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Safe in Hell (1931)


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#1 of 42 Richard--W

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Posted December 05 2011 - 11:54 AM

Has anyone seen William Wellman's pre-code crime drama released by Warner Archives? Can you comment on the quality of the transfer? I want to get it, but I don't buy many $20 DVD-R's and I want to be sure I'm not throwing my money away. http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/

#2 of 42 Jon Hertzberg

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Posted December 05 2011 - 12:06 PM

Has anyone seen William Wellman's pre-code crime drama released by Warner Archives? Can you comment on the quality of the transfer? I want to get it, but I don't buy many $20 DVD-R's and I want to be sure I'm not throwing my money away. http://static.hometh...um.com/imgrepo/

Just picked it up in the 5 for $50 sale and received it today. Haven't been able to preview the disc yet, but I saw it a few months back at Film Forum's Pre-Code series. The print came from elements preserved by the Library of Congress, which the DVD is also sourced from. I'd never pay $20 for any of these discs, but wait for a sale and they can be had for $10-$12 each. Right now, there is a 3 for $33 sale going on. Why not pick up SAFE IN HELL and 2 others today?

#3 of 42 Chuck Pennington

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Posted December 05 2011 - 12:33 PM

Well, I'm halfway through it and the transfer is very strange. I can see some colored analog artifacts along some lines in the image, and the video appears to be from an old master. The print is rather rough and dark and has many missing frames and jumps in the soundtrack. There is some strange ghosting of black dirt on the extreme left-hand side of the frame, and there is a strange diffused look to the image. The movie is very watchable, but the overall quality is a huge step down from what I expect from the Warner Archive program.

#4 of 42 Jon Hertzberg

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Posted December 05 2011 - 01:58 PM

Well, I'm halfway through it and the transfer is very strange. I can see some colored analog artifacts along some lines in the image, and the video appears to be from an old master. The print is rather rough and dark and has many missing frames and jumps in the soundtrack. There is some strange ghosting of black dirt on the extreme left-hand side of the frame, and there is a strange diffused look to the image. The movie is very watchable, but the overall quality is a huge step down from what I expect from the Warner Archive program.

This sounds similar to the print I saw, rough all around and missing some frames--and this was a print from the Library of Congress collection! I've seen many, many 35mm projections of Pre-Code titles over the years--a specialty of Film Forum, in particular--and SAFE IN HELL stood out as one that was in much poorer condition than most others I've viewed. Clearly, not much survives of this film and to expect more is unfortunately not realistic for a title of this vintage and history

#5 of 42 ahollis

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Posted December 05 2011 - 04:52 PM

Not the best of the WAC transfers, but sure is one hell of film.  I had never seen the film before, but had heard about it most of my life.  Everything I heard was correct and better.  This film and the 1929 The Letter are just outstanding entertainment and are true gems in the history of the industry.

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#6 of 42 Paul_Scott

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Posted December 05 2011 - 09:06 PM

Not the best of the WAC transfers, but sure is one hell of film. 

My sentiments too. Mine came in yesterday as well, and just got done watching it a bit ago. The master looks like something made in the 80's for low res broadcast- but the content is stimulating enough to overcome the weak presentation. I would hope this would get properly remastered at some point. I'll have to check out the Letter at some point. Is it superior to the Davis version or different in any significant way? Haven't seen a lot of chatter about it.

#7 of 42 JoHud

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Posted December 06 2011 - 01:39 AM

I'm wondering how much of the faults in the video quality is from not being newly remastered and how much is due to the earliest surviving source elements being what they are.

#8 of 42 Conrad_SSS

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Posted December 06 2011 - 02:01 AM

It was my understanding that this was almost a lost film, no negative, etc. I recall reading something about this (I don't remember where) that the only surviving copy was the lone print at the Library of Congress, and everything we see comes from that, warts and all. I too, saw the Library's print at the Film Forum in NYC (or likely a copy made from it?), and in viewing the new DVD, it looks the same as what I recall seeing in the theater. It is an electrifying film, and given how many early sound films have completely vanished from the planet, I think we're just lucky it still exists. Given the circumstances, I was more than pleased with the DVD, and have already watched it twice. Mackaill is astounding in it....and I love that cover art, too.

#9 of 42 Jon Hertzberg

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Posted December 06 2011 - 02:38 AM

It was my understanding that this was almost a lost film, no negative, etc. I recall reading something about this (I don't remember where) that the only surviving copy was the lone print at the Library of Congress, and everything we see comes from that, warts and all. I too, saw the Library's print at the Film Forum in NYC (or likely a copy made from it?), and in viewing the new DVD, it looks the same as what I recall seeing in the theater. It is an electrifying film, and given how many early sound films have completely vanished from the planet, I think we're just lucky it still exists. Given the circumstances, I was more than pleased with the DVD, and have already watched it twice. Mackaill is astounding in it....and I love that cover art, too.

Thanks, Conrad. That's what I've been trying to communicate. This DVD, from what I previewed, looks very similar to the Library of Congress print shown at Film Forum. We're lucky to have this film at all, particularly in a not-brutally-cut down-by-Joe Breen edition.

#10 of 42 Richard--W

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Posted December 06 2011 - 03:33 AM

Appreciate everyone's input. This sounds like a very interesting and worthwhile film, however damaged it may be. Under the circumstances I'll go ahead and buy the DVD-R at Warner Archive's next deal.

#11 of 42 ahollis

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Posted December 06 2011 - 05:56 AM




Originally Posted by Paul_Scott 


I'll have to check out the Letter at some point. Is it superior to the Davis version or different in any significant way? Haven't seen a lot of chatter about it.


The Letter also has a lot of film damage, including a short spot in the first reel where there is a missing part of the opening sound, but you don't miss any dialog for it was just the opening of the film.  The acting of Jeanne Eagels is impeccable, especially when she on the stand in the courtroom.  The main advantage of this version is that it was not censored as was the Bette Davis version.  It is amazing to watch Jeanne Eagels and she was nominated for Best Actress for this role after her death.  While it was a Paramount film, Warners acquired ownership of it when they purchased the remake rights for Davis.

This makes a great pre-code double feature with Safe In Hell.



"Get a director and a writer and leave them alone. That`s how the best pictures get made" - William "Wild Bill" Wellman


#12 of 42 Jon Hertzberg

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Posted December 06 2011 - 06:05 AM

The Letter also has a lot of film damage, including a short spot in the first reel where there is a missing part of the opening sound, but you don't miss any dialog for it was just the opening of the film.  The acting of Jeanne Eagels is impeccable, especially when she on the stand in the courtroom.  The main advantage of this version is that it was not censored as was the Bette Davis version.  It is amazing to watch Jeanne Eagels and she was nominated for Best Actress for this role after her death.  While it was a Paramount film, Warners acquired ownership of it when they purchased the remake rights for Davis. This makes a great pre-code double feature with Safe In Hell.

I think I'll be picking up the Eagels' LETTER in the next 5 for $50 sale.

#13 of 42 Paul_Scott

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Posted December 06 2011 - 06:38 AM

Thanks Allen! Looks like this will be on my list for next sale too. Regarding the image quality of SIH- it isn't the film damage that makes the biggest impression on me, though there is a good bit of it. What I find more disconcerting is the analog video looking nature of it which includes (what looks like) low amplitude ringing, shimmering lines, etc. Reminds me of the un-remastered Four Daughters disc, or Soldier In The Rain, or any number of early Archive releases that came from masters made in the 80's/early 90's. Which is curious since this was supposedly a lost film just recently discovered, yadda yadda. Just doesn't look like a master that was just now struck from newly found, imperfect elements. And given the nature of this film, I'd assumed they would have wanted to lock down a state of the art master for what does exist before anything else can happen to it.

#14 of 42 Jon Hertzberg

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Posted December 07 2011 - 06:44 AM

Warner Archive replied to my query about SAFE IN HELL elements via Twitter:

WarnerArchive Warner Archive @ @carroljohummer Yes. If that print - which is not in the greatest condition- was not at LoC, then this would be a lost film.



#15 of 42 ahollis

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Posted December 08 2011 - 02:21 AM

I so blown away with SAFE IN HELL as I was the 1929 THE LETTER that while I have always had a high regard for pre-code films these two have really peaked my interest again.  I am hoping that the batch that WAC has for us this month will also have a diamond in the rough.  Possibly one of the two other Dorothy Mackail titles (PARTY HUSBAND/THE OFFICE WIFE).  Due to SAFE IN HELL I seem to have latched on to her and have only seen her in this one film but I think she was an outstanding actress.

"Get a director and a writer and leave them alone. That`s how the best pictures get made" - William "Wild Bill" Wellman


#16 of 42 Roger Rollins

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Posted December 08 2011 - 03:12 AM

Have to agree with all the great things said about SAFE IN HELL. Mackaill is a revelation. I could say that this was my best DVD purchase yet this year, except there have been literally dozens of releases from WB's archive series that have warranted repeat viewing after arrival. I'll buy anything Mackaill is in at this point, and already put in my order for the new PARTY HUSBAND & OFFICE WIFE combo. I saw on WB's Facebook page that they may also release the 1930 film BRIGHT LIGHTS, which I've never seen, but it sounds quite interesting.

#17 of 42 JoHud

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Posted December 08 2011 - 04:39 AM

I so blown away with SAFE IN HELL as I was the 1929 THE LETTER that while I have always had a high regard for pre-code films these two have really peaked my interest again.  I am hoping that the batch that WAC has for us this month will also have a diamond in the rough.  Possibly one of the two other Dorothy Mackail titles (PARTY HUSBAND/THE OFFICE WIFE).  Due to SAFE IN HELL I seem to have latched on to her and have only seen her in this one film but I think she was an outstanding actress. 

Those pre-code double features they had last year certainly had some gems among them that I was surprised by. Most of them are comedies or romantic comedies, but were more often than not a good buy. I take that back--they were all good buys. The Robert Montgomery set along with the upcoming pre-code double features have already preordered, so I guess I'm in the same boat here. Haven't gotten around to watching either of the films mentioned, but I'm definitely looking forward to it now.

#18 of 42 Chuck Pennington

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Posted December 08 2011 - 04:54 AM

I have to agree that SAFE IN HELL was a good blind buy. I greatly enjoyed the film, and I can see it being a good choice to introduce people to older films to show they can be exciting and engaging (I have a lot of friends who refuse to view anything not on the "New Release" shelf). I can accept the print damage and missing frames, but the analog video artifacts (rainbow-like colored strobing along harsh lines, smeary appearance) are indeed distracting. A clean digital transfer would probably show up more flaws in the source, but at least it would look more like film and not have the old analog video artifacts that this release contains. I still recommend the disc, but the least they could have done would be to lower the saturation so the colored strobing would be masked. Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image Posted Image

#19 of 42 Jon Hertzberg

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Posted December 08 2011 - 05:17 AM

I so blown away with SAFE IN HELL as I was the 1929 THE LETTER that while I have always had a high regard for pre-code films these two have really peaked my interest again.  I am hoping that the batch that WAC has for us this month will also have a diamond in the rough.  Possibly one of the two other Dorothy Mackail titles (PARTY HUSBAND/THE OFFICE WIFE).  Due to SAFE IN HELL I seem to have latched on to her and have only seen her in this one film but I think she was an outstanding actress. 

She delivers a knock-out performance here, no question. Want to see more of her. You can catch her on DVD in NO MAN OF HER OWN, better known as the only onscreen pairing of Gable and Lombard. She's third-billed. This was after First National let her contract lapse. The Warner Archive tells me on Twitter that SAFE IN HELL is selling surprisingly well.

#20 of 42 Jon Hertzberg

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Posted December 08 2011 - 05:19 AM

Have to agree with all the great things said about SAFE IN HELL. Mackaill is a revelation. I could say that this was my best DVD purchase yet this year, except there have been literally dozens of releases from WB's archive series that have warranted repeat viewing after arrival. I'll buy anything Mackaill is in at this point, and already put in my order for the new PARTY HUSBAND & OFFICE WIFE combo. I saw on WB's Facebook page that they may also release the 1930 film BRIGHT LIGHTS, which I've never seen, but it sounds quite interesting.

Had no idea about the PARTY HUSBAND / OFFICE WIFE release. I'd wager we have the sales of SAFE IN HELL to thank for that very promptly scheduled Mackaill release.