Upgrade from DVD - You'd better believe it! 4 Stars

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.

Beautifully cleaned.

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

Upgrade from DVD – You’d better believe it!

Very Highly Recommended

RAH

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Robert Harris

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ahollis

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I was looking forward to this set as it was, now I can’t wait to receive it and settle down and immerse myself with Dietrich and von Sternberg.
 

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as always, thanks for that glowing endorsement, just waiting on that pre order to arrive

the screen test that launched that stuff that dreams are made of
 

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I've seen these films on home video so many times, but I'm betting these Blu-rays will make them seem new almost all over again. They will be a part of my (very sizable) Barnes & Noble order next month.
 

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Mine just shipped. There is a rumor, not reliable that the new Shanghai Express transfer does not restore the missing 15 seconds/ six lines of dialogue which was cut from all releases since the first Laserdiscs and VHS tapes in the 90s.
 

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Thank you, Robert. I just finished reading a book I happened upon by chance in my local Half Price Books: Von Sternberg by John Baxter (p.2010). I couldn't put it down--and for me to say that about any book is quite remarkable. In this biography of the director we also learn as much about Marlene Dietrich--her background, her passions. Before I had only a passing interest in this set of films by Criterion; now I can't wait to dive into it with both eyes.
 
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I was on the fence about getting this in the next B&N Criterion sale, but now I've jumped over to the neighbor's yard.

I've only seen The Scarlet Empress (years ago), but I remember being in awe of the use of lighting.
 
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This is going to be fun! I've seen 35mm prints of all of these many times decades ago, and own the recent Euro-Blu of Blonde Venus which is my personal fave. People who have never seen The Devil is a Woman (Dietrich's favorite) are going to be REALLY surprised -- its delirious stylized look was very deliberate, as was its cold sophistication.
 
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I seem to remember back in the 1960's that a used 16mm film print of a 20-to-30 year old b-movie was about $200 at Peerless-Willoughby's in NYC. Using 1963 as the base year, that's $1644 in current dollars. I remember thinking that it would be impossible for me to ever own a film. When I was a kid, I projected rented 16mm films in a bungalow colony in the summer and I was so thrilled to get those reels into my hands. Sometimes I'd bring the projector into my bungalow and preview the film before I projected it to the crowd.

And I've probably posted this before, but way back in 1959, "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazine used to offer a 50-foot 8mm silent version of The Phantom of the Opera (and I suspect a pretty poor quality print) for $4.95 (or for $5.95 in 16mm). That works out to about 4 minutes of footage, depending upon the projection speed. That $4.95 in 1959 is $43 today and that $5.95 for the 16mm version is $51 in today's dollars. All for what amounts to a poor quality silent trailer and things you could see on YouTube and elsewhere today for free.

And yet we (including myself) complain about the price of Blu-ray discs. We've gotten very spoiled. It's really quite miraculous.

In addition, the other day was the 70th anniversary of the introduction of the LP by Columbia Records and tomorrow (the 28th) was the day the 1st LP was released. The first 12" LP released listed for $4.85 in 1948, which is $50.63 in today's dollars. But everyone thought the $14 CD was too expensive. It's amazing that the LP became a success at that price.
 

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Mine just shipped. There is a rumor, not reliable that the new Shanghai Express transfer does not restore the missing 15 seconds/ six lines of dialogue which was cut from all releases since the first Laserdiscs and VHS tapes in the 90s.
I hope that's not correct. I can't imagine that no one was able to find that sequence - it was complete in the 16mm print that I had.
 

Robert Harris

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I hope that's not correct. I can't imagine that no one was able to find that sequence - it was complete in the 16mm print that I had.
What is the sequence?
 

Robert Harris

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Thank you, Robert. I just finished reading a book I happened upon by chance in my local Half Price Books: Von Sternberg by John Baxter (p.2010). I couldn't put it down--and for me to say that about any book is quite remarkable. In this biography of the director we also learn as much about Marlene Dietrich--her background, her passions. Before I had only a passing interest in this set of films by Criterion; now I can't wait to dive into it with both eyes.
Suggest you check out Fun in a Chinese Laundry.
 

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Robert apologies for not putting this up earlier. The shot begins at 37m,; 50s. The cut hits at 38m; 06s and removes four lines of dialogue (six in cluding the original French from Emile Chautard.)
 

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Abrupt cut, with footage missing at 40:11.

SE was scanned at Universal from a dupe neg & fine grain.

Checking further.

Interestingly, a transcript of the missing lines can be found in an old discussion on the Criterion Forum.

All of that noted, I’d not have concerns about purchasing the set, as there should be an easy fix, presuming the footage survives in some form.
 
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Abrupt cut, with footage missing at 40:11.

SE was scanned at Universal from a dupe neg & fine grain.

Checking further.

Interestingly, a transcript of the missing lines can be found in an old discussion on the Criterion Forum.

All of that noted, I’d not have concerns about purchasing the set, as there should be an easy fix, presuming the footage survives in some form.
It seems unimaginable that my print had the only surviving footage of this sequence, but there's a good chance that I could track it down if need be. I sold most of my 16mm prints to a good friend, and even 30+ years later, he probably still has it if he were indeed the buyer of that one. IIRC, the print was a very nice "original" (but with replaced dupe main titles); I don't remember the edge code but it was probably struck in the 50s or 60s.
 

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Abrupt cut, with footage missing at 40:11.

SE was scanned at Universal from a dupe neg & fine grain.

Checking further.

Interestingly, a transcript of the missing lines can be found in an old discussion on the Criterion Forum.

All of that noted, I’d not have concerns about purchasing the set, as there should be an easy fix, presuming the footage survives in some form.
Thanks RJH, the discussion over at Criterion was started by myself some years ago (ca. 2005?) when the French DVD versions of the Dietrichs followed suit with the 95 lasterdisc using the print with the cut. Sorry again for quoting PAL time, of course at 24 fps the shot starts at around 40 minutes. As you say the footage obviously exists in some other element but I was hoping this would have been the definitive opporunity for Universal to fix the problem. It's totally minor but I am disappointed.