Count (von Stroheim). With his trademark eye for visual metaphor and gritty detail, von Stroheim infuses the artistocratic splendor of Monte Carlo (rebuilt in all its majesty on the Universal backlot) with an air of moral depravity. The result is a Grimm’s fairy tale romance that is no less fascinating today than it was 80 years ago. First time ever on Blu-ray!
Before Austrian filmmaker and actor Erich von Stroheim would be known for his work on “The Grand Illusion”, “The Wedding March”, “Greed” and “Sunset Blvd.” and after he would work on D.W. Griffith silent films such as “Birth of a Nation”, there was “Foolish Wives”.
In 1922, Stroheim’s third film was dubbed by Universal as the “first million dollar” movie and it was one of the most expensive film created at the time as Stroheim wanted to use authentic Parisian gowns, tapestries, silverware, porcelain and food. Despite execs from Universal wanting to fake “caviar” with jam, Stroheim was insistent that people can tell if things are faked and thus, everything featured in the film must be authentic and for the caviar, he had expensive Russian Beluga caviar used. And while shot in California, a set of Monte Carlo was re-created for this film.
The film was planned to be a six to ten hour movie shown in two evenings. Universal opposed the idea and so, the film was cut drastically before the release date.
So, the film continued to be cut by the studio against von Stroheim’s wishes after the final cut and the version that people would see in the next 40 years after the film was released in theaters was the short version until a restoration work was done to bring the film back close to its final cut and that version will now be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.
In 2008, “Foolish Wives” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
“Foolish Wives” revolves around Wladislaw Sergius Karamzin (as portrayed by Erich von Stroheim). A man who poses as a Count and tries to seduce wealthy women and extort money from them.
With the help of his cousins faux-Princess Vera Petchnikoff (as portrayed by Mae Busch) and faux-Her Highness Olga Petchnikoff (as portrayed by Maude George), the three concoct a scheme to target Helen Hughes (portrayed by Miss Dupont),the wife of an American envoy.
But as Karamzin tries to enact his plan on Helen, he finds himself attracted to her, as she is attracted to him.
“Foolish Wives” is presented in 1080p High Definition. Having owned the previous DVD release, first it’s important to note that this print is the 1972 reconstruction and presented in black and white (not color tinted). The film was mastered in HD from an archival 35 mm print of the 1972 AFI Arthur Lennig restoration.
It’s very important to note that for this reconstruction, various sources were used to construct this restoration, so there are certain scenes that differ in quality. But by no means is this a detriment. Sure , there are scratches and flickering but the print is a major upgrade from the original Kino DVD and the original Image DVD.
While there are white specks and scratches, the biggest difference that I noticed on the Blu-ray is contrast. Whites and grays are well-contrast, you can see the fabric used for some of the costumes and there is no blurring.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Foolish Wives” is presented in 2.0 LPCM featuring an original score by Sigmund Romberg, performed by Rodney Sauer.
“Foolish Wives” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by von Stroheim biographer Richard Koszanrki.
- The Man You Loved to Hate – (1:30:08) Patrick Montgomery’s feature-length documentary profile of Erich von Stroheim, written by Richard Koszarski and newly remastered in HD from the original negative.
- Audio Interview Clips – Featuring audio interviews with Paul Kohner (5:06) and Valerie von Stroheim (4:58) recorded for “The Man You Loved to Hate”.
- New York Censor Board Cuts – (3:45) A document of cuts made by the New York Censor Board.
- Photo Gallery – Stills from “Foolish Wives”
“Foolish Wives” comes with a slipcase.
When a lot of us look at Erich Von Stroheim, the actor, we are in awe how this actor would transform his life, work under D.W. Griffith and find a way to break into the Hollywood studio and create one of the most expensive Hollywood films at the time but also to be one of the few filmmakers who’s greatest work was destroyed by the studios.
If there was one caveat to Von Stroheim, it was the fact that he had developed this reputation of the “Man You Loved to Hate”. With his often menacing look with a scar that ran across his face, not only did he look intimidating but he was also one of the most demanding directors in Holllywood who wanted the best for his films, even though it cost a lot of money and production tend to go much longer that it would also lead to the filmmaker’s undoing as producer’s could not trust the filmmaker in staying within budget.
But one of those moments of “damn me once, not a second time”, unfortunately for Erich Von Stroheim, the heartache of seeing his third film “Foolish Wives” being repeatedly butchered by Universal, he would receive his greatest heartbreak from his 1925 film “Greed” which many regarded as his cinematic masterpiece. Unlike “Foolish Wives” which was able to be restored from various sources in order to bring it closer to its 1922 original state, for “Greed”, MGM not only cut his film from 24 reels down to 10, the studio burned the original film negative to extract 43 cents of silver from it.
In 2013, cineaste still wait for Erich Von Stroheim’s “Greed” to be released on DVD or Blu-ray, but why bring up his masterpiece? It’s because the person who authorized for “Greed” destroyed was Irving Thalberg, the same person who produced “Foolish Wives”, and you would think as producer, Thalberg and Von Stroheim would have a good working relationship but it was because of “Foolish Wives”, that the two would have an icy relationship.
The fact was that Erich von Stroheim’s idea of perfection came to expense of the studio. As producer, Thalberg was put off by Von Stroheim’s excessive spending for the film. From having Parisian wardrobes, authenticity when it came to porcelain, tapestries to the food. Erich Von Stroheim looked at himself as a filmmaker that many people did not understand. His goal of having a two-part film in which people would have to go to the theater two days in a row was not what studio execs wanted to see with “Foolish Wives” and despite promoting “Foolish Wives” as the first “million dollar film” (the film’s final budget was around $735,000, so not necessarily a million dollar film), it was a groundbreaking film for Von Stroheim because of its production cost but it was also a Hollywood film that was nearly three and half hours long.
Back in 1922, the rumors surrounding the film were heavily discussed in media.
Reviewer Carl Sandburg wrote in 1921, “A grapevine from the Universal puts that cost at $1.2 million, saying further that under the direction of Erich Von Stroheim they have produced 300,000 feet of film which must be cut to 6,000 feet.”
But what was interesting about the article was the juxtaposition of Erich Von Stroheim’s expensive film and how it backfired for D.W.Griffith who went broke because of his excessive spending on “Intolerance”. Of course, the main difference is that Griffith used a lot of his own money to fund his epic. And it was an epic that did not make it’s money back. For “Foolish Wives”, fortunately for Von Stroheim, the film made back its money and more in four months.
But for those interested in entertainment, the buzz for “Foolish Wives” was high because of how much it cost to make the film but also media reports that Von Stroheim shot 800 reels of film and only 10-25 would be selected in the final cut. And to be cut again and again.
It was a film that upset the censor boards because of the film’s depiction of sexuality and gambling and that was in 1922. Six years later, the film would receive a re-release with more cuts but this time, it was no longer a silent. Studios wanted to experiment with sound and “Foolish Wives” was Universal’s guinea pig.
Suffice to say, for over 40-years, people would see this version of the film that was butchered. Until 1972, when the film received restoration, while not completely what people saw in 1922, using pieces from various sources, it’s the best release to come close to the original and now, this is the release we are watching on Blu-ray.
While watching this film, not only was Erich Von Stroheim ahead of his time as a filmmaker and getting certain shots that would make cinema fans proud of von Stroheim’s work, people knew what they were getting on film with von Stroheim and that is a man that works as a major antagonist that people “Loved to Hate” but unfortunately, people’s attitudes of what they saw in film, also extended in reality as people began detesting von Stroheim.
For “Foolish Wives”, the character of Wladislaw Sergius Karamzin is a crook. A man who uses his charm on women and steal their money by extortion. He is a philanderer, who tells women lies. Hurts women and treats them like they are nothing but his plaything. And while to us viewers today, we see this as a movie character, at the time, people were even shocked that Von Stroheim’s character could be so vile and started to think the man and the character were one in the same.
But watching the film over 90-years later since it was released in theaters, I do believe that Von Stroheim’s insistence of accuracy worked to the film’s benefit. The set to capture Monaco looked realistic, the sheer number of people involved for this type of film which was not as epic as D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance” but its about how characters were able to win one over through its storyline of deceit, corruption and love.
One criminal, one naive American wife and both have some attraction towards each other. While it is all part of Karamzin’s scheme, stealing her money is his priority but while he seems to target the character of Helen Hughes for extortion, he can’t help but have feelings for her.
The acting by Erich Von Stroheim was magnificent and how he was able to capture upper class society was well-done, but what makes this film work is emotion and capturing that emotion for this silent film. The facial emotions by von Stroheim was wonderfully done and in combination with the performances of his other co-talents but also capturing the extravagance of this upperclass lifestyle, I’m just amazed with how much went into making this film work. It was no doubt expensive for its time, but it’s what makes “Foolish Wives” so different from other films.
But make no doubt that Erich Von Stroheim’s Karamazin is a creepy character. From one scene where he sees the young daughter of a man visiting the princess, the sight of him licking his lips and imagining the girl was rather surprising to see in the film. But it’s the face of evil, as we see in various moments of the film that made “Foolish Wives” so interesting, fascinating and entertaining.
As for the Blu-ray release of “Foolish Wives”, having owned the previous two DVD’s, “Foolish Wives” benefits from being in HD and having better contrast and picture quality. The film was mastered in HD from an archival 35 mm print of the 1972 AFI Arthur Lenning restoration.
No blurring, you see details of the film much clearly in black and white and not with color tinting. While there are white specks and scratches, the film still looks good for its time and there were no moments of nitrate degradation on the sides or any film warping. Yes, the film features sources from various films with different quality, but I’m grateful that these long lost scenes have been put back into the film for its restoration. The music by Rodney Sauer of the 1922 Sigmund Romberg score was well-done.
The film also includes an audio commentary by Von Stroheim biographer Richard Koszarski, also included with the Blu-ray release is the 90 minute “The Man You Loved to Hate” documentary about Erich Von Stroheim plus audio interviews with Valerie Von Stroheim and Paul Kohner.
And for those wondering about the cuts made by the censor board, featured is a short featurette showing the written concerns by the censor boards and showing what scene was cut. And also, a photo gallery is included.
Overall, “Foolish Wives” looks much better on Blu-ray and because of the film’s presentation, a lossless music track and many special features including a full-length audio commentary and 90-minute documentary and more! If you are a silent film fan, an Erich Von Stroheim fan or a cineaste wanting to watch a groundbreaking silent film from 1922 on Blu-ray, then “Foolish Wives” is definitely recommended!
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