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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
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Beggars of Life
(1928)

 

This hard-edged, gritty drama, directed by William A. Wellman, features Wallace Beery, Richard Arlen and Louise Brooks. One of the most important of Brooks’ surviving films.

When Jim, a boyish tramp (Richard Arlen), happens by chance to meet Nancy, a young orphan (Louise Brooks), in a remote farmhouse with the body of a murdered farmer, they pair up to get her as far away from the law as possible. When her first attempt to hop a freight train fails, Jim is forced to allow her to stick with him heading to Canada.

In the ensuing days, Nancy is presented to others as Jim’s kid brother and they encounter railroad bulls, angry farmers, fellow tramps and Oklahoma Red (Wallace Beery) a bigger-than-life bully of a personality. Of course, it is not long before Nancy is recognized as a young woman and a mob of tramps closes in on her. To stop their sexual advance, Jim reveals that she is wanted for murder with a $1,000 reward. To avoid entanglements with the law, Jim and Nancy are shunned by the tramps. Red steps in to announce that they all will be riding the last train through that night. A fight is averted when detectives arrive looking for Nancy and the tramps overpower them. The whole mob manages to get away on the passing train.

Oklahoma Red announces that Nancy is his gal.

While not a household name (even to silent era enthusiasts), Henry Gerrard scores a big win with his distinctive and often beautifully framed (and sometimes heavily filtered) cinematography.

Original release prints were available to theaters in a silent version and with a Movietone soundtrack. In the synchronized sound version of the film, Wallace Beery is noted to have sung a song. Of course, the sequence

coverKino Classics
2017 Blu-ray Disc edition

Beggars of Life (1928), black & white, 91 minutes, not rated.

Kino Lorber, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region A Blu-ray Disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in pillarboxed 16:9 (1920 x 1080 pixels) progressive scan MPEG-4 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, 256 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 10 chapter stops; standard BD keepcase, $29.95.
Release date: 22 August 2017.
Country of origin: USA
This Blu-ray Disc edition has been mastered from the digital restoration from 35mm film materials preserved by the George Eastman Museum and preservation funding by The Film Foundation. The source material features a broad range of greytones, and is marked by speckling, emulsion flaws, flashframes and scratches. Some of the flaws appear to have been reduced in frequency and severity by digital clean-up software.

The film is accompanied by a music score compiled and performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, employing selections from the original 1928 Paramount cue-sheets.

The disc’s supplementary material includes an audio commentary by actor and biographer William Wellman, Jr.; an audio commentary by Thomas Gladysz, founding director of the Louise Brooks Society; and an insert booklet with an essay by film critic Nick Pinkerton.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region A Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region A Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverKino Classics
2017 DVD edition

Beggars of Life (1928), black & white, 91 minutes, not rated.

Kino Lorber, K21701, UPC 7-38329-21701-3.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 1 NTSC DVD-R disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in pillarboxed 16:9 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced? scan MPEG-2 foramt, ? Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $24.95.
Release date: 22 August 2017.
Country of origin: USA

This DVD edition has been mastered from the digital restoration from 35mm film materials preserved by the George Eastman Museum and preservation funding by The Film Foundation.

The film is accompanied by a music score compiled and performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, employing selections from the original 1928 Paramount cue-sheets.

The disc’s supplementary material includes an audio commentary by actor and biographer William Wellman, Jr.; an audio commentary by Thomas Gladysz, founding director of the Louise Brooks Society; and an insert booklet with an essay by film critic Nick Pinkerton. The packaging includes alternative case cover artwork (shown above).

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverGrapevine Video
2015 DVD edition

Beggars of Life (1928), color-tinted black & white, 83 minutes, not rated.

Grapevine Video, no catalog number, UPC [?] 8-42614-10019-2?
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD-R disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, 256 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 12 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $19.95.
Release date: 16 January 2015.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 5 / audio: 5 / additional content: 0 / overall: 5.

This DVD-R edition has been digitally remastered at 24fps from a 16mm reduction print of the silent version of the film. The new video transfer improves the picture a bit, but there is only just so much detail in the source print.

The film is presented with a music score compiled, with more successful results than usual, from preexisting high-fidelity stereo orchestral recordings.

Currently, this is the best available home video edition of this film, but there is a lot of room for improvement.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition is available directly from GRAPEVINE VIDEO.
coverGrapevine Video
2003 DVD edition

Beggars of Life (1928), color-tinted black & white, 100 minutes, not rated.

Grapevine Video, no catalog number, UPC 8-42614-10019-2.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD-R disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 5.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 256 kbps audio bit rate, PCM 1.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 12 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $18.95 (reduced to $16.95).
Release date: 2003 (rereleased 7 February 2005).
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 3 / audio: 5 / additional content: 0 / overall: 3.

This DVD-R edition has been mastered from an older analog video transfer of a 16mm reduction print of the silent version of the film.

The film is presented with a music score performed on electric organ.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition is now OUT-OF-PRINT.
Loving the Classics
2010 DVD edition

Beggars of Life (1928), black & white, 100 minutes, not rated.

Loving the Classics, no catalog number, no UPC number.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD-R disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $14.99.
Release date: 2010?
Country of origin: USA
This DVD-R edition has likely been mastered from a 16mm reduction print.

The film is likely accompanied by a soundtrack compiled from preexisting recordings.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition is available directly from LOVING THE CLASSICS.
Other silent era LOUISE BROOKS films available on home video.

Other silent era RICHARD ARLEN films available on home video.

Louise Brooks filmography in The Progressive Silent Film List
 
 
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