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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2014 by Carl Bennett
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The Italian
Straw Hat

(1928)
 

“I lost it!” says Madame Anaïs de Beauperthuis to her husband and, other than some quick-thinking explanation, all the fuss over the Italian straw hat would not be necessary. But then, we wouldn’t have a story premise and be able to enjoy one of the gems of European silent era comedy.

On the way to his wedding in his horse-drawn buggy, Jules Fadinard (Albert Préjean) loses his whip and while retrieving it his horse begins chewing a woman’s straw hat caught in a bush. Inspecting the damaged hat, Jules is confronted by a dallying couple behind a bush, Madame de Beauperthuis (beautiful Olga Tschechowa) and Lieutenant Tavernier (Geymond Vital). Enraged over the condition of the hat, and the fact that it will expose their affair to her husband, the lieutenant demands that Jules obtain an exact match to madame’s Italian straw hat as a replacement — immediately!

Torn between his obligations as a groom on his wedding day and saving his home and furniture from destruction at the hands of the lieutenant who now holds it hostage, Jules is a constant victim of circumstance, confusion and comic contrivance. The results are hilarious.

Préjean makes a charming comic hero, somewhat reminiscent of Charley Chase, who engenders sympathy and laughs in equal measure. One will enjoy the comedy presented by a loose necktie (that of Alexis Bondireff) and a deaf uncle (Paul Ollivier). René Clair’s direction, in turns both pat and inspired, also shows us moments of comic brilliance.

Moments of Clair surrealism enter as Jules imagines his home being destroyed by the angry Lieutenant Tavernier. With visions of stop-action animated furniture flowing out of his house and some subjective camera movement during his wedding dance, Jules (and the audience) envisions empending doom. Also, Jules’s recounting of the day’s events to Monsieur de Beauperthuis is a surrealist parody of silent film acting two decades earlier.

A generous dollop of Max Linder, a daubette of Charley Chase, with a smidgen of Monty Banks, and you have the recipe for a satisfying comedy of marriage and manners. — Carl Bennett

2010 Flicker Alley DVD edition

The Italian Straw Hat (1928), black & white, 105 minutes, not rated,
with La tour (1929), color-toned black & white, 11 minutes, not rated, and Noce en goguette [Fun After the Wedding] (1906), black & white and color-tinted black & white, 9 minutes, not rated.

Flicker Alley, FA0016, UPC 6-17311-67509-6, ISBN 1-893967-50-6.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, optional French and Spanish language subtitles, 16 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
DVD release date: 6 April 2010.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 9 / additional content: 7 / overall: 8.

This high-quality edition has been transferred full-frame at 19 frames per second in high-definition from the original 35mm negative prepared for the 1930 English language release. The transfer appears to be full-aperture, as no image cropping is apparent to make room for a synchronized soundtrack in the negative. As would be expected, given the source materials, the visual quality is excellent, with the quality of the original cinematography ranging from very-good to excellent. Some sequences, originally edited out for the 1930 English language export version, have been restored utilizing a worn but very-good 35mm European positive, making this the most-complete home video edition of the film ever available in the USA.

The grayscale tones in the video transfer are broad, with controlled and detailed highlights and with satisfying (and detailed) black shadows. The image is very stable, and other than some dust, speckling and a few scratches, the footage transferred from negative is reasonably unmarred, with some scuffing and softer image details in the footage inserted from the vintage positive. Some intertitles missing from the source prints have been restored in new video-based intertitles.

The film is accompanied by two selectable music scores, a small orchestral score performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra and a solo piano score performed by Philip Carli. Both scores are excellent and bring differing effect to the presentation of the film.

The supplemental material includes the René Clair short La tour (1929) and a Ferdinand Zecca comedy short Noce en goguette (1906), a 16-page booklet containing essays by Lenny Borger and Iris Barry, and notes on the Mont Alto score by Rodney Sauer. We love the photograph of René Clair on the back cover of the booklet. Included as DVD-ROM extras are PDF files of the 1917 English-language version of the French source play, translated as The Leghorn Hat, and an essay on Eugène Labiche (coauthor of the play) by Clair Vincent Chesley.

This edition of The Italian Straw Hat is highly recommended.

 
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.
2005 Grapevine Video DVD edition

The Italian Straw Hat (1928), black & white, 88 minutes, not rated.

Grapevine Video, no catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD-R disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, PCM 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 12 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $9.95 (raised to $12.95).
DVD release date: August 2005.
Country of origin: USA

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

This public-domain edition has been transferred from a, what Grapevine describes as “only very good,” 16mm reduction print, with English language intertitles. We would have to say that the print is only good, as there are many dark sections in the print, with background details choked off in deep shadows.

The film is accompanied by a cobbled together score of preexisting film music and orchestral recordings.

This edition once served its purpose when no other was available on DVD home video. However, given the high quality of the Flicker Alley edition noted above, we encourage collectors to spend the extra money for the extra quality of that edition and leave this one without consideration.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition is available directly from GRAPEVINE VIDEO.
Other silent era RENÉ CLAIR films available on home video.

Other FRENCH FILMS of the silent era available on home video.

 
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