The beautiful jumbo lobby card from Josef von Sternberg’s “Dishonored” pictured above is part of Heritage Auctions‘ spectacular poster sale on March 23, where it currently carries a modest opening bid of $300 — bound to rise considerably as the auction approaches. Long missing from authorized distribution in the United States, the film itself is finally being offered, along with its equally elusive cousin “Shanghai Express,” as a modestly priced ($24.99) double disc set from the manufactured-on-demand TCM Vault Collection.
The Sternberg-Dietrich films might seem like prime candidates for Blu-ray release, but what we have here are the familiar transfers from Universal that have been used in the recent European releases of these titles — which means acceptable image quality with no digital clean-up, and in the unfortunate case of “Shanghai Express,” an incomplete print. Still missing is a crucial chunk of the thematically important scene in which Warner Oland’s warlord interrogates the French officer played by Sternberg’s mentor Emile Chautard — footage that seems to have vanished around the time of the film’s Laserdisc release and has never been restored. I’m grateful to David Hare for first pointing out this out to me; Liam Fennell has posted the dialogue of the entire scene dialogue in a post at Criterion Forum, and it is with gratitude to him that I reproduce it here, with the missing lines in italics:
Chang: How long have you been in the French army?
Lenard in French: For twenty years. Twenty years. Twenty years, mademoiselle
Chang, looking closely at Lenard’s passport: Your passport says nothing about your military rank.
Lenard in French, looking around bewilderedly: I don’t understand.
Lily in French: He says that your passport says nothing about your being in the army.
Lenard in French: I am no longer in it. I have been retired.
Lily to Chang: He claims he has been retired.
Chang to Lily: Explain to him if he does not tell the truth, I’ll have him shot.
Lily to Lenard in French: He says that if you do not tell him the truth, he will have you shot.
Lenard in French, suddenly looking very sheepish: When I was in the army I committed a minor offence and was discharged.
Lily to Chang: He was discharged for a minor offence.
Chang: Then why does he wear the uniform.
Lily in French, to Lenard: Why do you wear the uniform, then?
Lenard in French, very uncomfortable: I’m going to see my sister and I don’t want her to know that I have been discharged. It would cause her too much shame and sorrow.
Lily: He is going to visit his sister and he doesn’t want her to know about his disgrace.
A fifteen second gap may not seem like much, but the missing lines do contribute to the vitally important theme of deceptive appearances and elusive essences in Sternberg, stated here on a micro level but highly indicative of this meticulous filmmaker’s attention to detail.
This is no way to treat a classic, but as humble beggars before the studio gates, we have long since learned that we can’t be choosers. However compromised, the films themselves remain among Sternberg’s, and Hollywood’s, greatest achievements, and I have a few words of appreciation in this week’s New York Times column.