Directed by Paul Fejos
Aspect Ratio: 1.19:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 69 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Review Date: August 21, 2012
Two single New Yorkers, Mary (Barbara Kent) and Jim (Glenn Tryon), live the frenzied pace of working Manhattanites, but they’re lonely. All of their friends have sweethearts, but they haven’t managed to find the right person. On the July 4th weekend, each decides to go to Coney Island for the holiday festivities, and once there, they meet and fall in love. But the fates are unkind, and when the couple gets separated, they realize they don’t know each other’s names making the chance of their ever seeing one another again extremely remote.
It’s a simple story of boy-meets-loses-and-searches for girl (story by Mann Page, screenplay by Edward Lowe, Jr. and titles by Tom Reed), but in the hands of Paul Fejos, the story’s simplicity is just the building block in his array of dazzling directorial choices. In constructing the montage of Mary and Paul busy at their jobs (she is a switchboard operator, he works a punch press), Fejos uses multiple exposures and the then-new optical printer to increase the frenzy of their work and timetable. The pace of the film is positively breathless as they head to Coney Island and once there, the crowds and holiday streamers, confetti, and noise are bewildering. The director also manages to use tinting and color effects to add to the picture’s collection of astonishing visuals, all emphasizing the flush of young love that the two protagonists find themselves enjoying (he even manages to simulate them dancing in the clouds decades before Fred Astaire did it). And after their separation, there’s a hurricane-like storm that blows in further stunning us with Fejos’ manipulations of our emotions paralleled so cleverly on screen. The three dialogue sound sequences do allow us to hear what the two stars (and some wise acre policemen) sound like, but the visuals are what matter here, and you’ll rarely find a silent film that uses them in quite so creative a fashion.
Glenn Tryon had some experience as a silent comedian, and you can tell from some of his business with combs and other objects that he could have riffed with props for minutes at a time had the movie’s intent been only to be a comedy. He does a fine job expressing joy and disappointment (she teases him with her mother’s wedding ring making him think she’s married) and later heartbreak. Barbara Kent was a beauty queen given a movie contract, but she seems more adept with expressing emotions on screen than one might expect of a mere beauty pageant winner. She has some melodramatic flourishes at certain points, but her heartbreak over losing Jim seems genuine. Look quickly and you’ll see a very young Andy Devine in a bit as one of Jim’s friends.
The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.19:1 and is offered in 1080p using the AVC codec. It’s a miracle we have a film at all in any condition, but there’s no denying that the film’s age and deplorable existing condition prevents it from ever looking pristine. There’s a coarseness to the image that some won’t find pleasing, and even with expert tinkering, all the scratches, dust bits, a small amount of ghosting, and in the final moments emulsion deterioration can’t be made to magically go away. Still, the grayscale at its best features strong blacks and whites, sharpness is generally good, and the color moments are surprisingly strong and always in control. An essay in the booklet and a printed prelude to the film explains about the new intertitles now in use. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.
The PCM (1.1 Mbps) 1.0 sound mix sounds exactly like what you’d expect a soundtrack this old and deteriorated to sound like: harsh, tinny, and with occasional hiss and distortion and some volume level inconsistencies. Still, that being said, the dialogue is clear in the three talking sequences, and the music and sound effects do add to the viewing experience in a positive way. Surprisingly, Irving Berlin doesn’t receive any screen credit even though his song “Always” plays a prominent part in the story, and the music for “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” serves as underscore to the opening scenes as we watch the couple in their morning ablutions.
The audio commentary is by film historian Richard Koszarski, and it’s an expert one, a combination of film analysis and historical detail about the actors and director. It will greatly enhance your viewing experience to give it a thorough listen after watching the movie for the first time.
All the bonus material is presented in 1080p.
“Fejos Memorial” is a video essay combining an autobiographical audio recording of his life and times made by the director in 1962 with photographs from his long and varied career. This runs 19 ½ minutes.
The Last Performance is Fejos’ 1929 silent melodrama featuring Conrad Veidt as a magician/hypnotist occupying one corner of a love quadrangle. This is the Danish version of the film that features white English subtitles and runs 59 ½ minutes.
Broadway is the 1929 film version of the Broadway play, a melodrama with musical nightclub sequences (featuring Glenn Tryon from Lonesome) that in its way is as spectacular as a backstage story as MGM’s The Broadway Melody that won that year’s Best Picture Oscar (the score is Broadway's weakest link). It runs 104 ½ minutes.
Cinematographer Hal Mohr who shot Broadway discusses making the movie and the enormous crane apparatus used to film the spectacular musical numbers in the huge nightclub set. It’s from a 1973 audio interview completed with photographs and film clips to illustrate Mohr’s story. It runs 6 ¾ minutes.
The enclosed 33-page booklet contains a cast and crew list, some wonderful stills from the movie, an essay on the movie by author Phillip Lopate, a think piece on Fejos’ brief but memorable Hollywood career by film professor Graham Petrie, excerpts from a 1962 interview with the director about Lonesome, and a brief essay on the film’s extensive restoration.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4/5 (not an average)
One of the great silent films you’ve likely never seen, Lonesome is a master class in dazzling direction that nevertheless serves the simple story it’s telling and expands its emotional resonance exponentially. The Criterion Blu-ray presents the restored film in more than acceptable condition offering a great chance to discover for yourself one of the silent/sound era’s most underrated treasures. As a bonus, you get two other great films from 1929 by the same director that are rarely seen. Recommended!