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The Passion of Joan of Arc -The Criterion Collection #62 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 3, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

If you have been interested in watching “The Passion of Joan of Arc” for the first time, it’s definitely an experience! May you be new to the Criterion Collection or a Criterion Collection owner who owned the original 1999 DVD, this new 2018 Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection is absolutely magnificent and surpasses the older DVD release in every way!  This is the definitive version to own! Highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 1928 Gaumont. The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Passion of Joan of Arc -The Criterion Collection #62

YEAR OF FILM: 1928

DURATION: 81 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 aspect ratio, Black and White, Silent, French Intertitles with English Subtitles

COMPANY: Warner Bros./THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: March 20, 2018


Directed by Carl Th. Dreyer

Screenplay by Carl Th. Dreyer in collaboration with Joseph Delteil

Cinematography by Rudolf Maté

Edited by Marguerite Beauge, Carl Theodor Dreyer

Historical Consultant: Pierre Champion

Art Direction: Hermann Warm

Set Decoration: Jean Hugo, Hermann Warm

Production Design:   Jean Hugo

Costume Design:  Valentine Hugo


Starring:

Renee Jeanne Falconetti as Jeanne d’Arc

Eugène Silvain as Pierre Cauchon

André Berley as Jean d’Estivet

Maurice Schutz as Nicloas Loyseleur

Antonin Artaud as Jean Massieu

Gilbert Dalleu as Jean Lemaitre

Jean d’Yd as Nicolas de Houppeville

Louis Ravet as Jean Beaupère

 


Spiritual rapture and institutional hypocrisy come to stark, vivid life in one of the most transcendent masterpieces of the silent era. Chronicling the trial of Joan of Arc in the days leading up to her execution, Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer depicts her torment with startling immediacy, employing an array of techniques including expressionistic lighting, interconnected sets, and painfully intimate close-ups to immerse viewers in her subjective experience. Anchoring Dreyer’s audacious formal experimentation is a legendary performance by Renée Falconetti, whose haunted face channels both the agony and the ecstasy of martyrdom.


In 1928, the film “La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc” based on the trial of  Joan of Arc was directed by Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer.  The film is considered a landmark in cinema and was released by The Criterion Collection back in 1999.

But its one thing to watch the powerful silent film starring Renée Jeanne Falconetti as it details the actual trial of Jeanne d’Arc (based on the actual court documents) and to hear the amazing music by Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light” accompanying the film.  But what is equally amazing is the story behind-the-making of the film because there have been many different versions of Dreyer’s original film.

Right at the beginning of working on the film, the French nationalist campaigned against the film because it was directed by a non-French director, a non Catholic director and they simply felt he was not the right person to direct a film about the country’s icon hero Joan of Arc.  So, the archbishop of Paris ordered changes to be made for the film without Dreyer’s input.

Then on Dec. 1928, the original negative of the film was destroyed during the fire at UFA studio in Berlin.  All Dreyer had now was worn out copies that were distributed earlier at screenings.  Heartbroken by what happened, Dreyer was able to create a new version of the film utilizing alternative takes and almost matched the original.  But another fire took place at the labs of G.M. de Boulogne-Billancourt in 1929 and the second negative was lost.

But then a lost version of the film at 61 minutes without the intertitles was found in 1933 and featured a vocal narrative. In 1951, film historian Lo Duca found an intact negative in the vaults of Gaumont Studios that was based on Dreyer’s second negative and Lo Duca made major changes and included subtitles and a vocal narrative.  This was released and infuriated Dreyer even more (who hoped that Lo Duca would release the original negative of the film instead of his “modernized” version).  Then the Danish Film Institute went on to work on another film based on existing prints and utilizing another source print found in London which contained extra shots but also missing nearly 200 shots.

Needless to say, within the next 60+ years, people who have seen the film have seen different versions.  The original 1928 film was burned in the fire and the true version would never be seen by moviegoers…until 1981 when a workman in Oslo, Norway who was cleaning out a closet at a mental institution found film canisters.  The canisters were given to the Norwegian film Institute and it was discovered that the canisters were the original print of the film from 1928.

Immediately the film was restored and remastered.  In 1999, the Criterion Collection DVD would feature the first definitive edition of  “The Passion of Joan of Arc”.

Fastforward to 2018, and not only do we get this wonderful film with a 2K digital restoration of the film by Gaumont, but now we get the film presented in 24 and 20 frames per second.  And also, this version we get three scores and more special features, making this the current, definitive version of “The Passion of Joan of Arc” to own!

For those not familiar with Joan of Arc, she is a national heroine of France and post-posthumously named a Catholic saint.  As an illiterate peasant girl from France, she started hearing voices in her head and that it was from God.  Jeanne d’Arc at 17-years-old was responsible for leading the French Army (disguised as a man but later revealed as a woman) and winning victories during the Hundred Years’ War against the English.  She was feared by the Burgundians and the English and was eventually captured and put on trial.

The silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” takes place during the trial based on actual transcripts of Jeanne d’Arc being put on trial for heresy.  She was interrogated and each answer she gave, she would surprise the court and the court would try to scare her in order to get her to be sentenced in someway or manner.  We see the entire trial and also her execution and the aftermath of her execution.

Although a silent film, it’s the acting of Renée Jeanne Falconetti that captures the attention of the viewer.  No sound or words are needed to understand the fear in her eyes, her belief in God…the court is also well captured as their expressions tell you their frustration but also their cold, calculating ways of trying to get Jeanne d’Arc to answer their questions.

Accompanied by the Voices of Light soundtrack, we are greeted with one of the earliest and more powerful silent films that has been regarded as one of the top films of all time and on various polls of the top films of all time, “The Passion of the Joan of Arc” is easily in the top 10.


VIDEO:

“The Passion of Joan of Arc” is featured in black and white (1:33:1 aspect ratio). Considering what had taken place with the film for over 70 years, this footage found in 1981 and restored for the The Criterion Collection DVD is fantastic. Not perfect but compared to the VHS blurry copies that people have had for many years, the quality on this DVD is awesome for a film that is over 80-years-old. You do see a bit of scratches and dust but with all the work that went in to correct many frames from warping and acid and massive dust, the picture quality is very good. According to Criterion, the digital transfer was created at 24 frames a second from a 35mm fine-grain master positive made from the restored negative. The transfer was restored utilizing the MTI Digital Restoration System.

According to the Criterion Collection, “This new digital restoration by Gaumont and the Centre national du cinema et de l’image animee was created in 2K resolution from a duplicate negative made from an original positive print held by the Danish Film Institute, which also provided the original Danish intertitles presented in the 20-frame-per-second version”.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

As for the lossless audio, when “The Passions of Joan of Arc”  was released by the Criterion Collection in 1999, I commented on how the silent film included Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light” is fantastic.

I absolutely loved the soundtrack, but with the Blu-ray release, the Criterion Collection now offers three scores: Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light”, Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory and Portishead’s Adrian Utley and another by composer/pianist Mie Yanashita.

According to the Criterion Collection, “The recording of Richard Einhorn’s ‘Voices of Light’ presented here, from 1995, features performances by Anonymous 4, soprano soloist Susan Narucki, the Radio Netherlands Philharmonic and Choir, and other musicians, conducted by Steven Mercurio, Grace Row produced the recording”.

“Adrian Utley and Will Gregory’s score, produced with the support of Colston Hall and Watershed in Bristol, england, and Hauser & Wirth Somerset, is a combination of live recordings from two 2016 performances, one at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London and the other at Wells Cathedral in Somerset.  The twenty-piece ensemble conducted by Charles Hazlewood features an eight-piece choire, a brass quintet, and five electric guitars, as well as synths, percussion and three medieval harps.  Special guest Jonsi Birgisson is featured as a vocal soloist”.

“The Mie Yanashita score was recorded at the Lutheran Ichigaya Hall in Tokyo on July 11 and 12, 2005, by producer Fumiaki Kimura and recording engineers Masaru Usui and Miho Arima”.

French Intertitles with English Subtitles

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Passions of Joan of Arc” comes with the following special features:

  • About the Frame Rates – (11:48) Danish film scholar Casper explores the debate over the proper frame rate for “The Passion of Joan of Arc”.  This release presents the film at two different speeds: 24 fps and 20 fps.
  • About Voices of Light – (11:09) Featuring a new interview with Richard Einhorn, who composed the oratario “Voices of Light”.
  • Adrian Utley and Will Gregory – (15:24) Adrian Utley and Will Gregory discuss creating their score for “The Passions of Joan of Arc”.
  • Audio Commentary (for 24FPS version) by Casper Tybjerg – Audio essay by Dreyer scholar Casper Tybjerg record on Aug. 1999.  A very indepth commentary by Caper Tybjerg who evaluates the shots on the film.
  • Audio interview excerpts with Helene Falconetti – Richard Einhorn’s audio interview from 1995 with Helene Falconetti, daughter of Renne Falconetti.
  • Version History – (10:29) A featurette discussing the variety of versions of “The Passion of Joan of Arc” that were released in theaters.
  • Production Design Archive – (3:51) Featuring photos taken on the set of “The Passion of Joan of Arc”.

EXTRAS:

The Passion of Joan of Arc -The Criterion Collection #62″ comes with a 42-page booklet featuring the essays: “The Face of Truth” by Mark Le Fanu, “Realized Mysticism in the Passion of Joan of Arc” by Carl Theodor Dreyer and “Voices of Light Libretto”.


Powerful, emotional and important. Carl Th. Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” was a film that had to go through so many challenges. If it’s one thing to have so many versions, so many cuts and so much controversy, the film also had to contend with the move away from silent films to film with sound.

Regardless of the controversy, the fact is that Dreyer’s original print after 60 years has been found, restored and we are being given the opportunity to see this film the way it was mean to be seen.

I feel that in this day and age, many viewers are familiar with Joan of Arc through films such as Luc Besson’s “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc” or Christian Duguay’s mini-series “Joan of Arc” or even whatever they learned through the PSP video game “Jeanne d’Arc”. But the story of Jeanne d’Arc is not as easy one to tell in 90-120 minutes. Also, instead of focusing on the protagonist fighting in various wars or in battle, “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is nothing like any of these newer incarnations of the story of Joan of Arc.

What we have with “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is a true Dreyer masterpiece not realized until after 1981. A powerful performance over 80-years ago by an actress captured on film. The visual composition is amazing, the set design (which was very expensive despite not being utilized in the film all that much) and that final moments are just incredible to see. This was made in 1928 and here we are 90-years later and this film just holds up remarkably well.

As for the Criterion Collection 2018 Blu-ray release, if you thought the original DVD release in 1999 was fantastic, what we have is a complete overhaul.  Now we get a 2K restoration, the film presented in 24 and 20 frames-per-second, three very different scores, new special features (the old DVD has numerous text-based features) and even the essays on the original booklet have been replaced.

There are Criterion Collection releases that are released and aside from the restoration and new lossless audio soundtrack, sometimes the special features remain the same.  But lately, the Criterion Collection are now including much more.  And fortunately, “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is like a complete overhaul and surpasses what was considered at one time, the definitive version.  That title now belongs to this Blu-ray release, which is magnificent!

If you have been interested in watching “The Passion of Joan of Arc” for the first time, it’s definitely an experience!  May you be new to the Criterion Collection or a Criterion Collection owner who owned the original 1999 DVD,  this new 2018 Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection is absolutely magnificent and surpasses the older DVD release in every way!

This is the definitive version to own!  Highly recommended!

 

The Half-Breed (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

May 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

“The Half-Breed” is a fantastic silent-film Blu-ray release which includes two films directed by Alan Dwan and starring Douglas Fairbanks.  But also one of America’s earlier silent films that tackled racism in America about a man born half Native American and half white.  Fascinating, entertaining and recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2018 Kino Lorber. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Half-Breed / The Good Bad Man

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1916

DURATION: 72 Minutes/50 Minutes Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), DTS HD-Master Audio, B&W, English Intertitles

COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: May 1, 2018


Based on the story “In the Carquinez Woods” by Bret Harte

Directed by Allan Dwan

Written by Anita Loos

Produced by D.W. Griffith

The Good Bad Man

Directed by Allan Dwan

Written by Douglas Fairbanks

Produced by Douglas Fairbanks

Cinematography by Victor Fleming


“The Half Breed” Starring:

Douglas Fairbanks as Lo Dorman (Sleeping Water)

Alma Rubens as Teresa

Sam De Grasse as Sheriff Dunn

Tom Wilson as Dick Curson

Frank Brownlee as Winslow Wynn

Jewel Carmen as Nellie

George Beranger as Jack Brace

“The Good Bad Man” Starring:

Douglas Fairbanks as Passin’ Through

Sam De Grasse as “The Wolf/Bud Frazer”

Pomeroy Cannon as U.S. Marshal/Bob Evans

Joseph Singleton as Weazel

Bessie Love – The Girl/Sarah May

Mary Alden – Jane Stuart

George Beranger – Thomas Stuart

Fred Burns – Sheriff


In an attempt to brand himself as a serious actor, the smiling swashbuckler Douglas Fairbanks starred in THE HALF-BREED (1916), a Western melodrama written by Anita Loos and directed with flair by Allan Dwan. Fairbanks stars as Lo Dorman, who has been ostracized from society because of this mixed ethnicity – his Native American mother was abandoned by his white father. When Lo catches the eye of the rich white debutante Nellie (Jewel Carmen), he becomes a target for the racist Sheriff Dunn (Sam De Grasse), who wants to break them up and take Nelli for his own. This love triangle becomes a quadrangle with the arrival of Teresa (Alma Rubens), who is on the run from the law. Through fire and fury Lo must decide who and what he truly loves.


In 1925, director Allan Dwan was one of the more popular directors for Paramount Pictures, known for directing films starring Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson and also Douglas Fairbanks for his 1922 film “Robin Hood”.

And would transition to sound films starring Shirley Temple and also would directing the highly acclaimed John Wayne 1949 box office hit, “Sands of Iwo Jima”.

While Dwan’s film career started as early as 1911 in short films, he would begin directing full-length silent films in 1914 with “The Unwelcome Mrs. Hatch” but in 1916, Dwan worked with Douglas Fairbanks for two films.  The first is “The Good Bad Man” which was written by Douglas Fairbanks and “The Half-Breed”.

And now both films will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

“The Half-Breed” is a film that begins with an Indian woman who had a child by a white man who left her.  Because she gave birth to a half-breed, she was cast out by the Cherokee and the only friend she had was a hermit naturalist.

The hermit would raise the half-breed named Lo Dorman/Sleeping Water (portrayed by Douglas Fairbanks) up until his death.  Unfortunately, because of his death and anyone Native American is not allowed to hold onto property, Lo is kicked out of his home and must now prepare a new life in the world of ruthless white men who constantly insult him.

While Lo Dorman enters a village called Excelsior full of white men, everyone looks down on him including Sheriff Dunn (portrayed by Sam De Grasse), who is unaware that Lo is his son; Dick Curson (portrayed by Nellie) and Jack Brace (portrayed by George Beranger).

And each of these men are interested in marrying the beautiful Nellie (portrayed by Jewel Carmen), daughter of a preacher.

Meanwhile, Nellie tries to flirt with Lo, but mainly to get her father to further her ambitions, so she can marry any (wealthy) man she wants.

But the men who see Nellie with Lo, don’t like it and let him know that because he is Indian, he is not welcomed.

Meanwhile, snake salesmen, Dick Curson (portrayed by Tom Wilson) is trying to sell a medicine that will cure scurvy, sciatica, rheumatism and pulmonary consumption for men, women and children.  He has his assistant, Teresa (portrayed by Alma Rubens) to sell her medicine to the crowd and tries to sell it to Lo (but said because he’s an Indian, he’s not worth saving).

But from this initial meeting between Lo and Teresa, what happens when their paths cross each other once again?  And what happens when Nellie tries to look for where Lo is living?

In the second film, “The Good Bad Man”, the miscreants led by Bud Frazer a.k.a. “The Wolf” literally have a village under their control.  Bob Evans the Marshal (portrayed by Pomeroy Cannon) is not a good sheriff.

Meanwhile, a man named “Passin’ Through” (portrayed by Douglas Fairbanks) comes to the village and needs a place to stay temporarily.  He is greeted by Amy (portrayed by Bessie Love) and her disabled father.

While staying at their place, he starts to become smitten towards Amy, but when The Wolf comes and wants Amy for himself, Passin’ Through stops him and tells him that Amy is his.  Setting up a rivalry among both men.

Meanwhile, Passin’ Through is in search for a man named Frazer, his real father, and a man that Passin’ Through wants to take his revenge against him.


VIDEO:

“The Half-Breed” is presented in 1080p HD, black and white.  And this version presented from Kino Lorber is the best quality and most complete of the film you will find available in home video.

According to the introduction:

Since the film’s release in 1916, the distribution rights were sold to multiple distributors based on a territorial “state rights” arrangement.  So, over the years, the film was re-issued under various guises, re-titled or re-edited.

A few unique elements of “The Half-Breed” have survived. In 1978, an incomplete and heavily damaged 35mm nitrate print distributed by S.A. Lynch Enterprises was discovered in a cache of discarded films in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada.  Preserved at the United Library of Congress, this fragmentary copy (2,076 sq. ft.) is the only known material with original 1916 titles.

A complete five-reel (4,320 ft.) 35mm diacetate Pathe print of the 1924 re-issue version from Tri-Stone Pictures is preserved in the collection of Cinematheque francaise.  This print is of superior visual quality but lacks the original titles, instead featuring titles re-written in 1924.

A re-titled 16mm diacetate abridgment (836 ft.) of unknown origin owned by Lobster Films has also been found to include material not present in extant 35mm sources.

For the film featured, the reconstruction is based on the original continuity of the S.A. Lynch and Tri-Stone prints.  The 16mm diacetate print follows a different continuity but contains unique sequences that fill obvious gaps in the 35mm sources.  These sequences have been included in the reconstruction.

Image restoration was based on black-and-white 2K scans of the source materials and carried out using the HS-ART Diamant film restoration suite.  Restoration was limited to repairing damage and reducing the effects of material deterioration.

Where extant, titles from the S.A. Lynch print have been included as they are the sole source for the original 1916 titles.  In cases where the original title material no longer exists, replacements have been created using the 1924 Tri-Stone title script which is conserved at the Cinematheque francais.  These replacement titles include the designation “TRI-STONE” in the lower right corner in order to differentiate them from the originals.

The restoration of “The Half-Breed” was completed in June 2013 as a collaboration between Cinematheque francaise and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

As for “The Good Bad Man”, no copies of the original 1916 release are known to survive.  The restoration featured on the Blu-ray is based on a copy of the 1923 Tri-Stone re-issue which is preserved in the collection of the Cinematheque francaise.

It’s important to note that because “The Half-Breed” utilizes different film sources, some frames are not pristine and are slightly damaged (especially the frames from Dawson City) but considering the age of both films and the fact that many other silent films have received a lot of damage, both of these films look very good for its age.  Sure, they are not perfectly pristine and one shouldn’t expect silent films to be perfect at all, but to watch both 1916 films on Blu-ray and not severely damaged is amazing.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Half-Breed” and “The Good Man” are presented with English intertitles and features a piano score composed and performed by Donald Sosin featured in DTS-HD Master Audio.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Half-Breed” comes with the following special feature:

  • Audio Commentaries – Featuring an audio commentary for both “The Half-Breed” and “The Good Man” by Tracey Goessel and Robert Byrne.
  • Amazing Tales from the Archives Restoring “The Half-Breed” – (43:51) A lengthy special feature about the restoring of “The Half-Breed”.
  • Photo Gallery

 


Watching these two Alan Dwan/Douglas Fairbanks films is fantastic.

For one, these films are over a hundred years old and the overall effort to restore “The Half-Breed” from a variety of sources, is fantastic and to also include “The Good Bad Man” as a second bonus film for this Blu-ray release is wonderful.

But first, let’s discuss “The Half-Breed”.  I was surprised while watching this silent film because racism in America is a hot topic.  And even in today’s social climate, where racism is in the forefront of news reports, typically in America’s past, it’s not something you see featured in American cinema.

But “The Half-Breed” is a film that tackles the fact that a man who is born Indian/White is looked down upon both the tribe and White people is something of a rarity.

Sure, in today’s cinema, the last 20-years have featured film and news articles of people who are half and the challenges that exist for some individuals but back in 1916, Alan Dwan’s film tackles it but there is no happy ending.

This is a film that tries to show sympathy but considering America was never too kind towards people that were non-white, may it be the Native American Indians that they stole land from, the Chinese who were looked down upon and the Black men who were slaves.  There is no way you can think of a happy ending for the character of Lo Dorman (Sleeping Water).

It was no doubt one of the earlier films to expose racism towards a half Indian and half white man.  And while fascinating for viewers now, from seeing Fairbanks play an Indian/white man that is treated lower than a normal human being and seeing how the film tries to expose racism but also incorporate people of color earlier in the film through a saloon scene (which was also surprising to me as well).

But did it make anyone feel bad for the character?  Maybe a few.

Considering that several months prior to the film being released, one of the most racist films ever released in America was D.W. Griffith’s 2015 silent film “Birth of a Nation”.

“Birth of a Nation” would be the first American blockbuster and also the first feature length film over one hour. Because of the cost of making this epic, to watch this film, the average cost was $2 (for that time, is equivalent to around $43 today) and the film was popular and broke box office records.

As the film focused on the Civil War, the death of Abraham Lincoln and the reconstruction via post-Civil War, because it was based on Thomas F. Dixon’s novel, the film is about the corruption of the South by the Republican North by “carpetbaggers” (those from the North who moved to the South) by giving control to the corrupted Black people which would lead to the creation of the Ku Kux Klan, praised as heroes to restore order to the South.

Needless to say, the film received protests and was banned in several cities, especially when Blacks were being beaten and killed by those who took the film by heart and would use to justify their violence to hurt Black people. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) protested and even conducted public education campaigns to let people know of the film’s fabrication and inaccuracies.

To this day, “The Birth of a Nation” continues to be a controversial film because of the film’s racist ideology which has been proven to be filled with inaccuracies. But when the film was created in 1914, people only know what they were taught. And back then, people learned through the Dunning School, a group of historians who shared their historiographical school of thought regarding the Reconstruction period of American history. The leaders of the revisionist movement criticized Dunning’s racially biased narrative, especially as the Dunning school would look at Blacks to be ignorant and savages at the end of slavery.

But as Dunning schools teachings began to be known as “fact” for many people of that time, despite the generalizations and racist biased, that’s how people grew up during that time.

While many film critics have criticized the film because of its racial overtones, if one can separate themselves from that and put themselves in the shoes of viewers at that moment of time, “Birth of a Nation” was a cinematic revolution.

For me, watching “The Half-Breed” probably hits closer to home.  While I’m Asian-American, I grew up in an area where many friends who were White-skinned, came from an upbringing where a parent had Native American lineage.

I happen to be married to a woman who is white and my son is half.  I’ve raised a son who’s skin color is more Caucasian and I’ve had to deal with people who thought either I adopted my son or couldn’t understand why a white child is being pushed around a grocery cart with a brown-skinned man.  Let alone going to a public place with my Caucasian wife.  Sure, times have changed for the best, but ignorant people still exist.

So, watching “The Half-Breed”, I was sympathetic for it, until the second-half when the film changes thanks to the two women that Lo befriends.  Without spoiling the film, I will say I found it interesting to see how the character of Teresa (portrayed by Alma Rubens) would play a major part in the film.

Alma Rubens did such a wonderful job of playing the character of Teresa but it was unfortunate that a decade later, a life of drugs would destroy her career but also the deterioration of her body would lead to her early death.  And another tragic story of another starlet who succumbed to drug use in Hollywood.

Things didn’t fare well for Jewel Carmen nearly two decades after the making of “The Half-Breed”.  Carmen, the actress who played the role of the greedy yet ambitious Nellie, had her name attached to the surprising 1935 death of popular actress Thelma Todd.

Todd was found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage of the home of Carmen.  Carmen was the wife of Todd’s lover and business partner, Roland West at the time.  Todd’s death was listed as “accidental with possible suicide tendencies”.

But it would lead Jewel Carmen to escape from the public eye after the scandal.

While I enjoyed “The Half-Breed”, you can’t help that there may be certain parts of the story missing.  But for the most part, what is featured on this Blu-ray is a coherent and entertaining silent film.

The accompanying silent film titled “The Good Bad Man” is a fascinating silent western about a deadly love triangle.  One is a leader of a gang that has a village under his palm, while the other is another bad man, but with a good heart who is smitten with a girl (portrayed by Bessie Love).

I’ve read that “The Good Bad Man” which was written by Douglas Fairbanks, mirrors his real life in the fact that the character Passin’ Through has unresolved feelings and wants revenge against his father who was never in his life.  For Fairbanks, his father abandoned his family when Fairbanks was five-years-old.

So, this film was no doubt an action-driven film for Fairbanks, but also a personal one as well.

As for these two films, once again, Kino Lorber has released another magnificent silent film release featuring an earlier work by filmmaker Alan Dwan.

You get two entertaining Douglas Fairbanks film on one Blu-ray disc and you also get two insightful audio commentaries plus a 45+ minute featurette about the restoration of “The Half-Breed”.

Overall, “The Half-Breed” is a fantastic silent-film Blu-ray release which includes two films directed by Alan Dwan and starring Douglas Fairbanks.  But also one of America’s earlier silent films that tackled racism in America about a man born half Native American and half white.  Fascinating, entertaining and recommended!

 

Manhandled (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

While we can hope that more silent films starring Gloria Swanson will be found and restored, one can at least be happy that “Zaza”, “Manhandled” and “Star Struck” are available on Blu-ray.  And for silent film fans, these three films are definitely worth owning!

Images courtesy of © 1924 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Manhandled

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1924

DURATION: 63 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), DTS HD-Master Audio, B&W, English Intertitles

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: April 10, 2018


Based on the story by Sidney R. Kent, Arthur Stringer

Directed by Allan Dwan

Screenplay by Frank Tuttle

Adaptation by Sylvia LaVarre

Produced by Allan Dwan

Cinematography by Harold Rosson

Edited by Julian Johnson


Starring:

Gloria Swanson as Tessie McGuire

Tom Moore as Jim Hogan

Lilyan Tashman as Pinkie Moran

Ian Keith as Robert Brandt

Arthur Housman as Chip Thorndyke

Paul McAllister as Paul Garretson

Frank Morgan as Arno Riccardi


Manhandled is an uproarious comedy from silent screen legend Gloria Swanson. Her most successful collaboration with director Allan Dwan (Stage Struck, Zaza), it tells the story of Tessie McGuire (Swanson), a down-on-her-luck salesgirl who climbs the social ladder by pretending to be a Russian countess. Tessie is a working class gal whose boyfriend Jimmy (Tom Moore) stands her up on a date, so she goes to a sculptor’s party instead, where her skill with mimicry makes her a hit. She is hired by a fashionable dressmaking establishment to use her acting skills on their customers. By impersonating a Russian noblewoman she has men at her beck and call. That is, until some authentic Russians arrive, and her scheme is truly put to the test. Manhandled is presented in the most complete version available.


In 1925, director Allan Dwan was one of the more popular directors for Paramount Pictures, known for directing films starring Mary Pickford and also Douglas Fairbanks for his 1922 film “Robin Hood”.

And would transition to sound films starring Shirley Temple and also would directing the highly acclaimed John Wayne 1949 box office hit, “Sands of Iwo Jima”.

But during the silent film era and in the 1920’s, he is known for directing films starring one of the most wanted, one of the most successful actresses and fashion icon, Gloria Swanson in eight feature films and one short film.

In fact, she is considered the screen’s first clothes horse (i.e. fashionista) and she was photographed and featured in numerous publications during that time.

And the working relationship between Dwan and Swanson was solid at the time and they would work together in the 1924 Paramount Pictures film “Manhandled”, which would also star Tom Moore, Lilyan Tashman, Ian Keith, Arthur Housman, Paul McAllister and Frank Morgan.

The film is based off the story by Sidney R. Kent and Arthur Stringer and a featuring a screenplay by Frank Tuttle.

And now “Manhandled”was released with its new 2K remaster on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The film begins with Gloria Swanson as Tessie McGuire. She works hard for her money but often has a bad day with a car splashing dirty water on her outfit and riding the transportation with lecherous men doesn’t help for the start of her day.

She just wants to be with her man, Jim Hogan (portrayed by Tom Moore) but Tom Moore is busy working on an invention and will be busy the next two weeks hoping to sell the invention, make money and take care of his girlfriend.

And for Tessie, it’s not easy as she really wants to go out somewhere with Jim but she understands, he is busy.  She just doesn’t like being neglected.

One day while telling things the way it is at her job, she and her co-worker are invited by their boss to attend a party.  She pretends to be a Russian duchess and she is instantly hired by an expensive department store to attract new customers.

And while her boyfriend is gone to sell the invention, she starts to make money but she also gets manhandled by men who want to be with her.


VIDEO:

“Manhandled” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio) and is black and white. The quality of the film on Blu-ray is fantastic with no sign of any significant film damage of warping. Considering the age of this film, one can expect to see the usual scratches and specks from each frame but considering how good this film looks for a silent film (and considering that a huge percentage of silent films are in bad shape or considered lost due to significant damage or nitrate fires), this is the best version to watch of “Manhandled”.

Mastered in 2K from 16mm film elements preserved by the Lobster Films, Paris and Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA).  Footage from the various cuts were combined to make the most complete version possible as no 35mm film elements are known to survive. The film doesn’t suffer any major damage and overall, the film looks great in HD.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Manhandled” is presented with English intertitles and features a piano score composed and performed by Makio Matsumura featured in DTS-HD Master Audio.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Manhandled” comes with the following special feature:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring an audio commentary by film historian Gaylyn Studlar.

EXTRAS:

Featuring a booklet essay by film historian Peter Labuza.


“Manhandled” is another solid collaboration between Gloria Swanson and director Allan Dwan.

If anything, the film is benefited thanks to the performance of Gloria Swanson.

An expert at using physical comedy and also knowing how to work the camera, the film is another example of why she was one of America’s most dominating actresses on the big screen and why she was a fashion icon.

While not the best Gloria Swanson film, the film relies on Swanson’s performance as a blunt employee, a caring yet neglected girlfriend and also showing an individual side of her making her own money and all seems to go well when she is hired by a fashionable dressmaking establishment to use her acting skills to win customers.

By pretending to be a Russian Duchess, everything goes well until real Russians arrive and can Tessie McGuire continue with the scheme?

For the most part, with two remastered films released simultaneously on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, both are good films, with “Stage Struck” being a much better film storywise.  And of the Allan Dwan films available on Blu-ray, one will definitely want to check out the 1923 film “Zaza” which is available on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

“Manhandled” is great in a way that you can see life at a department store during that era and also be in awe of how magnificent of an actress Gloria Swanson was and why she was one of actresses high in demand.  This performance is quite evident, if anything a mere vehicle for her to shine.

But one can only hope someday the other  Allan Dwan/Gloria Swanson films such as “A Society Scandal”, “The Coast of Folly”, “Wages of Virtue” and “Her Love Story”will be found.   Gloria Swanson is a magnificent actresses, but it’s a shame that so many of her silent films are considered lost.

While we can hope that more silent films starring Gloria Swanson will be found and restored, one can at least be happy that “Zaza”, “Manhandled” and “Star Struck” are available on Blu-ray.  And for silent film fans, these three films are definitely worth owning!

 

Stage Struck (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

April 6, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Allan Dwan’s “Stage Struck” is a film that exemplifies Gloria Swanson’s comedic skills as an actress.  She was the most sought-out actress in the world and whenever the camera focused on her, she knew how to captivate audiences.  A delightful, lighthearted silent comedy that I recommend!

Images courtesy of © 1925 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Stage Struck

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1925

DURATION: 84 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), DTS HD-Master Audio, B&W, and Color, English Intertitles

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: April 10, 2018


Based on the story by Frank R. Adams

Directed by Allan Dwan

Screenplay by Forrest Halsey

Adaptation by Sylvia LaVarre

Produced by Allan Dwan

Cinematography by George Webber

Art Direction by Van Nest Polglase

Costume Design by Rene Hubert


Starring:

Gloria Swanson as Jennie Hagen

Lawrence Gray as Orme Wilson

Gertrude Astor as Lillian Lyons

Oliver Sandys as Hilda Wagner

Ford Sterling as Buck


One of the last lighthearted collaborations between Gloria Swanson and Allan Dwan, Stage Struck (1925) is a sweetly funny account of a small-town girl with dreams of fame. Swanson plays Jenny Hagen, a diner waitress who fantasizes about a life on stage. Her heart belongs to Orme Wilson (Lawrence Gray), an expert pancake flipper, who only has eyes for the women in movie magazines. So when a river showboat comes to town, he only has eyes for the star, Lillian Lyons (Gertrude Astor). Inflamed with jealousy, Jenny is determined to get on stage herself, by any means necessary.


In 1925, director Allan Dwan was one of the more popular directors for Paramount Pictures, known for directing films starring Mary Pickford and also Douglas Fairbanks for his 1922 film “Robin Hood”.

And would transition to sound films starring Shirley Temple and also would directing the highly acclaimed John Wayne 1949 box office hit, “Sands of Iwo Jima”.

But during the silent film era and in the 1920’s, he is known for directing films starring one of the most wanted, one of the most successful actresses and fashion icon, Gloria Swanson in eight feature films and one short film.

In fact, she is considered the screen’s first clothes horse (i.e. fashionista) and she was photographed and featured in numerous publications during that time.

And the working relationship between Dwan and Swanson was solid at the time and they would work together in the 1925 Paramount Pictures film “Stage Struck”, which would also star Lawrence Gray, Gertrude Astor and Ford Sterling.  Featuring a story by Frank R. Adams, a screenplay by Forrest Halsey and an adaptation by Sylvia LaVarre.

And it was a silent film that would feature early two-color Technicolor in the opening and ending sequence.

And now “Stage Struck” will be released with its new 2K remaster on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The film begins with Gloria Swanson as Jennie Hagen.   We see Jennie as a famous actress who men want to be next to and offer her food that she is not interested in.  But she desires the wheat cakes served by Orme Wilson (portrayed by Lawrence Gray), who many single women are after.

But as Jennie and Orme get closer, it was all a dream.

In reality, Jennie is a clumsy, poor waitress who dreams of becoming an actress but Jennie doesn’t care much, as long as she gets to be close by the wheat cake cook, Orme.

But Orme is a person who loves beautiful actresses, in fact, his whole bedroom is full of photos of actresses.  And that is why Jennie wants to become an actress, so Orme can fall in love with her.

But when Buck (portrayed by Ford Sterling) brings his show on his riverboat to town, he brings actress Lillian Lyons (portrayed by Gertrude Astor) and sets up a date with Lillian and a local, who happens to be Orme.

But can Jennie find a way to win Orme’s attention, despite his attention being focused on Lillian?


VIDEO:

“Stage Struck” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio) and is black and white and color. The quality of the film on Blu-ray is fantastic with no sign of any significant film damage of warping. Considering the age of this film, one can expect to see the usual scratches and specks from each frame but considering how good this film looks for a silent film (and considering that a huge percentage of silent films are in bad shape or considered lost due to significant damage or nitrate fires), this is the best version to watch of “Stage Struck”.

Mastered from 35mm film elements preserved by the George Eastman Museum and it includes the original two-strip Technicolor prologue and epilogue.  The film doesn’t suffer any major damage and overall, the film looks great in HD.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Stage Struck” is presented with English intertitles and features a piano score composed and performed by Andrew Simpson featured in DTS-HD Master Audio.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Stage Struck” comes with the following special feature:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring an audio commentary by Frederic Lombardi, author of “Allen Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios”.

EXTRAS:

Featuring a booklet essay by film historian Farran Smith Nehme.


1925 may have appeared as another year for a wonderful collaboration between director Allan Dwan and popular actress Gloria Swanson, was the most famous actress and fashion icon on the planet.  And while she is a professional in the comedy, “Stage Struck”, the year prior was tough for her.

During the filming of her 1925 film “Madame Sans-Gene”, she met her translator and the man who would become her third husband, French aristocrat Henri, Marquis de la Falaise de la Coudraye.  And while their marriage would be the talk of 1925, at the time, she was with Falaise in France, her relationship was kept secret because her divorce was not yet finalized with second husband, Herbert K. Somborn (then-president of Equity Pictures Corporation).

During the filming of that film, it was said that Swanson suffered from an appendicitis attack and while media were covering it and news that her health was not doing well after the surgery, in truth, Swanson admitted in her autobiography many years later that what happened behind-the-scenes was that she was pregnant by her soon-to-be husband.

Because this would put Swanson in violation of the morale clause of her movie studio contract and her career would be destroyed, Swanson actually went through a secret abortion.  Complications did ensue after that surgery and she nearly died from it.  But this was one moment in her life that she would never forgive Hollywood execs for forcing her to do this due to the morale clause.

While Swanson would divorce her second husband and also get married to her new husband in January 1925, it was tough to go through an abortion (which she has said in her autobiography was something that she regretted), but also going through a bitter divorce with her second husband accusing her of adultery with 13 men (including Cecil B. DeMille, Rudolph Valentino, to name a few).

So, that time in her life was troublesome (actually, her life from her first marriage to her affairs later, had her experience all sort of trouble).  But if there was one thing that did go well for her, for that time, it was her working relationship with filmmaker Allan Dwan.

“Stage Struck” is fascinating as we get an early two-color Technicolor opening and ending sequence but we also get to see Gloria Swanson showcase her comedic skills.  While the fashion icon that many women came out to films in hopes to see the wardrobe she was sporting in the film, for the majority of the film, Swanson plays a poor and clumsy waitress.

It’s her performance that showcases her wonderful physical comedy as a waitress trying to balance a large plate of food or a girl so in love with Orme, that she does whatever is necessary to keep him happy.  May it be doing his laundry or preventing another actress from taking her Orme away.

Her ability to use her eyes and facial expression to hypnotize audiences watching her on the big screen, it’s no doubt another film that shows why Gloria Swanson was the most popular actress in the early 1920’s.

The film rides on the shoulders of Swanson’s performance and she does a great job of nailing it.  But while a fun and enjoyable film, it’s not her best.

Lawrence Gray did a fine job of playing Orme Wilson and if anything, both he and Swanson had great chemistry onscreen.  Gertrude Astor as actress Lillian Lyons also did a good job as the stuck-up actress and was more of the fashionista in the film.  And Ford Sterling also played a solid role as the promoter of the stage show.

But the film is heavy on the reliance of Swanson’s comedy and her performance showed why she was the most wanted actress of the time.  She owns the screen!

And while the comedy was well-done in the film, there is one scene some may feel that it may be out of place today and that is a scene trying to make comedy of attempted suicide.  Some may find the scene to be insensitive.

As for the Blu-ray release, the film looks great for its age.  Mastered from 35mm film elements preserved by the George Eastman Museum and it includes the original two-strip Technicolor prologue and epilogue.  The film doesn’t suffer any major damage and overall, the film looks great in HD.

The piano score composed and performed by Andrew Simpson was also well-done and the Blu-ray comes with an informative audio commentary by author Fredric Lombardi and a booklet essay by film historian Farran Smith Nehme.

Overall, Allan Dwan’s “Stage Struck” is a film that exemplifies Gloria Swanson’s comedic skills as an actress.  She was the most sought-out actress in the world and whenever the camera focused on her, she knew how to captivate audiences.  A delightful, lighthearted silent comedy that I recommend!

 

The Covered Wagon (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 25, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

For a silent film enthusiast, James Cruze’s 1923 film “The Covered Wagon” is no doubt a silent film that is captivating, action-packed.  It’s an adventure, action and romance western rolled into one.  Performances by J. Warren Kerrigan, Lois Wilson, Alan Hale and Ernest Torrence were very good and the enormity of this epic film is no doubt entertaining.  It was a successful landmark film that kicked off the trend for Hollywood western films for many years and decades after.  Recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1923 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: The Covered Wagon

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1923

DURATION: 98 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), B&W, English Intertitles

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: February 20, 2018


Based on the Novel by Emerson Hough

Directed by James Cruze

Adaptation by Jack Cunningham

Produced by Jesse L. Lasky

Musical score by Gaylord Carter

Cinematography by Karl Brown

Edited by Dorothy Arzner

Costume Design by Howard Greer


Starring:

J. Warren Kerrigan as Will Banion

Lois Wilson as Molly Wingate

Alan Hale as Sam Woodhull

Ernest Torrence as William Jackson

Tully Marshall as Jim Bridger

Ethel Wales as Mrs. Wingate

Guy Oliver as Kit Carson

Johnny Fox as Jed Wingate


The first Western epic! A great caravan of covered wagons, filled with hearty pioneers and their families and possessions, are waiting for the Spring jump off at Westport Landing, now Kansas City. The time is 1848, and the destination is far-off Oregon, in The Covered Wagon (1923), the first big-budget Western epic. Where countless pilgrims fell, a love triangle flourishes, as Molly Wingate (Lois Wilson) must choose between the brutish Sam (Alan Hale) and the dashing Will (J. Warren Kerrigan). Complicating her decision are the perils of the trail: a mile-wide river, prairie fire, heavy snowfall, a buffalo stampede, crippling hunger, and Native American attacks. Boasting a cast of thousands and an unparalleled commitment to authenticity, The Covered Wagon was an enormous box-office success in 1923 and became one of the major milestones in the history of the Western.


In 1923, the James Cruze’s Paramount Pictures western silent film “The Covered Wagon” is considered one of the first major film productions during that era and was no doubt a blockbuster film that would set the trend for western films in early Hollywood.

Considered a landmark film and an American epic, the film was shot in multiple locations in California, Nevada and Utah, to make the film look authentic, real wagons used to bring pioneers to the west were used in the film (and the owners of the family heirlooms were used as extras) and to make the film’s hunting of bison look realistic, seven bison were shot and killed in film.  And the film would also recruit Native American Indians.

The film based on the novel by Emerson Hough features a screenplay by Jack Cunningham (“The Black Pirate”, “The Adventurer”, “Beyond the Rocks”) and would star J. Warren Kerrigan (“The Pool of Flame”, “Samson”, “Captain Blood”), Lois Wilson (“Miss Lulu Bett”, “Bright Eyes”, “Drifting Souls”), Alan Hale (“The Adventures of Robin Hood”, “They Drive by Night”, “Adventures of Don Juan”) and William Jackson (“Mantrap”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, “Steamboat Bill, Jr.”).

And now this American epic will be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The film about covered wagons traveling across the United States from the Great Plains, the Rockies, the great desert, the Sierra Mountains on their way to California and Oregon and trying to capture with detail and historical facts.

Leading a train of a dozens of wagons is Mr. Wingate who is Oregon Bound and his beautiful daughter Molly (portrayed by Lois Wilson) who is pledged by the rough Sam Woodhull (portrayed by Alan Hale).    They are joined by another wagon train led by former veteran Will Banion (portrayed by J. Warren Kerrigan), Captain of the “Liberty Boys”.

When Molly and Will meet for the first time, there is chemistry between both individuals and immediately, one can tell that both Sam Woodhull and Will Banion are not going to get along.

But as the people make their way to California and Oregon, they must endure crossing from the west of the Great Plains of the Mississippi, crossing the Platte River, take part in a buffalo hunt, attacks from Indians and bare desert heat, mountain snow of the Sierra Mountains and dealing with hunger.


VIDEO:

“The Covered Wagon” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio) and is black and white. The quality of the film on Blu-ray is fantastic with no sign of any significant film damage of warping. Considering the age of this film, one can expect to see the usual scratches and specks from each frame but considering how good this film looks for a silent film (and considering that a huge percentage of silent films are in bad shape or considered lost due to significant damage or nitrate fires), this is the best version to watch of “The Covered Wagon”.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Covered Wagon” is presented English subtitles and features a Wurlitzer organ score by Gaylord Carter (presented in 2.0 DTS stereo).

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Covered Wagon” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring an audio commentary by film historian Toby Roan.
  • The Pie Covered Wagon – A 1932 one-reel spoof starring Shirley Temple.

EXTRAS:

Featuring a booklet essay by film scholar Matt Hauske.


“The Covered Wagon” is the first Western blockbuster that is credited for kickstarting the western genre.

Without the financial success of James Cruze’s “The Covered Wagon”, would John Ford have created “The Iron Horse” and without Ford’s success, would there be western films that many people would come to love for the next 50+ years?

There is no doubt that “The Covered Wagon” is considered an American epic for its cost, the many people employed as extras, the magnitude of shooting the film in various states, sacrificing horses and bison and finding families that still had covered wagons as part of their heirlooms and would take part in the film.

Suffice to say, this was a major film to pull off and James Cruze was able to pull off this amazing silent film success.

Even the 29th U.S. President Warren G. Harding loved the film, saying after he viewed it, “I sat entranced. There was more than the picturesque, more than sorrow and discouragement, more than appealing characters and enthralling heroism. There was more than the revelation of the irresolute who failed in fitness to survive, more than tragedy and comedy in their inseparable blend. There was more than the scouts who surpassed our fancies, more than nature’s relentless barriers revealed. Everywhere aflame was the soul of unalterable purpose.”

But Harding wasn’t the only person entranced by this film.  Chicago Daily News Film reviewer Carl Sandburg loved the film so much that he wrote six articles about the film in May and August of that year, which Sandburg rarely does for a film (as he had so many films to review).

Sandburg wrote in May 1923, “[The Covered Wagon] amplifies and glorifies the vivid descriptions of the printed pages and is, on that account, a legitimate and perfect complement in the author’s work.  The theme is so well-suited to the art of the camera that ‘The Covered Wagon’ already taken its place among the four or five wholly admirable pictures, artistically that have been ever made.”

If there is one thing that Sandburg pointed out that I wholeheartedly agree with is that a film of this magnitude would still not be able to capture life of these people who traveled cross-country.  From the atrocities inflicted by the Indians and the pioneers towards the Indians, showing the filth and soot on the wagon covers from crossing cross-country and even mentioning the horse flies that bled the horses, putting them in blind rage along the trail.

But the film doesn’t cookie cut too much, one scene shows the Indians helping Sam Woodhull travel across the water.  When they ask for payment, Woodhull ends up shooting the Indian and leaving.  Of course, the Indians also fight back in this film and both sides lose a lot of life.

In today’s films, the thought of sacrificing animals to get a shot is unheard of.  But 1920’s were a different time and during a scene where the covered wagons and their animals must cross a river to get to the other side, we see water up to chins of the calf and horses.  Some animals died during this scene as they were stressed and drowned.

And of course, during the hunt for food, a scene is shown with a bison hunt where seven bison were shot and killed for food to show how the pioneers had to survive and not die of hunger.  But the mean provided as extra food for the staff.

But considering director James Cruze and producer Jesse L. Lasky wanted to capture realism as best they can during that era ad its budget of $782,000 (in today’s money that would be $11 million) was tremendous for 1923.  The use of a cast of 3000, the hundreds of horses and cattle, the hundred or so covered wagons and more.  It was no doubt a monumental effort carried out by Paramount Pictures.

As for the Blu-ray for “The Covered Wagon”, picture quality is wonderful and the film looks very good considering its age.  Gaylord Carter’s Wurlitzer organ score was well-done and you also get an audio commentary and a 1932 one-reel spoof titled “The Pie-Covered Wagon” starring Shirley Temple.  Plus you get a booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Matt Hauske.

For a silent film enthusiast, James Cruze’s 1923 film “The Covered Wagon” is no doubt a silent film that is captivating, action-packed.  It’s an adventure, action and romance western rolled into one.  Performances by J. Warren Kerrigan, Lois Wilson, Alan Hale and Ernest Torrence were very good and the enormity of this epic film is no doubt entertaining.  It was a successful landmark film that kicked off the trend for Hollywood western films for many years and decades after.

Recommended!

 

Dawson City: Frozen Time (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“Well-researched, well-presented, “Dawson City: Frozen Time” is a fantastic documentary from Bill Morrison and a true masterpiece!

Images courtesy of © 2017 Hypnotic Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Dawson City: Frozen Time

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 2016

DURATION: 120 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), English 5.1 Surround, B&W and Color

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: October 31, 2017


Directed by Bill Morrison

Written by Bill Morrison

Cinematography by Raoul Cotard

Produced by Madeleine Molyneaux, Bill Morrison 

Assistant Producer: Paul Gordon

Music by Alex Somers

Edited by Bill Morrison


Starring:

Bill Morrison

Kathy Jones-Gates

Michael Gates

Sam Kula

Bill O’Farrell

Chris “Mad Dog” Russo


A thrilling adventure through American history, Dawson City: Frozen Time pieces together the bizarre true story of a collection of some 500 silent films. Dating from the 1910s and 20s, they were lost for over 50 years until being discovered buried in a subarctic swimming pool deep in the Yukon Territory in 1978.
Director Bill Morrison (Decasia) uses this extraordinary footage as a conduit to explore the complicated past of Dawson City, a Canadian gold rush town and First Nation hunting camp that was transformed and displaced. Dawson City: Frozen Time is a triumphant work of art that chronicles the life cycle of a singular film collection through its exile, burial, rediscovery, and salvation, discovering another world in the process.


For many silent film fans, before Hollywood, it was known that Fort Lee, New Jersey was once the motion picture capital during the early 1900’s and it is known that 75% of all silent films were destroyed unfortunately by improper storage and the combustible nitrate film.

But how is it that 533 silent film reels were discovered in Dawson City, a town in northern Yukon (Canada) by a construction worker in 1978.

This would be the basis of “Dawson City: Frozen Time” directed by Bill Morrison, who would construct a timeline of Dawson and show its history through photos and also show a timeline of what was going on in America/Canada through various scenes of footage that are from the 533 silent film reels that were discovered.

But also to show how Dawson City brought many people for gold, many people who worked in Dawson and would become tycoons in America. But we see the transformation of Dawson, which was once an entertainment hub to have a population of tends of thousand to technology eventually lessening the role of miners and decreasing the population to a few thousand.

We see the years progress, we see through this footage of the various films that were lost, or films and news reels that only have so much surviving footage due to degradation, film warp/damage due to time and also being thrown in soil for many years and being strewn around.

And through this footage, we see history play out and “Dawson City: Frozen Time” eventually becoming a tale about the American 20th century.  From thousands of people moving to areas where there was gold, these areas becoming business and entertainment hubs, from how people in Dawson received entertainment showing what was going on in America, from the World Series, strikes, celebrity scandals and more.


VIDEO:

“Dawson City: Frozen Time” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio).  This is a film that showcases American history through photography and videos.  For the most part, picture quality is good but depending on the surviving film footage that was found in Dawson, some reels are in good shape, others not so good.  Some footage may show excessive degradation to film damage, while others may look very good with minimal scratches.  But these scenes are short, if anything, scenes to indicate a point or reference.  As I always mention in silent films and when it comes to picture quality, considering nearly 75% of films are lost, the fact that we get to see these surviving films or even glimpses of American history is fantastic. 

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Dawson City: Frozen Time” features haunting melodies created by Alex Somers.  Lossless audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  Scenes with dialogue are crystal clear.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Dawson City: Frozen Time” comes with following special features:

  • Dawson City: Postscript – (9:54) Michael Gates and Kathy Jones Gates (Yukon Historians) discussing how the premiere showing of the films would be in Dawson City.  Bill O’Farrell (Head of Film Section of the National Archives of Canada) discussed the condition of the reels when they received them.  And how a last resort of rewashing to save the film because they were in bad shape.  And also what happened to the reels after they were rescued (and how many newsreels and documentaries kept in storage vaults at National Archives Buildings caught on fire).
  • Interview with filmmaker Bill Morrison – (8:50) Filmmaker Bill Morrison discusses on the utilization of film footage and how he would create the story as he discovered Dawson City’s history and the changes that would take place.
  • Selections from the Dawson Film Find – Featuring a plethora of news reels (all silent) such as the British Canadian Pathe News from 1919, The Montreal Heral Screen Magazine of 1919, International News issue #52 of 1919, Pathe’s Weekly of 1914, scenes from “The Butler and the Maid” of 1912, D.W. Griffith’s “Brutality” of 1912, “The Exquisite Tief” of 1919, “The Girl of the Northern Woods” of 1910 and more.
  • Trailer

EXTRAS:

“Dawson City: Frozen Time” comes with a 24-page booklet with an essay by Lawrence Weschler and Alberto Zambenedetti.


For many silent film fans, before Hollywood, it was known that Fort Lee, New Jersey was once the motion picture capital during the early 1900’s and it is known that 75% of all silent films were destroyed unfortunately by improper storage and the combustible nitrate film.

But how is it that 533 silent film reels were discovered in Dawson City, a town in northern Yukon (Canada) by a construction worker in 1978.

It sounds hard to believe but while excavation was being done, in order to create a new recreation center, Frank Barrett saw reels of film that were literally dumped in the Earth.

Many were fiction films and newsreel footage from the early 1900s.

But what many people may not know is how this once booming goldmining town had a connection to the early entertainment scene and the location would include people who would go on to do great things in America back then.

In order to showcase clips from films and newsreel footage found in Dawson City but also showcasing the history of the town, filmmaker Bill Morrison created “Dawson City: Frozen in Time”.

The film would go into how an American man visiting a village of the indigenous Han people (First Nations people of Canada) who happened to be mining and discovered gold.  This would lead to other prospectors discovering gold, claiming the land, displacing the Han people and because of the mining, also destroying their hunting and fishing.

While those who came to the Yukon first were able to capitalize, would lead to one of the first restaurant and hotel (created by Frederick Trump, grandfather of U.S. President, Donald Trump and miner Ernest Levin) which offered fine dining and lodging but also scales to weigh gold.

How thousands of people would flock to Dawson to mine gold and many business were opened.  And one of the families that went to Dawson City was Sid Grauman and his parents.  And little Sid saw how people paid a lot for entertainment and Sid Grauman would grow up to open theaters in America, including the popular Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.  To Alexander Pantage who would move to Dawson and eventually found love with brothel-keeper “Klondike Kate” Rockwell and both operated the successful vaudeville and burlesque theatre, the Oprheum.  Pantage would become famous for promoting the “movie palace” concept and creating theatres across the United States and Canada.

How Yukon Gold Company employee William Desmond Taylor would become a famous silent film director but possibly best known for his murder and a cold case which was probably intentionally by the film studios.

For sports, Dawson was host to various sporting events and boxing matches.  But with tens of thousands of people coming to Dawson, eventually bigger companies would find ways to mine for gold with devising new technologies such as floating dredges that would be less reliant on workers and the population would eventually dwindle to a few thousand.

And as time went on, we would see history play out through this film reels.  From strikes, the war to baseball such as the World Series including the Black Socks Scandal in which members of the Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series games.

To video footage of multiple film laboratories and theaters that burned (which eventually led to the end of nitrate films and finding safer alternatives to creating film).

But those who stayed would create a community and life in the 1900’s to the teens were captured on nitrate and film reels were distributed around the world but as film companies didn’t feel the need to get the reels back, Dawson City which was so remote, was the last of the distribution line for film companies.

In fact, Dawson City would receive films 2-3 years later but eventually they would have many reels that were stacked up and so, they were either burned, thrown into the river (with other garbage, showing mass pollution being thrown in the river) or buried into the soil.

But it was this discovery in 1978 that would lead to people discovering reels of silent film and news footage that have been long forgotten.  Considering that many nitrate film were lost in fires and 75% of silent film were lost, this discovery was no doubt a significant find.

And I have to applaud filmmaker Bill Morrison who was able to piece together many photos to build a timeline of Dawson City’s transformation with or without the miners, the significance of buildings, especially the pool to various buildings that were destroyed or rebuilt, to those who stayed and worked in Dawson and would become famous and also featuring those who were displaced.  And inter-spread with this historical timeline are footage from various newsreels and film that help capture society during that era (focused between 1900-1919).

Well-researched, well-presented, “Dawson City: Frozen Time” is a fantastic documentary from Bill Morrison and a true masterpiece!

 

Variete (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

“Variete” is a magnificent film from Ewald Andre Dupont.  Created at the height of German Expressionism, the recently restored film features wonderful staging, lighting and wonderful perfomances from Emil Jannings, Lya De Putti and Warwick Ward.  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2015 Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, Weisbaden. 2017 KINO LORBER. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Variete

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1925

DURATION: 95 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), Color Tinted, German Intertitles with optional English Subtitles, New Musical Score by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra and a 2015 score performed by The Tiger Lillies

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: August 22, 2017


Based on the  Novel by Felix Hollaender

Directed by Ewald Andre Dupont

Scenario by Ewald Andre Dupont

Produced by Erich Pommer

Musical score by Berklee Silent Film Orchestra and also a 2015 musical score performed by the Tiger Lillies

Cinematography by Karl Freund, Carl Hoffman

Art Direction by Alfred Junge, Oscar Friedrich Werndorff


Starring:

Emil Jannings as Boss Huller

Maly Delschaft as Frau Huller

Lya De Putti as Bertha-Marie

Warwick Ward as Artinelli


A rediscovered masterpiece of the German silent cinema, Ewald André Dupont’s Varieté is a visually dazzling tale of love and betrayal, foreshadowing such great works as F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise and Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel. Emil Jannings (The Last Laugh) stars as a carnival spieler who becomes entranced by a waifish dancer (Lya de Putti), and gradually betrays his wife, his honor, and his self-respect in an effort to be the sole possessor of her love. The dynamic camerawork by Karl Freund influenced an entire generation of filmmakers, and can at last be fully appreciated in this exquisite restoration by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung.

Special Features: Mastered from the 2015 restoration by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung and Filmarchiv Austria | New musical score performed by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra | 2015 musical score performed by The Tiger Lillies | Visual essay by Bret Wood | “Varieté: The Making of,” a 7-minute documentary on the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra | Othello (1922, Germany 79 min.), Dimitri Buchowetzki’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s drama of love and jealousy, also starring Emil Jannings and Lya de Putti


German filmmaker Ewald Andre Dupont (or better known as E.A. Dupont) is known as one of the pioneers of the German film industry.

Known for films such as “Piccadilly” (1929) with Anna May Wong and his retelling of the Titanic disaster in the 1929 film “Atlantic”.  But with numerous films in his lengthy oeuvre, one film that stands out and is known among silent film fans is his 1925 film “Variete” during the height of German Expressionism during the Weimar era.

And now the film was released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber.

In 2015, the film received a restoration and mastering courtesy of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stifftung and Filmarchiv Austria and the Blu-ray release will also feature two scores.  Which includes the magnificent musical score performed by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, which fans got to experience live at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in 2017.  And the film includes the 2015 musical score performed by the British musical trio, The Tiger Lillies known for their music, in this case, which brings together macabre magic of pre-war Berlin with a piano score.

“Variete” stars Emil Jannings (“The Blue Angel”, “The Last Laugh”, “Faust”), Maly Delschaft (“The Last Laugh”, “Familie Benthin”), Lya De Putti (“The Informer”, “Buck Privates”), Warwick Ward (“The Way of Lost Souls”, “La venenosa”) and more.

The film begins with prisoner #28, Huller (portrayed by Emil Jannings) meeting with the judge for his parole hearing and wants to know if he is remorseful over the murders he committed ten years ago and why he hasn’t said anything about it all this time (as it could have earned him parole) and while Huller is not interested in talking, he receives a letter from his wife vouching for his freedom and that she and her son are waiting for him.

This leads to Huller telling the judge of his story.  Ten years ago, Boss Huller was in charge of fairground trapeze artists for the carnival.  He and his wife, Frau Huller (portrayed by Maly Delschaft) were once trapeze artists but they have gotten older and stopped after he got injured.

For now, he is busy as a boss, being a husband and being a father to his baby son and taking care of him when his tired wife needs to sleep.

Life changes for the Huller family when a dancer named Bertha-Marie (portrayed by Lya De Putti) is taken in and is asked if Huller can spare a room for her in his home, as she can dance for their show.

Many who come to the show are smitten with Bertha-Marie who is seductive and many are attracted to her.  As for Boss Huller, he often looks at his wife’s rear and compares it to Bertha-Marie’s rear and starts to see the beauty in her.

One day while his wife is sleeping and he is to take care of the child, Bertha-Marie starts to seduce Boss Huller and as Huller at first tries to resist, he is captured by her charms and the two engage in a sexual liaison.

And Frau Huller starts to notice how her husband looks at her, defends her and catches the two making out.  She now knows her husband is having an affair and Huller now knows he must leave his wife and son and together, he and Bertha-Marie begin their new life together as trapeze artists.

Meanwhile, a big-show trapeze artist named Artinelli (portrayed by Warwick Ward) is without his brother who had an accident and he is recommended to bring in two people, Boss Huller and his girlfriend Bertha-Marie.

When Artinelli and his manager offer the two the opportunity, he is immediately smitten by Bertha-Marie.  While the three would become known as the 3 Artinelli and would wow audiences, Artinelli has one thing in his mind and that is to seduce Huller’s woman, Bertha-Marie.


VIDEO:

“Variete” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio) and is color-tinted. The quality of the film on Blu-ray is fantastic compared to any of the previous DVD releases of the film.  Featuring a remastered/restored version of the film done in 2015 courtesy of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung and Filmarchiv Austira, the film looks great without any major signs of film damage.  Quite often you will see a lot of film warping, scratches and nitrate damage but this restored version, while not perfectly pristine, shows no signs of major damage, film warping.  While specks and lines can be seen, for a silent film from 1925, this is one of the better films that have been given the restoration treatment.  And all the hardwork put into restoring this film shows.  It looks magnificent on Blu-ray!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Variete” is presented with German intertitles with optional English Subtitles.  While the musical score is presented in LPCM 2.0 and there are two soundtracks.  A 2017 musical score performed by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra and the 2015 musical score performed by the Tiger Lillies.  The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra is magnificent, while the Tiger Lillies is rather interesting and gave a different vibe while viewing, as the song is sung throughout, while a piano score is played.  It’s very different but I actually enjoyed it, because it was so unexpected.  Both soundtracks are great but I definitely have to say that I was captivated by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, while the Tiger Lillies musical score made me want to bob my head as the vocalist would sing “Variete” in various ways.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Varietee” comes with the following special feature:

  • Visual Essay – (10:35) Featuring a visual essay by Bret Wood.
  • Variete: The Making of”– (7:25) Featuring a documentary on the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra creating the musical score for the film and performing it live in front of a live audience.
  • Othello – A 79-minute film from 1922 featuring Dimitri Buchowetzki’s adaptation of the Shakespear dram of love and jealousy, starring both Emil Jannings and Lya De Putti.

When it comes to films that were released during the Weimar era and at the height of German Expressionism, many would often give a nod to films created by Fritz Lang, F.W. Murnau, Erich Pommer, Paul Wegener, Carl Boese, to name a few.

And while E.A. Dupont was one of the other known filmmakers of German Expressionism, fortunately his 1925 film “Variete” was one of the his earlier films that would entertain fans for decades.

In fact, in America, the film was well-received.  Film critic Carl Sandburg wrote back in 1926 of the film:

“Emil Jannings, the male star, does the best all-around work we have seen from his prolific and changeful face, while Lya De Putti, the new female star, is far out of the ordinary and will be discussed freely among 10 or 20 million moviegoers in this country during the coming year.”

Sandburg would further write in his article, “‘Variety’ is one of the few sure master pieces of filmart.”

And while we have seen Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau films receive the expensive restoration and re-release on Blu-ray and DVD, I was quite pleased to hear in 2015 that “Variete” would receive a restoration and as the film has been screened at various film festivals with different scores.

While the film has been available for many decades, it was only available in a heavily edited, censored version.  That changed in 1995, when a video dealer named Peter Kavel found a complete print from Germany and for the first time, people were able to see a complete version which included the intro.  Prior to that, the intro which featured prisoner #28 is being considered for parole and as he tells his story of how he left his wife, the censors in the U.S. felt the film was too much for American audiences at the time and nearly a half hour of the beginning of the film was deleted from the American premiere.

As the subject of vamps and women who are able to take advantage of men was featured often in silent cinema between ’10s and ’20s, what made interesting about “Variete” is the fact that it was at the height of German Expressionism, the storyline is about a woman who knows how to get her way with her beauty and literally as a performer, this personality of Bertha-Marie would not just be for the stage but extended to the men she comes across.

She knows how to use Huller and knows how to use Artinelli as both men provide her with life and material things that make her happy.  In other words, she has men twisted around her finger and she works it in order to get things going her way.

How E.A. Dupont is able to utilize this with the German Expressionism style is through facial expressions, character placement and the use lightening, camera placement and well-timed edits to create this artful masterpiece.

The acting performance by Emil Jannings, Lya De Putti and Warwick Ward was fantastic.

Emil Jannings was one of the well-known actors of his time, creating films in America for Paramount Pictures but would unfortunately lose popularity as he was active in Nazi propaganda, as his films in the ’30s and ’40s would promote Nazism.

Lya De Putti was no doubt an actress who wanted to be part of movie magic in America and the following year, after “Variete” was released, she starred in D.W. Griffith’s “The Sorrow of Satan”.  With her captivating eyes and just a sight that works remarkably on camera, she played primarily vamp roles and starred in , unfortunately, the actress died at a young age in 1931 after developing pleurisy and pneumonia following an operation to remove a chicken bone stuck in her throat.

While Warwick Ward would experience like many other silent film stars, the inability to transition during the beginning of talkies, fortunately for Ward, he was able to transition from actor to film producer in England.

As for director E.W. Dupont, the success of “Variete” insured him a chance to work in Hollywood and he would receive a lucrative contract from Universal and worked on the film “Love Me and the World is Mine” and would go on to make successful films in Britain.  While Dupont emigrated to the US in 1933, unfortunately, he would be assigned to work on B movies and would become a talent agent in 1940 before returning to films in the early ’50s before his death in 1956.

As for the Blu-ray release, as mentioned, the picture quality to this film is fantastic.  Sure, it’s not pristine but for a silent film, “Variete” looks absolutely magnificent.  And for me, part of the enjoyment, aside from watching this film restored and remastered is having the choice of two musical scores.  The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra score is magnificent but to my surprise, the score by the Tiger Lillies was unexpected because its singing throughout with a piano, drums and cello and the score is no doubt a different vibe from the Berklee score.  But I enjoyed both, as they both bring different vibes to this film.

As for the special features, included is a short visual essay, a making of the score featuring the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra and the 1922 film “Othello” (an adaptation of the Shakespeare drama) starring both Emil Jannings and Lya De Putti.

Overall, “Variete” is a magnificent film from Ewald Andre Dupont.  Created at the height of German Expressionism, the recently restored film features wonderful staging, lighting and wonderful perfomances from Emil Jannings, Lya De Putti and Warwick Ward.  Highly recommended!

 

Beggars of Life (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

With the popularity of Louise Brooks, there is no denying that “Beggars of Life” is a must-buy, must-own title.  And for silent film fans, the film is entertaining, suspenseful and action-packed. May you be a Louise Brooks, Wallace Beery or Richard Arlen fan, I can faithfully say that this silent film on Blu-ray is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 1928 Paramount Pictures. 2017 KINO LORBER. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: Beggars of Life

DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1928

DURATION: 81 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), B&W, 2.0 Stereo, English Intertitles

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: August 22, 2017


Based on the Book by Jim Tully

Directed by William A. Wellman

Adapatation by Benjamin Glazer

Produced by Allan Dwan

Executive Producer: Adolph Zukor

Music Performed by Jeff Rapsis

Cinematography by Harold Rosson


Starring:

Wallace Beery as Oklahoma Red

Louise Brooks as Nancy – The Girl

Richard Arlen as Jim – The Boy

Blue Washington as Black Mose

Kewpie Morgan as Skinny

Andy Clark as Skelly

Mike Donlin as Bill

Roscoe Karns as Lame Hoppy

Bob Perry as The Arkansaw Snake


An American silent film classic, Beggars of Life (1928) stars Louise Brooks as a train-hopping hobo who dresses like a boy to survive. After escaping her violent stepfather, Nancy (Brooks) befriends kindly drifter Jim (Richard Arlen). They ride the rails together until a fateful encounter with the blustery Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery) and his rambunctious band of hoboes, leading to daring, desperate conflict on top of a moving train. Based on the memoir of real-life hobo Jim Tully, and directed with adventuresome verve by William Wellman (The Ox-Bow Incident), Beggars of Life is an essential American original.


From legendary filmmaker William A. Wellman (“A Star is Born”, “The Ox-Bow Incident”, “The Public Enemy”) comes his romantic comedy silent film “Beggars of Life”.

A film that was released in 1928 as a silent film but it was considered lost until an incomplete copy was found in Czechoslovakia.

And now the film will be released as a silent film with English intertitles and a musical score compiled and performed by the Mont Alto Motion Pictures Orchestra, who employed selections from the original 1928 Paramount cue-sheet.

“Beggars of Life”  is based on an autobiography by Jim Tully and would star Wallace Beery (“Grand hotel”, “The Champ”, “The Lost World”), Louise Brooks (“Pandora’s Box”, “Diary of a Lost Girl”, “Miss Europe”), Richard Arlen (“Wings”, “Island of Lost Souls”, “Alice in Wonderland”) and Blue Washington (“Haunted Gold”, “The Butler”).

The film is known as being Louise Brooks best American film and also a film that would feature a Black actor, Blue Washington and one of the first films that would feature a man of color in the opening credits which was not common during that era.

And now the 1928 film will be available on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The film begins with a hungry homeless man named Jim (Richard Arlen) wondering into someone’s property, begging for the owner to please give him food and he would work hard for it.

When Jim sees someone sitting but not answering, he walks inside to find the man shot in the head and dead.  Seeing the deceased man startles him and he hears a young woman named Nancy (portrayed by Louise Brooks) scurrying around.

When Jim asks if she killed the man, she admits to it.  She explains that she was an orphan and taken in by the family but as she got older, the man would sexually assault her and having had enough of being raped, she took his firearm and shot him with it.

The two decide to escape and Nancy disguises herself as a young boy.  Meanwhile, Jim feels he just wants to help her get on the train, so she can get to Canada.  Unfortunately, getting on a train is not so easy for Nancy and she sprains her ankle.  Jim ends up taking care of Nancy and the next day, as they swipe some pastries from a bakery car, he sees a wanted photo of Nancy for murder.

As the two walk, they end up walking into a homeless camp, they meet the blunt and fearsome homeless man that goes by Oklahoma Red (portrayed by Wallace Beery) and they meet gang leader, The Arkansaw Snake (portrayed by Bob Perry).  When the Snake observes Jim and Nancy, he realizes that Nancy is a woman and not a man and wants to have his time with her.  But as Jim tries to come to her rescue, he is overtaken by the other homeless men and is held back.

But Jim ends up showing everyone to Nancy’s wanted poster and everyone steps back, worried about being around a murderer and not wanting to draw authorities to them, so they prefer to distance themselves away from her.

But when the police arrive, they see Nancy and as they are to stop her, all the homeless step in and Oklahoma Red handcuffs them all together, so they are unable to escape.

Oklahoma Red helps Nancy and Jim  but Red also wants to be with Nancy.

Will Nancy be able to escape to Canada with the authorities chasing after her?  Can Jim protect her?


VIDEO:

“Beggars of Life” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio) and is presented in black and white. The quality of the film on Blu-ray is very good in terms of clarity and sharpness.  Considering the film’s age, I didn’t notice any major film warping and while there are scratches that can be seen on various frames, the fact that this film has been lost and was recently discovered, is a major plus and I’m sure glad that what was found is still a good print that was restored from 35 mm film elements preserved by the George Eastman Museum.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Beggars of Life” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and the music presented for this release is a wonderful score compiled and performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, employing selections from the original 1928 Paramount cue-sheet.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Beggars of Life” comes with the following special feature:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by William Wellman, Jr.
  • Audio Commentary #2 – Featuring audio commentary by Thomas Gladysz, founding director of the Louise Brooks Society.

EXTRAS:

“Beggars of Life” comes with a booklet essay by film critic Nick Pinkerton.


When it comes to Louise Brooks, many are familiar with her European films directed by George Wilhelm Pabst and of course, her reputation.

Considered an actress that was ahead of her time, she took on roles that were portrayed sexuality that was not common for the era.  She was an intellectual, some considered her a snob, rumors were spread all over Hollywood that she slept with all her actors and facing so much in the U.S., she no doubt developed a tough skin.

For the most part, going to Europe did wonders for her career, especially post-posthumously such as “Pandora’s Box” or “Diary of a Lost Girl” are well-revered today.  But back then, while great films, her loathing of Hollywood and being denied by Paramount for a promised raise was enough for her to leave America which would lead her to become blacklisted.

Prior to moving away from America though, while starring in several silent light comedies and flapper films, it was “Beggars of Life” that would be considered her best American film.

Surprisingly, considering that she never thought about the film positively and not being faithful to Jim Tully’s book, which the film was an adaptation of Tully’s autobiography of the same name.

Nor did Louise Brooks get along with her co-star Richard Arlen and also director William A. Wellman, it’s a sign of a good actress that she was able to take on the role and give a solid performance as murderer on the run, Nancy.

But the tone of the film is set as Nancy was an orphan who was repeatedly raped by the man who took her in and tired of being assaulted, she shot and killed him.  And now she just wants to be free.  Free and happy and Jim, wants to help her escape to Canada but he needs to disguise her as a boy as he knows authorities will be after her.

The film broke new ground, no surprise as William A. Wellman was in an experimentation mode.  You have a woman dressed and disguised like a young man which no doubt, went against Hollywood norm and upset a number of people.  You also have Blue Washington, a Black actor in a major role and also being featured in the opening credits.  While Washington is not featured during the first half of the film, he becomes more prominent towards the second half of the film as a homeless man trying to take care of another sick homeless man.

But along with Louise Brooks, you also have to talk about the two prominent male actors.  Richard Arlen is the main protagonist that is paired with Louise Brooks as the homeless man named Jim who tries to help Nancy escape to Canada.  At first, he just wants to help her get to Canada on train but when he sees that she is not experienced to do much, let alone jumping on trains, he ends up helping her and protecting her from the homeless men who want to take advantage of her.

And of course, the actor who gets top billing, Wallace Beery as Oklahoma Red.  A homeless man who seems like he would be the antagonist, the alpha male among many homeless men, a man with a reputation that some fear him and a homeless man who also carries a heavy wooden barrel wherever he goes.  And he has his eyes on Nancy and wanting her to be his.  But he wants to naturally help her escape as well, just with him and not Jim.

Beery had appeared in many major films and while at that time, it makes sense for him to get top billing and be known as the star of the film.  Since the release of the film and the escalation of Louise Brooks as an actress and has received recognition as an early cinema sex symbol, she has also received respect for her independence as a woman.  Defying Hollywood, defying the norm and some may even make comparisons to modern day stars such as Madonna.

And part of the mystique that surrounds Louise Brooks is that there is much written about her, but yet many of her films are lost.  Fortunately, her key silent films filmed in Europe such as “Pandora’s Box” and “Diary of a Lost Girl” have survived.  And of course, her American film “Beggars of Life” that was discovered in 2016, has finally been released and giving many fans a chance to enjoy an early American film starring Louise Brooks.

And earlier this year, 23 minutes of a long missing 1927 Brooks film, “Now We’re in the Air” was found in the Czech Republic and is another significant film in Brooks’ oeuvre as four of the films she had made in 1927 were considered lost.  And this World War One comedy also features Wallace Beery, and Brooks in two supporting roles.

Going back to “Beggars of Life”, it’s important to note that while this film was released as an early sound film, the original sound recordings have not been found and thus was released as a silent film.  And while it is sad that we don’t have the original audio, considering that this was an earlier film that experimented with sound, the film works much more effectively as a silent and the score by Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra was fantastic.

Picture quality on this Blu-ray release was digitally restored from 35mm film elements preserved by the George Eastman Museum and they did a magnificent job.  Scratches are not so evident and there is no major damage or film warping at all.  And you get two audio commentaries and a essay booklet included as well.

With the popularity of Louise Brooks, there is no denying that “Beggars of Life” is a must-buy, must-own title.  And for silent film fans, the film is entertaining, suspenseful and action-packed. May you be a Louise Brooks, Wallace Beery or Richard Arlen fan, I can faithfully say that this silent film on Blu-ray is highly recommended!

 

 

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