New DVDs: Murnau, Borzage and Fox

Here it is: Fox Home Video’s follow-up to last year’s stunning “Ford at Fox” collection is perhaps even more impressive, offering major upgrades of such classics as “Sunrise” and “Seventh Heaven” while getting a number of titles back into circulation that haven’t been visible in years, if at all: “They Had to See Paris,” “Song ‘o My Heart,” “Liliom,” “After Tomorrow,” “Young America,” “Bad Girl.” Particularly striking is what seems to be a first generation print of Murnau’s “City Girl,” which restores remarkable photographic qualities to this often overlooked title and will, one hopes, aid in its re-evaluation. That Terence Malick quotes extensively from “Sunrise” in “Days of Heaven” is well known, but “City Girl” seems even closer to the roots of Malick’s inspiration.

The set, which I review here, carries a whopping list price of $239.98, but is being widely discounted.

Of course, cinephile greed knows no bounds, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s Fox box. Raoul Walsh? Allan Dwan? Harry Lachman? The possibilities are endless . . .

262 comments to New DVDs: Murnau, Borzage and Fox

  • nicolas saada

    “In fact, it seems likely that Welles was working from this image, consciously or not, when he made the movie.”
    he was conscious of it since he was passionate on bullfighting and even dedicated a whole episode of “around the world with Orson Welles” to it. Junko did you notice this in 1;85 or 1:33 ?

  • nicolas saada

    I made some pretty wild interpretations of film when I was a critic and now that I’m on the other end of the spectrum I think it’s interesting to read and hear what critics say because on many points, it’s extremely informative.
    Kent, THE BIG SLEEP is a very relaxed film, but it’s in the “I don’t care a damn” attitude of the Bogart-Hawks films. I’ve grown tired of it over the years but might enjoy watching it again with my daughter, for sure. It’s not “Noir”, Miguel. Why ? Simply because Hawks is not a director who is interested by tension. What he likes is conflict, which is to me connected with acting and staging. Tension has much more to do with atmosphere, which was not Hawks obsession by the mid forties.

  • Miguel Marías

    Kent, I do certainly recall Wood’s opinion on “The Big Sleep”, and I partly share it. Still, I don’t find it particularly characteristic of Hawks’ style or interests. But I disagree with you and Nicolas too about its not being a “noir” film; then the concept becomes too vague for me to be of any use, and I don’t see “tension” as a prerequisite of “noirness”, but rather a pessimistic/cynical view of the world (certainly not very Hawksian, but I’d say present in “The Big Sleep”), corruption, episodic narrative structure (witnesses interrogated, suspects followed) often labyrinthine, darkness, charged atmosphere (which may not obsess Hawks, but certainly existed in all his B&W films, and I find several in “The Big Sleep” quite unforgettable), and several other things I do certainly find in “The Big Sleep” and other films which I’d call “noir” and which I do not find particulartly “tense”, from “Out of the Past” to “Ride the Pink Horse”.
    Miguel Marías

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘ did you notice this in 1;85 or 1:33 ?’

    I notice in 1:33, probably seeing TOUCH OF EVIL second or third time. I did not notice from first viewing.

  • jbryant

    Tangential, but since someone mentioned Ride the Pink Horse:

    Does anyone know if the opening of that film influenced the opening of Touch of Evil? Both were shot by Metty (who earlier worked with Welles on The Stranger), and both are long, complicated tracking shots set in Mexico. Seems like more than a coincidence to me.

  • Kent Jones

    Miguel, the concept of “film noir” is dangerously vague and spongy as it is. For me, it becomes spongier and vaguer if you throw in THE BIG SLEEP. For the record, I find the film neither pessimistic nor cynical in its view of the world, even if it’s about a bunch of pessimistic and cynical people. There’s plenty of corruption, but not of Marlowe. The narrative is episodic, but so are many other narratives, noir and not so noir. The plot is labyrinthine, but not in the same way that the plots of CROSSFIRE or OUT OF THE PAST or SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT are labyrinthine, in the sense that it doesn’t mirror the disorientation of its hero: it’s just a complicated plot. There’s lots of darkness and the atmosphere is charged, but you could say the same of your average WB Nazi spy movie. I’ve always thought of it as a 100% Howard Hawks film, made with a few elements that were put into use in the movies we now refer to as films noirs. Most of which were made after the war, while this one was made during the war and only released after. I know what you mean, but there’s something about the tone and the arc of the film that is far from that neurotic, crazy quality you get in noir.

    As an alternate example, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI is every inch a movie by Orson Welles and seems to me very much a film noir.

  • Miguel Marías

    Kent, of course “The Lady from Shanghai” is a film “noir”, but I still do not see any reason to exclude from that “genre” (if it is a “genre”) “The Big Sleep”. I don’t think either that “noir” films began to be made (perhaps noticed- in Frace) just after the 2nd World War. Or is not “The Maltese Falcon” a “noir film”? Or “Double Indemnity” in 1944? Or several Siodmak films such as “Phantom Lady” or “Christmas Holiday”?. Yes, jbryant, I see there are similarities between “Ride the Pink Horse” and both “Touch of Evil” and Tourneur’s “Out of the Past”, although I would doubt there was any sort of actual influence, Welles’ style being far different from Montgomery’s.
    Miguel Marías

  • jbryant

    I see that Welles’ style is different from Montgomery’s, but the common denominator of Metty intrigues me. Seems possible that Welles might’ve said to Metty, “Hey let’s do one of those long take openings like you did on Pink Horse,” or that Metty may have suggested it himself.

  • Kent Jones

    Miguel, sometimes it’s important to just agree to disagree.

  • John Svatek

    I don’t know if anyone is following this thread anymore (and it seems to have left Murnau and Borzage behind awhile back). I got the box as gift (total surprise), and just watched SUNRISE, which I haven’t seen in a few years, and the it really struck me that I’d heard the music in a John Ford film (my mind tells me THE SEARCHERS, but that can’t be right).

    I checked the composer’s credits (Hugo Riesenfeld) and couldn’t find any matches. Now, I’m not that big a Ford fan (sorry!)–Liberty Valance excepted–so I can’t queue up some Ford and check, but does anyone else hear this? If not Ford, another western? Or does it just have that tone that I guess I associate with poignant western themes? Or am I just hearing things?

  • I have this set at No.1 on my 2008 top 20 DVDs and Blu-rays. Also “Vampyr” from Criterion and Budd Boetticher.

  • For reference, in case someone checks in on this thread, going forward — some notes on the distortion of the STREET ANGEL image, on the DVD in this box set:

    http://cinemasparagus.blogspot.com/2009/01/street-angel.html

    craig.