On July 3, Criterion is releasing their new Blu-ray set of the six Hollywood (Paramount) productions that came from the talents of Marlene Dietrich, under the direction of Josef von Sternberg.
They had worked previously in Germany, under the UFA banner for the 1930 The Blue Angel, in which she appeared with Emil Jannings.
The six films are:
Morocco – 1930 – Gary Cooper / Adolphe Menjou – Lee Garmes
Dishonored – 1931 – Victor McLaglen / Gustav von Seyffertitz / Warner Oland – Lee Garmes
Shanghai Express – 1932 – Clive Brook / Anna May Wong / Warner Oland / Eugene Pallette – Lee Garmes
Blonde Venus – 1932 – Herbert Marshall / Cary Grant – Bert Glennon
The Scarlet Empress – 1934 – John Lodge / Sam Jaffe / Louise Dressser – Bert Glennon
The Devil is a Woman – 1935 – Lionel Atwill / Edward Everett Horton – von Sternberg
The importance of this release cannot be overstated, for especially for those unaware, these are the films that “cinema” is all about – “The stuff that dreams are made of…”
Universal and Criterion have done a wonderful job in restoring the films, as the selection of elements isn’t exactly wonderful.
The original nitrate negatives to the black & white Paramount library were junked after a second set of safety fine grains were produced, decades ago.
Don’t ask why.
There was an earlier set, produced dry gate, which showed every bit of wear and tear from the elements’ history.
Reportedly, the first set had a superior image quality, short of the printed in damage, while the newer wet-gate set, had less than spectacular image quality.
From a more than cursory examination, the six films look far better than they should. Not spectacular, but still allowing us to see the extraordinary cinematography that still shines through.
I can’t speak to correct density or black levels, although they look fine, as I’d want to do an actual comparison, but anyone who purchased the set, should be thrilled with the final results.
Grain structure is fine, albeit with generations backed in.
Aspect ratios are correct, with the earliest two, being 1.19, Shanghai as 1.33, and the rest of the group at 1.37.
The films were produced from a mix of safety fine grains, and nitrate prints – you can get the details in liner notes.
Not to sound like a TV commercial for a blender, but in the old days of 16mm film collecting, you could have paid $1,000 or more for a set of six prints, if you were able to locate them.
Now, you can own all six, along with a free perfect bound book about the films, for the low, low price of only $86.
That’s only $14 a film, for some of the greatest films ever produced.
While many people may be waiting for the release of 2001 in 4k, this offering as just as important, and will be one of the major classic releases of 2018.
Image – 4
Audio – 5
Pass / Fail – Pass
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Very Highly Recommended
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