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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2014 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
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Foolish Wives
(1922)
 

This story of confidence game criminals in Monte Carlo, set to prey on the rich and naïve, gives plenty of opportunity for director Erich von Stroheim to explore his pet themes of European decadence and sex.

We follow the tale of the ‘Count’ Karamzin with a distanced fascination, not unlike watching a dissection with churning repulsion and morbid attraction. Karamzin snakes his way into the lives of an American envoy and his young wife, intent on seduction and theft. Karamzin’s monomanical intent is so focused he is only deflected by the watching eyes of others, and fortune protects Mrs. Hughes from his inveigling ways long enough for Karamzin to receive his just desserts. The final fate of Karamzin is as satisfying (if not abrupt) to modern audiences as it must have been for silent era audiences who came to know Stroheim as the Man You Love to Hate.

For his third film Foolish Wives, von Stroheim shot 320 reels of negative, from July 1920 through June 1921. Production costs exceeded $1 million. Stroheim’s first cut of the film ran to 32 reels. Universal had the film cut in half, to 16 reels, in December 1921. The film premiered in New York at 14 reels in January 1922, and for the film’s general release, it was trimmed further to ten reels.

The film was rereleased in 1928 at seven reels with a synchronized music track. According to DVD producer David Shepard, the studio rearranged the continuity, changing character names, and retitled its even more stripped-down story. It is this 1928 reissue version that has survived.

Also surviving is an original 35mm print struck from the alternate European negative, an Italian print that was also edited to seven reels. In this print, more of the original continuity survived but many of the shots had been shortened, some to a length of only four or five frames. Also characteristic of the ‘foreign’ negatives was the use of alternate takes from those used in the domestic negative, composed of alternate takes from the main camera or takes from a second camera slightly off position from the main camera taking the same performance.

Working on behalf of the American Film Institute in the early 1970s, professor Arthur Lenning utilized the surviving footage in these two truncated versions to attempt to reconstruct an approximation of the general release version of 1922. Lennig employed Universal’s original editing continuities and surviving censorship records to aid the decision-making processes required of this type of reconstruction. The resulting Lennig composite was necessarily a hybrid of best and secondary footage. Some of the shorter shots from the Italian print were so brief that surviving frames were printed two-to-one or three-to-one to extend the shot’s duration long enough for viewers to get some sense of the intended effect. The reconstruction doesn’t accurately represent Stroheim’s intended version but the included footage is all we have left of some portions of Foolish Wives. — Carl Bennett

2013 Kino Classics Blu-ray Disc edition

Foolish Wives (1922), black & white, 143 minutes, not rated,
with The Man You Loved to Hate (1979), color and black & white, 90 minutes, not rated.

Kino Lorber, K1166, UPC 7-38329-11662-0.
Pillarboxed 16:9 MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, one single-sided, dual-layered Blu-ray Disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, LPCM 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 15 chapter stops, standard BD keepcase, $34.95.
DVD release date: 30 July 2013.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 7 / additional content: 7 / overall: 7.
Kino Lorber has now produced a better Foolish Wives home video edition than any of the DVD editions reviewed below. This Kino edition (as with its DVD companion edition produced a decade earlier) has been prepared from the American Film Institute’s 1972 restoration of Foolish Wives.

The shortcomings of the AFI’s restoration are more apparent in high-definition. Both the condition of the surviving materials and the once state-of-the-art photochemical restoration technology point up that the sources for the restoration were less than perfect, as the film has survived only in a rough form that is sometimes moderately grainy, scuffed, scratched, jumpy, speckled and with light emulsion damage. Film grain is more pronounced in some of the footage as it is rendered in higher detail. No digital image stabilization has been performed for this edition.

While a viewer can be distracted by the print damage, the image details in the HD transfer are even sharper now with a reasonably full range of graytones that probably well-represent those remaining in the surviving material. Shadow details in the restoration print are a bit plugged-up in the darker ranges. But, image definition is now noticeably sharper in surprising places: the lace of Maude George’s morning dress, the architectural details of the Monte Carlo set, the intricacies of a roulette table, etc. While the changes in image quality of the surviving fragments of footage are now more apparent in high definition, it must be said that we enjoy viewing the extra image details afforded by this Blu-ray Disc edition.

The edition is again graced by the 1922 Sigmund Romberg music score, which was expertly performed on piano by Rodney Sauer of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra in 2003.

Also available on the disc is the 1979 documentary The Man You Loved to Hate, written by historian Richard Koszarski and directed by Patrick Montgomery. This presentation benefits greatly from its new high-definition video transfer.

The supplementary materials include an even-handed and informative audio commentary by Stroheim biographer Richard Koszarski, a still photo and promotional materials gallery that benefits from HD scans, documentation on New York Censor Board cuts on the 14-reel version of Foolish Wives, and audio selections featuring interviews with Valerie Germonprez von Stronheim and Paul Kohner. The BD edition does not include the notes on the film by Erich von Stroheim or the notes on the music score that were included in the Kino DVD edition.

One may be tempted to ask . . . with the less than perfect condition of the surviving print material, is this Blu-ray Disc edition a significant enough improvement for a collector’s upgrade. We believe that is is. Despite the rough survival state of the film, we highly recommend this Kino Blu-ray Disc edition as the best home video edition of Foolish Wives.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
2003 Kino on Video DVD edition

Foolish Wives (1922), color-toned black & white and black & white, 143 minutes, not rated,
with The Man You Loved to Hate (1979), color and black & white, 78 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K247, UPC 7-38329-02472-7.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 4.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 20 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
DVD release date: 10 June 2003.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 7 / audio: 7 / additional content: 7 / overall: 7.

Kino International has produced a better Foolish Wives DVD than the 2000 Image edition reviewed below. This Kino edition has been prepared from the American Film Institute’s restoration of Foolish Wives — the same materials as the Image edition.

Comparing this new DVD edition to Kino’s 1989 laserdisc, we note that a new video transfer has been made which is slower in projection speed, closer to a natural pacing. The full-frame transfer is framed a little tighter than the laserdisc, which was off-center to the left (but not notable on most televisions), but not quite as tight as the Image DVD edition. However, some of the intertitles will be cropped at left and right on some televisions. A bit of care could have been taken to electronically reduce the size of problem intertitles to ensure readability.

Image details in the transfer are sharper now and the full range of graytones are open and well defined. The DVD, which is mostly presented in color-tones, is slightly less contrasty than the laserdisc, which was black & white. The sources for the AFI restoration print were less than perfect, as the film has survived only in a rough form that is sometimes moderately grainy, scuffed, scratched, jumpy, speckled and with light emulsion damage. There are fewer signs of print dust present in this transfer than in the Image transfer.

In reevaluating the disc on high-definition equipment that upscales the DVD’s standard-definition interlaced NTSC video encoding to a high-definition 1080-line progressive-scan signal, the disc renders a very-good image that doesn’t quite approach a filmlike feel, due largely to the moderately-low video bit rate of the MPEG-2 encoding that creates a hatch-pattern of image compression details that is discernable to the sharp-eyed. The compression artifacts are the by-product of the packaging of a long feature with another feature-length program on one (albeit dual-layered) disc. For this reason, we have lowered our original rating of the video quality, and hope that the film is one day released at a higher bit rate on a disc by itself to improve image quality.

The Sigmund Romberg music score from 1922 is performed on digital piano by Rodney Sauer and supersedes the Steve Sterner 1989 laserdisc score quite well. Both piano scores convey the drama of the film, but the sonic quality of the Sauer performance is reproduced better here.

Also available on the disc is the 1979 documentary The Man You Loved to Hate, written by historian Richard Koszarski and directed by Patrick Montgomery.

The supplementary materials include an even-handed and informative audio commentary by Stroheim biographer Richard Koszarski, outtake footage, a still photo and promotional materials gallery, notes on the film by Erich von Stroheim, documentation on New York Censor Board cuts, and audio selections featuring Valerie Germonprez von Stronheim and Paul Kohner.

Despite a miniscule amount of differences in the footage represented in the Image edition (as noted below), the Kino edition features superior image quality of a sometimes rough restoration print, without the inferior editing differences of the Image disc. Owners of the Kino laserdisc can seriously consider upgrading their collection to this new edition, with its slower, natural-paced transfer. We recommend this Kino edition as the best DVD home video edition of Foolish Wives.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2000 Image Entertainment DVD edition

Foolish Wives (1922), color-toned black & white, 141 minutes, not rated.

Film Preservation Associates, distributed by Image Entertainment, ID9414DSDVD, UPC 0-14381-94142-5.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 1, 5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 21 chapter stops, snapper DVD case, $29.99.
DVD release date: 19 September 2000.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 7 / additional content: 0 / overall: 5.

The previous best home video version of Foolish Wives was released by Kino International on laserdisc and VHS videotape in 1989. That Kino edition, as is this edition produced by David Shepard of Film Preservation Associates, utilized the Lennig reconstruction as the source material for the video transfer. However, the video transfer for the Shepard edition is very tightly framed, with a substantial amount of all edges of the picture cropped out, the bottom most of all. When Mrs. Hughes bumps into the armless soldier, you can hardly see that there is no hand protruding from his right sleeve. For one reel, more of the top of the frame is cropped out and more of the bottom of the frame is seen. Also, much of the end of Shepard’s edition’s transfer is dark.

The restoration is listed in the closing credits as produced by Blackhawk Films and the American Film Institute in 1973, with the project produced by David Shepard and edited by Arthur Lennig. I suspect that these credits are a bit of historical revisionism. But also listed is video editing by Bret Hampton, which implies that additional editing has been done for this home video edition. Our inspection of the DVD appears to validate the implication.

Right away something is awry with the Image DVD. The opening shot of the roulette wheel, its superimposed first intertitle about Monte Carlo, and the subsequent dissolve to a scenic shot of Monte Carlo are all missing from the Shepard edition. This led us to a detailed inspection of both the Kino and Shepard editions.

The first footage in the Shepard edition not present in the older Kino edition is within the scene where Count Karamzin is first introduced to Mrs. Hughes. As it turns out, the extra footage seen here is something of a sleight of hand. The footage from 28:26 through 28:30 is the same footage as repeated at 29:56 through 30:00.

A problematically horizonally-long intertitle at 30:34, which is cropped off on left and right in the Kino edition, has been reset to ensure readability on all televisions. However, the book page beginning at 31:39 in the Shepard edition is so cropped at the edges of the image, a viewer cannot make sense of the book passage that Stroheim wants us to read.

A different cloud shot begins at 49:11 in the Shepard edition, followed by the same clouds and lightning shot seen in the Kino edition. We question whether this footage was part of Stroheim’s film or was lifted from another film to stretch the visual establishment of the cloudy sky before a bolt of lightning is shown.

The Shepard edition is missing a close-up of the laughing Mother Garoupe that is present in the Kino edition, instead substituting another close-up beginning at 56:18 that is repeated in its proper place beginning at 57:06.

The shot of Mr. Hughes waking up, beginning at 1:13:04, is a close-up in the Shepard edition as opposed to the different take medium shot, with a dark lamp in the foreground, that is in the Kino edition.

At 1:17:35 the Shepard edition displays an intertitle, “Later that afternoon -- a visit to Ventucci,” whereas the Kino edition features the intertitle, “A section in Monte Carlo where the losers in Life’s game abide,” before both showing the same footage of Karamzin walking up the steps to Ventucci’s home. We suspect that the double hyphen instead of the contemporary longer dash indicates Shepard’s insertion of his own intertitle here. Also, the Kino edition is missing the iris-in beginning of the following shot that is in the Shepard edition.

The close-up of Karamzin’s maid at 1:24:12 pauses for a few frames then jumps ahead to edit out a small number of frames of emulsion flaws in the source print that are seen in the Kino edition.

In the Shepard edition, the footage of Karamzin taking the maid’s money repeats beginning at 1:30:38, with different framing, what has already been shown beginning at 1:30:09, but doesn’t complete the shot as seen in the Kino edition. This appears to be a digital editing error.

In both editions alternate takes repeat, one after another, of a party of four, including Karazin and Hughes, moving into the frame from the left beginning at 1:37:32. This is an editing oversight of Lennig’s, with possibly one shot being from the domestic negative and the other from the foreign negative.

The intertitle at 1:39:21 “Your new system, Count?” is different from the corresponding intertitle “A new system to break the bank, Count?” in the Kino version.

The confrontation between Hughes and Karamzin begins a series of shots, from 2:12:59 through 2:13:17, that differ in the chosen takes of shots and the inclusion of shots not in the Kino edition's corresponding sequence. The Shepard edition’s five-shot sequence features better continuity than the corresponding three-shot sequence in the Kino edition.

At 2:16:14 the shot of Karamzin shushing Ventucci’s daughter is repeated, from its first appearance at 2:16:12, in its extended length.

The Shepard edition features the film’s original closing title card.

The musical setting of the Shepard edition is performed on piano by Philip Carli and conveys well the mood of the film.

Ultimately, the video transfer of the Kino DVD edition is undeniably sharper than this Shepard DVD transfer. We find that the miniscule amount of additional footage on this DVD edition hardly makes up for its shortcomings. We do not recommend this Image edition.

 
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.
2004 Alpha Video DVD edition

Foolish Wives (1922), black & white, 107 minutes, not rated.

Alpha Video, ALP 4316D, UPC 0-89218-43169-1.
Windowboxed 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 4 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 6 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $6.98.
DVD release date: 27 January 2004.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 4 / additional content: 0 / overall: 4.

This budget edition has been transfered at sound speed from 16mm reduction print AFI/Lennig materials. The disc video information has been substantially compressed — as is the case with all budget discs — and renders a slightly coarser picture than the old laserdisc edition.

The film is accompanied by a canned orchestral music score that isn’t bad, but isn’t always appropriate to the film’s action.

Overall, this isn’t a bad budget disc, but we don’t recommend it due to its faster transfer and generic music.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
Other silent era ERICH VON STROHEIM films available on home video.
Erich von Stroheim filmography in The Progressive Silent Film List
 
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