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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2014 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
All Rights Reserved.
The Saphead
(1920)
 

In 1920, Metro Pictures planned to remake a film version of the successful stage play The New Henrietta, a play that had helped propel Douglas Fairbanks to Broadway stardom. Fairbanks made his film debut in the first film adaptation of the play, The Lamb (1915), but was not to be lured into a remake at a time when he had only recently begun to make films for his own distribution company, United Artists. Fairbanks suggested Buster Keaton for the part of Bertie, which seemed an odd choice. At the time, Keaton was a lifelong vaudevillian and a two-reeler comedian who was just beginning to make his own films after just three years as Roscoe Arbuckle’s sidekick. But Metro was Keaton’s distributor and that made the project easy to negotiate from both sides. However odd the choice may have seemed at first, the eventual casting of Keaton turned out to be brilliant.

Bertie van Alstyne is a saphead, the son of a wealthy New Yorker. Bertie is kicked out the house until he gets makes something of himself, and Bertie and Agnes want to get married. Son-in-law Mark Turner is given temporary power of attorney by old man van Alstyne, but he has a dark secret — Henrietta. Henrietta has died leaving a young child fathered by Mark, and secret letters show up just as Bertie and Agnes are getting married. But Mark swiftly accuses Bertie of being the author of the letters. Bertie is too much of a saphead to realize what has happened and just accepts fate unquestioningly. Turner plans to clean up during old van Alstyne’s absence, dumping stock in the Henrietta mine. Turner plans to buy the Henrietta stock at fire sale prices. Bertie, still a saphead, unwittingly manages to buy the stock back and saves the day.

The film is straight-forwardly directed by Herbert Blaché, and there is a good concept shot in Agnes’s vision of a partying Bertie seen among the flames of a fireplace. But Keaton’s performance is surpringly but brilliantly low-key as a doe-eyed innocent until the real Buster Keaton comes out during the Henrietta stock-buying frenzy. — Carl Bennett

2012 Kino Classics Blu-ray Disc edition

The Saphead (1920) [Raymond Rohauer (domestic) version], color-toned and color-tinted black & white and black & white, 77 minutes, not rated,
with The Saphead (1920) [alternate (export) version], black & white and color-toned black & white, 75 minutes, not rated.

Kino Lorber, K978, UPC 7-38329-09782-0.
Pillarboxed 16:9 MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, one single-sided Blu-ray Disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 10 chapter stops (domestic version), 10 chapter stops (export version), standard BD keepcase in cardboard slipcase, $34.95.
DVD release date: 10 July 2012.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 8 / additional content: 7 / overall: 8.
This Blu-ray Disc presentation was produced by Bret Wood from the 35mm rerelease print prepared by Raymond Rohauer in 1974. The full-frame video transfer has not been digitally cleaned or stabilized, so the film is a straight-forward representation of the source materials, which are generally excellent. The lightly color-toned print itself contains a moderate amount of speckling, dust, a few long vertical scratches, some scuffing, processing flaws and other minor damage. When nitpicked, one has to admit that the print is a little dark and closed-up in the darkest shadows of the picture, with the remainder of the grayscale range being well-balanced. Overall, the presentation is a delight to watch as the additional image resolution of the high-definition transfer creates a greater sense of depth in the fairly straight-forward cinematography.

The source material for the alternate version is a very-good 35mm print that is more open in its shadows and features a broad range of smooth graytones, but it is also noticeably softer in its image details. The alternatre version print has it share of speckling, dust, scuffing, long vertical scratches, and other minor damage. A couple of shots appear to be inserts of footage of lesser quality that may have been duplicated at the time of production or inserted later from a separate source print. The Henrietta stock run sequence is marred by image fluttering that may have been caused by printer instability in the film print’s duplication, and is quite distracting, but the intertitles remain stable.

Of the two presentations on this Blu-ray Disc, we prefer the domestic version because of the sharper image details that are well-resolved in the HD video transfer.

The Saphead presentation of the domestic version features the same music score arranged and conducted by Robert Israel and performed by an ensemble that was originally recorded in 1995 for Kino’s VHS videotape edition. The music is tasteful, entertaining and always appropriate. The alternate version of the film is presented with a new piano music score composed and performed by Ben Model.

Among the supplemental material, producer Bret Wood presents a comparison of the two version of The Saphead contained in this edition (7 minutes), also featured is an audio recording of Buster Keaton entertaining his friends in 1962 (29 minutes), and a photo gallery (16 images).

Our vote for the best home video edition of Buster Keaton’s first feature film, this Blu-ray Disc will please viewers with its high picture quality and its pleasant musical accompaniment.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region-Free Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region-Free Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2012 Kino Classics DVD edition

The Saphead (1920) [Raymond Rohauer (domestic) version], color-toned black & white, 77 minutes, not rated,
with The Saphead (1920) [alternate (export) version], black & white and color-tinted black & white, 75 minutes, not rated.

Kino Lorber, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Windowboxed 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 15 chapter stops, snapper DVD case (reissued in standard DVD keepcase [retail], and in slimline DVD keepcase [boxset]), $29.95.
DVD release date: 10 July 2012.
Country of origin: USA

This DVD presentation was produced by Bret Wood from the 35mm rerelease print prepared by Raymond Rohauer in 1974. The full-frame video transfer has not been digitally cleaned or stabilized, so the film is a straight-forward representation of the source materials, which are generally excellent. The lightly color-toned print itself contains a moderate amount of speckling, dust, a few long vertical scratches, some scuffing, processing flaws and other minor damage. When nitpicked, one has to admit that the print is a little dark and closed-up in the darkest shadows of the picture, with the remainder of the grayscale range being well-balanced. Overall, the presentation is a delight to watch as the additional image resolution of the high-definition transfer creates a greater sense of depth in the fairly straight-forward cinematography.

The source material for the alternate version is a very-good 35mm print that is more open in its shadows and features a broad range of smooth graytones, but it is also noticeably softer in its image details. The alternatre version print has it share of speckling, dust, scuffing, long vertical scratches, and other minor damage. A couple of shots appear to be inserts of footage of lesser quality that may have been duplicated at the time of production or inserted later from a separate source print. The Henrietta stock raid sequence is marred by image fluttering that may have been caused by printer instability in the film print’s duplication, and is quite distracting, but the intertitles remain stable.

Of the two presentations on this DVD, we would prefer the alternate version because of the smoother graytones in the HD video transfer which would actually be aided by the lower resolution of DVD as the source print’s softer image details wouldn’t be as apparent.

The Saphead presentation of the domestic version features the same music score arranged and conducted by Robert Israel and performed by an ensemble that was originally recorded in 1995 for Kino’s VHS videotape edition. The music is tasteful, entertaining and always appropriate. The alternate version of the film is presented with a new piano music score composed and performed by Ben Model.

Among the supplemental material, producer Bret Wood presents a comparison of the two version of The Saphead contained in this edition (7 minutes), also featured is an audio recording of Buster Keaton entertaining his friends in 1962 (29 minutes), and a photo gallery (16 images).

This best DVD home video edition of The Saphead will please owners of the previous Kino edition, with its improved picture quality of the domestic version and its pleasant musical accompaniment and with its addition of the alternative export version.

 
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 Kino on Video DVD edition

The Saphead (1920) [Raymond Rohauer (domestic) version], color-toned black & white, 77 minutes, not rated,
with The High Sign (1921), black & white, 21 minutes, not rated, and One Week (1920), black & white, 19 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K134DVD, UPC 7-38329-01342-4.
Windowboxed 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 15 chapter stops, snapper DVD case (reissued in standard DVD keepcase [retail], and in slimline DVD keepcase [boxset]), $29.99 (reduced to $24.95).
DVD release date: 11 January 2000.
Country of origin: USA

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

This Kino presentation is produced by David Shepard and appears here as released by Kino on VHS videotape in 1995. The slightly windowboxed video transfer was taken from a 35mm rerelease print prepared by Raymond Rohauer in 1974, which was itself most likely copied from a print previously in Buster Keaton’s collection. The print is nearly immaculent, with very little in the way of speckling, dust, scratches, scuffing, processing flaws and other damage. The print does have a minor problem, where the darkest areas of the image are a slightly lighter shade than some of the transitions of shadows to lighter shades.

The Saphead presentation features another fine stereo music score arranged and conducted by Robert Israel and performed by an ensemble. The music is tasteful, entertaining and always appropriate.

For information on the short film releases in this collection, see our The High Sign on home video page and One Week on home video page.

This fine edition of Buster Keaton’s first feature film will please viewers with its quality picture image and pleasant musical accompaniment.

 
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.
Other silent era BUSTER KEATON films available on home video.
Buster Keaton filmography in The Progressive Silent Film List
 
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