A few words about…™ Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood — in Blu-ray

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

Published by

Robert Harris

editor,member

78 Comments

  1. I'm counting the days for this – the set that I've dreamed of since the introduction of blu-ray, but never really expected. Back in the day, I did have 16mm prints of all except DISHONORED; it's exciting to know that these discs will surpass them by a nice margin.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. david hare

    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.

  9. Peter McM

    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.

  10. 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.

  11. Robert Harris

    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.

  12. Robert Harris

    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.

  13. I am now aware of three people who say they have seen a print with the missing fifteen seconds but the proof is in pudding. I simply suspect Universal (who I assume had been aware of this problem since I first raised it on Dave Kehr's blgosite in 1994) and Disc producer Issa Clubb (to whom Neil MacGlone who was adviser on bonus items ) were also aware of the problem. If they were not it beggars belief. It is possible all or any prints (all 16mm as far as I know) which were still complete are held in Europe, but not subitlted. I last saw it (in 35mm) in a Paris cinema (the Champo) in the mid 90s. It was complete. Of course Uni would have to replace the full 38 second shot because it's done as a single take. Time to stir the pot (again.) Part of me says "let it go" but the rest of me is saying get it fixed The 2K (or 4K) mastering stage is surely the place to do a full and thorough harvest

    https://www.facebook.com/permalink….21751961489&notif_t=feedback_reaction_generic

  14. Sad to say, but my 30+ year old memory of my old print turned out to be wrong. The missing dialogue isn't there either. My guess is that I saw the missing dialogue in text form somewhere online, long ago, and then reading those lines again now, "remembered" them into my print.

  15. I am still convinced they were there years ago. Which doesn't mean they are still around. The splice within the shot is too rough to be ignored. I am convinced it was in MOMA's (or possibly UCLA's) 35mm nitrate for a Jo retorspective in Sydney in 1968. Jo was here at our invitation and brought (smuggled in actually) the three 16mm cans of Anatahan which he had "Borrowed' from a friend. I was among a tiny group of viewers who watched Anathana that magic afternoon at the SydneyFF and stood around later to talk and shake his hand. I was 18. Contrary to reputation etc he was charming, humble, obviously deeply happy to be showing and talking about the film, even in this tattered old fleapit that housed the screening. HIs demeanor belied eveyrthing one had heard about him. Getting back to SE, I may be fighting a losing battle on this dialogue if not my own ageing memory. The script is reprinted in full from dialogue continuities provided by Universal and from screenings of both BFI and the BBC's own 35mm prints of this and Morocco, in a book published by Lorimer in the UK in 1973. I have never bought the "censorship" line, my own view is it's likely some imbecile in the archive at Universal snipped out the section of the shot without replacing it (the full shot) that followed several seconds of very bad emulsion tearing and scratches. THe print damage which precedes the cut is very obviously visible in the French PAL DVD and audible on the soundtrack.

  16. I saw MOMA'a print of SHANGHAI EXPRESS a number of times in the late 60's & 70's & I can also swear that it was part of the film then. In fact, I always considered those lines a key moment of the film.

  17. lark144

    I saw MOMA'a print of SHANGHAI EXPRESS a number of times in the late 60's & 70's & I can also swear that it was part of the film then. In fact, I always considered those lines a key moment of the film.

    The scene is critical because in it Lily is able to get Lenard off the hook with the ruthless Chang. Her powers of persuasion are very much in focus, as is her compassion for Lenard who is simply trying to save face with his sister in Shanghai.

  18. Andrew, I envy your discovery of these films – I think you'll love them. I've just finished SCARLET EMPRESS, and finally it looks as it should – ravishing. Later tonight, DEVIL IS A WOMAN.

  19. Andrew Budgell

    My set is coming later this week and I can't wait. I bought a 65" OLED today, and these films, many of which I'll be seeing for the first time, will be among the very first I watch on my new TV!

    So happy you've joined the OLED fold. It's the best TV I've ever owned without a doubt.

  20. Danny Burk

    Andrew, I envy your discovery of these films – I think you'll love them. I've just finished SCARLET EMPRESS, and finally it looks as it should – ravishing. Later tonight, DEVIL IS A WOMAN.

    "The Scarlet Empress" is one of the two in the set I've actually seen (the other being "Shanghai Express") and I can't wait to see it on Blu. I know it's going to be a massive upgrade over my Criterion DVD.

  21. Morocco – I understand it's the weakest in the set – I wasn't horrified by it or anything, but one does wish it were a bit better. I did have the complete set in pristine 16mm prints and my Morocco looked incredible. But this is fine, and I'm looking forward to the better elements.

  22. haineshisway

    Morocco – I understand it's the weakest in the set – I wasn't horrified by it or anything, but one does wish it were a bit better. I did have the complete set in pristine 16mm prints and my Morocco looked incredible. But this is fine, and I'm looking forward to the better elements.

    Yes. I saw what I believe was a nitrate 35mm print at MOMA in the 70's and it was amazing. The clarity, sheen and glow of the grey scale was beyond belief. All the jewels around Ms. Dietrich's neck glittered wherever she walked to the point that one needed sunglasses. And everything was so tactile. The texture of clothes and hair, even the shadows stood out in a way I had never seen either before or since. Previously I had watched Morocco in 16mm a number of times, but this was a completely different experience. And of course I was hoping that this Blu-Ray would finally reproduce to some extent the luster and glow that was present in that 35mm nitrate so many years ago. But I'll take what I can get.

  23. Thanks, Robert, sounds wonderful. The one i miss in Blu-Ray is one of my favorite, The Shanghaî Gesture, but Marlene was not playing in it, so that's why it's not in the pack. No big drama, it will be release in Blu-Ray one day or another.

    In the meantime those who have never seen The Shanghaî Gesture can watch it at the link below, Gene Tierney has never been so beautiful ( she was 20 when they filmed it, so it helps ). Walter Huston ( father of John Huston ) and Victor Mature are also playing and there is the great Ona Munson as the unforgettable character "Mother Gin Sling"! If you've never watched The Shanghaî Gesture, you must watch it, it's an incredible film noir movie.
    Look at the others videos posted by the one who posted it on Youtube as there is more rare Gene Tierney movies, including a 1945 Zanuck production "Leave her to Heaven" with Gene Tierney, Cornell Wilde AND Vincent Price in glorious Technicolor colors! The video on Youtube is a pretty good copy.

  24. Wildside in France announced a Blu Ray of this over two years ago. Nothing so far and there is no record of a restoration (or funding) from the C.N.C. Database. Any US release my have copyright problems with it whereas in France the DVD release therecame out of the notorious cooyright speculator Galeshka Moraviof on his Films Sans Frontieres label. Those prints are attached to the Cinematgeque Francaise which does no restoration work itself. But you never know. Maybe next year.

  25. Morocco is still the "palest" and least sharp of the transfers but it's way above any 16 or 35 or video of it I have seen of it since 1968. Every now and then you wish there was more black and shadow but it wasn't shot like that, in fact Lee Garmes shot it as far as I know on orthochromatic stock which enhances whites. The biggest shock of the set, and it's a great one is Dishonored, which is the only one on the titles to carry a UCLA restoration card (which is where I suspect most if not all these new 4Ks began). The quality is outstanding, every so often it looks like one of those 30s Columbia or Warner nitrate sourced restorations. Shanghai looks terrific too. I noticed with great interest the oft discussed shot around 40 minutes with the cut for four lines of dialogue has, until the cut, now been meticulously digitally repaired. In all the older DVDs and tapes, etc, the print gets extremely ragged at this point with nicks, tears, jitter, and then the cut. It now looks like they've done digital clean up on literally every frame up to the cut and even that is "eased over." Venus looks as I expected to be from the 4K used for the French disc last year but the Criterion has double the bitrate and grain rez is flawless in this. Blacks are deeper as well.The last two again look as I expected with Empress having had a 720p streaming release earlier this year. THe source print again was the one used for the French DVDs back 10 pus years or so but the 4K (everything except Morocco was scanned at 4K) gives it the rez it needed. The set is far and away the most important box I own, and its up against earlier this month the terrific Inidcator boxes from the UK of Boetticher and more recently Fuller (which is a doozy Mr Kilmmel.)

  26. Morocco is still the "palest" and least sharp of the transfers but it's way above any 16 or 35 or video of it I have seen of it since 1968. Every now and then you wish there was more black and shadow but it wasn't shot like that, in fact Lee Garmes shot it as far as I know on orthochromatic stock which enhances whites. The biggest shock of the set, and it's a great one is Dishonored, which is the only one on the titles to carry a UCLA restoration card (which is where I suspect most if not all these new 4Ks began). The quality is outstanding, every so often it looks like one of those 30s Columbia or Warner nitrate sourced restorations. Shanghai looks terrific too. I noticed with great interest the oft discussed shot around 40 minutes with the cut for four lines of dialogue has, until the cut, now been meticulously digitally repaired. In all the older DVDs and tapes, etc, the print gets extremely ragged at this point with nicks, tears, jitter, and then the cut. It now looks like they've done digital clean up on literally every frame up to the cut and even that is "eased over." Venus looks as I expected to be from the 4K used for the French disc last year but the Criterion has double the bitrate and grain rez is flawless in this. Blacks are deeper as well.The last two again look as I expected with Empress having had a 720p streaming release earlier this year. THe source print again was the one used for the French DVDs back 10 pus years or so but the 4K (everything except Morocco was scanned at 4K) gives it the rez it needed. The set is far and away the most important box I own, and its up against earlier this month the terrific Inidcator boxes from the UK of Boetticher and more recently Fuller (which is a doozy Mr Kilmmel.)

  27. Tonight I watched Dishonored – made one year after Morocco and THAT is what Morocco should look like but sadly doesn't. Again, while one wishes it were better, it's still fine and watchable. Dishonored has always been the weak sister in the von Sternberg/Dietrich films, but I've always liked it – it's wacky in certain ways, but that just makes it all the more von Sternbergian. And then I watched Shanghai Express, which looks fantastic, I thought, right up there with Dishonored and maybe even better. So, Blonde Venus next (my personal favorite).

  28. haineshisway

    Tonight I watched Dishonored – made one year after Morocco and THAT is what Morocco should look like but sadly doesn't. Again, while one wishes it were better, it's still fine and watchable. Dishonored has always been the weak sister in the von Sternberg/Dietrich films, but I've always liked it – it's wacky in certain ways, but that just makes it all the more von Sternbergian. And then I watched Shanghai Express, which looks fantastic, I thought, right up there with Dishonored and maybe even better. So, Blonde Venus next (my personal favorite).

    The big difference between this visually is That ever sequence in Dishonored is set at night. I think the new 4k is a knockout.

  29. It is – I really couldn't believe how good it looked, and I thought Shanghai Express looked every bit as good. I'm so happy right now. Haven't really watched the extras yet, save for the interview with Nick von Sternberg, who, BTW, was a grip on my little movie 🙂

  30. My set came today, and I watched Blonde Venus first, also my favorite of their films together and the first Dietrich film I ever saw (on television). The transfer has a couple of small scratches here and there, and grain haters are going to loathe it, but I was impressed by the detail in many shots. The opening bathing scene with the girls was the clearest it's ever been (clearly some of them are nude, though in one shot Dietrich appears to have on a suit as some straps seem visible when she swims away). I have always loved the songs in the film especially "I Couldn't Be Annoyed" and "You Little So-and-So" along with the fetching lullaby she sings in her head voice in German.

    Little Dickie Moore is so precious. This was a couple of years before the first juvenile Oscar was awarded (to Shirley Temple), but he and Jackie Cooper should have had them for their work as tiny tots. Jackie, of course, got a legitimate Oscar nomination for Skippy, but Dickie never did.

    Also watched all three bonus features on this disc. I'm sure all of the discs in the set will be equally intriguing and filled with fine bonus material.

  31. Matt Hough

    My set came today, and I watched Blonde Venus first, also my favorite of their films together and the first Dietrich film I ever saw (on television). The transfer has a couple of small scratches here and there, and grain haters are going to loathe it, but I was impressed by the detail in many shots. The opening bathing scene with the girls was the clearest it's ever been (clearly some of them are nude, though in one shot Dietrich appears to have on a suit as some straps seem visible when she swims away). I have always loved the songs in the film especially "I Couldn't Be Annoyed" and "You Little So-and-So" along with the fetching lullaby she sings in her head voice in German.

    Little Dickie Moore is so precious. This was a couple of years before the first juvenile Oscar was awarded (to Shirley Temple), but he and Jackie Cooper should have had them for their work as tiny tots. Jackie, of course, got a legitimate Oscar nomination for Skippy, but Dickie never did.

    Also watched all three bonus features on this disc. I'm sure all of the discs in the set will be equally intriguing and filled with fine bonus material.

    Jackie Cooper was great in SKIPPY; I wish Universal would release it… 🙁

    My set comes next week, as it takes longer to ship to … but I think I’ll start with SHANGHAI.

  32. I went back to Morocco tonight. I agree that it looks fairly light and soft, much like it's always looked to me, and the sound still has some hiss, too. (Blonde Venus was very clear.)

    I watched the bonuses on it and while I knew most of the information imparted, I either never knew or had forgotten about Marlene's estranged sister who remained in Germany during the war and was a likely Nazi sympathizer.

  33. Watched Blonde Venus – my favorite. This one didn't quite have the luster that Dishonored and Shanghai Express had, but there are tons of opticals in Blonde Venus – it still looked very nice and certainly WAY above any previous release – Hot Voodoo, baby – think that number could get done today? So brilliantly shot and directed – never been a musical number like it. The most interesting thing in Blonde Venus are the subtle changes to Dietrich's face from the previous three films – it's very apparent, especially in the latter half of the film. This movie has some of my favorite dialogue ever and Dietrich is superb, especially the scenes where she's on the run, and really especially in her drunk scene with my favorite line in the film about the envelope with fifteen hundred dollars in it. Cary Grant is suave but has none of the personality he would soon have – probably what von Sternberg wanted, and Herbert Marshall is great and so is the kid.

  34. I got around to The Scarlet Empress this afternoon. Apart from a tiny little scratch, it looked very nice indeed. I remember reading that this movie was a box-office disaster practically sinking Paramount in the process. In addition to so many distasteful characters (and those cruel tortures in the opening scenes must have been shot pre-Code. Can't imagine Breen allowing them after enforcement of the code), it looks like Paramount spent a king's ransom on it with such lavish sets and costumes. Though the public at the time stayed away, I've always enjoyed it, and I liked it just as much this time around, too.

    The other day, I criticized Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc for not being a convincing teenager. In this movie, Dietrich does convince in the early scenes as an inexperienced, giddy teen even though she was in her early 30s during production.

  35. Matt Hough

    The other day, I criticized Ingrid Bergman in Joan of Arc for not being a convincing teenager. In this movie, Dietrich does convince in the early scenes as an inexperienced, giddy teen even though she was in her early 30s during production.

    Early thirties and married with a daughter and an impressive string of lovers – and still she pulled it off. Ahem.

  36. Scarlett Empress – very impressive transfer – very grainy opticals, but boy does it have some beautiful contrast and detail. As to the film – while all von Sternberg's are one-off films, this one is so outre in so many ways – incredible dialogue, Sam Jaffe frightening even me, Dietrich brilliant, Louise Dresser almost walks away with the film, and the sets – oh, Lord those sets – they are beyond belief in their detail and opulence, not to mention nightmarishness. Costumes, too. It is a film in which nothing should work and everything does. One just sits there with one's mouth open, doesn't one? It is like nothing else, this film – I couldn't help but think "it's the stuff that dreams are made of." I've seen it nine or ten times now and I always forget just how crazy brilliant it is.

  37. I used to say that EMPRESS was my #1 all-time favorite film, with DEVIL as #2, but in recent years I've upgraded the latter to a tie for #1. I watched both Tuesday night – probably the first time I've seen both at one time, although I suppose I've seen each of them 30-40 times, EMPRESS probably a little more than DEVIL.

    And I thought the same things to myself again as you've expressed above, Bruce: that there's nothing else like any of these films, but *particularly* nothing else like EMPRESS. It's absolutely unique. The consolidation of lighting, photography, writing, set design, and music is at the very highest level of motion picture art, magic, workmanship – whatever you want to call it. It's hard to fathom the varied imaginations that conceived and produced it…what great fortune that we finally have a version that's worthy of the film.

  38. I recall we watched Scarlett Empress in film class in college. I don't think i cared for it much at the time, though I may not have had as much tolerance for "old" movies back then. I may pick up this set at some point and give it another chance.

  39. I recommend the "extra" on Scarlett Empress – a 1971 interview with Dietrich for Swedish TV. She look unbelievable (she was seventy), she's charming and she suffers the two Swedish hosts inane and incoherent questions with great grace – they continually talk over her. I have to go find my DVD of Maximillian Schell's Marlene.

  40. haineshisway

    I recommend the "extra" on Scarlett Empress – a 1971 interview with Dietrich for Swedish TV. She look unbelievable (she was seventy), she's charming and she suffers the two Swedish hosts inane and incoherent questions with great grace – they continually talk over her. I have to go find my DVD of Maximillian Schell's Marlene.

    It was the last time she allowed her image to be filmed. The Schell movie was planned originally to be included in the box. No doubt several things prevented that. Bruce i was playing these through the projector and swooning once again. What realy struck me, especially after reading posts here is how astounding these movies still are. And so many here younger than us seeing them for the first time. I am hearing people seeing Empress for the first time and gasping in disbelief. These movies just embed themselves into you head and each time you watch them they just grow and grow. Empress continues to wipe me out. Like Devil Jo gives it a through composed score, scored by him with (Roger Edens style) lead ins and leitmotifs. The new audio restorations are just as astonishing as the video. Can you imagine even trying to get something like Empress up today? Or even be able to conceive it in Jo’s terms? Or find an audience sophisticated enough to understand it?

  41. Just spent the weekend with Josef and Marlene and these shimmering, lovely presentations. I had forgotten how amusing The Devil Is A Woman is…Dietrich goes right over the top with her performance and it works beautifully. All the films have amusing moments, no matter how dark things get….even Blonde Venus ("…do you charge for the first mile?"). Such remarkable, grown-up movies. I never expected this set to come along…Im genuinely thrilled to have this.

  42. I watched Shanghai Express today and was very impressed with the picture quality. A little bit of hiss in the audio but it was relatively minor. And the wonderful picture quality drew me deeper into the melodramatics and I think I pretty much enjoyed it more than I ever had before.

  43. And then there was The Devil Is a Woman. In this film Dietrich truly becomes DIETRICH. Lionel Atwill is incredible and so is dashing Cesar Romero. There is no way to watch the opening minutes of this film and not know who its director is. The sets, masks, and Travis Banton's absolutely unbelievable costumes are breathtaking, von Sternberg's direction and photography are at his considerable zenith, and the film is just so weird and unique, as are all these films.

    Is it really true that Ernst Lubitsch is the man responsible for not renewing von Sternberg's contract for Paramount? I love Lubitsch, but if that is true, then eternal shame must be heaped on him. I now want to see the last of the von Sternberg's I've never seen, the two Columbia films and his solo outing for MGM – are they on DVD? Although now that I think of it I may have seen Crime and Punishment.

  44. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT is on DVD; the other two have been shown on TCM, but aren't on licensed DVD. KING STEPS OUT is beautifully photographed (as are the others), but still a major letdown after the Dietrichs. IMO the only later film that comes close is SHANGHAI GESTURE, and I suppose that I, CLAUDIUS would have been a winner.

  45. I finished off the set tonight with The Devil Is a Woman. Apart from one black scratch, this for me was the most stunning transfer in the box. If ever a black and white movie could be called garish, this is it! The first ten minutes or so are just a wild array of stunning carnival images.

    I have never liked Dietrich's performance in this film. It's too self-consciously kittenish, and her tantrums seem like the worst amateur acting in the world. Perhaps it was deliberately so, but I never felt she came off well in her angry moments. But Lionel Atwell is heartbreaking, and Cesar Romero does well by himself too in this early role.

  46. Finished this set the other day. All the films are new to me, but I've always enjoyed the other Dietrich films that I've seen (Destry, Stage Fright, Witness for the Prosecution, Touch of Evil, etc.). Didn't much care for Morocco with its endless tracking shots, and super long dissolves. I also thought Devil is a Woman was in incomprehensible mess. I thought the others were truly outstanding, with Blonde Venus my personal favorite. Thanks, Criterion for a wonderful presentation.

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