155 of 169 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2008
This is the biggest, heaviest, most pretentious, and worst box set packaging I have ever seen. It leaves the DVDs exposed to abrasion and scratching. Virtually all of the discs came pre-scratched, smudged, and abraded. The set weighs in at about 7 pounds, out of which only 8 ounces accounts for the DVDs. The contents come in a huge faux-leather, two-piece slip-case, which contains an over-sized cloth-bound binder measuring approximately 12 by 13 by 2 3/4 inches. It contains two coffee-table sized paper-back books slipped into pockets on the inside of the front and back boards of the binder. In between are pages with cardboard backing and short cardboard pockets into which the discs are tightly jammed. The playing surface of the discs are directly against cardboard. Three of the discs are the dual-sided variety, leaving BOTH sides exposed and subject to abrasion. The pockets are half the size of the discs, leaving them half in, half out. The dual-sided discs have an abrasion line worn straight across the middle of the playing surface, due to the rough edge of the top of the pocket. The damages to the discs are not limited to abrasion. Some have multiple long parallel linear scratches, looking very much like a cat tried to sharpen its claws on the playing surface. My guess is that some of the disc damage may have been from mishandling even before they were inserted into the pockets, although the rough pocket edges or debris could also be the problem. There are also smudges on the playing surfaces, so these discs may have been hand inserted, rather than by automated machinery. The pocket design is totally inappropriate. I found it impossible to extract a disc without having to touch the playing surfaces. Also, I found it impossible to extract and re-insert discs without inflicting a little more abrasion damage, since the surface must be dragged against the cardboard when removed or replaced. I'm really surprised and disappointed at the poor packaging. The last Fox box set I got was the early John Ford films, and they housed all of those appropriately in the thin half-sized plastic keep-cases, and every disc was in perfect shape. Since the Fox Murnau/Borzage Box Set retails between $180 - $240, shouldn't they have housed the discs in appropriate protective packaging? Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a near-term solution at hand. For now, I'm going to send this set back to Amazon for a refund. I will be waiting and hoping that Fox will eventually re-release these DVDs with the discs appropriately housed in keep-cases, or perhaps they will put them out individually. Anyone who is interested in purchasing this set BEWARE! On the other hand, if you don't mind paying $180 - $240 for 12 DVDs which look like beat up rental discs, then go for it!
73 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2008
I am noy going to comment on the contents - it's fabulous and a dream come true! I would like to express my extreme dissatisfaction with the packaging. Why make it so huge? What is the hidden reason? At the same time, the disks are not placed in individual sleeves and are prone to scratches. On top of it, the disk with 7th HEAVEN was defective - it would not play on both sides. I had to ca;l Amazon to ask for replacement. Also, I have to return the original package that literally weighs a ton. I did not expect this sloppiness from FOX.
73 of 81 people found the following review helpful
This collection contains 2 F.W. Murnau films and 10 films directed by Frank Borzage from the late silent through the early talkie era. Many of these have long been unavailable.
Murnau's entries include:
Sunrise (1927) - The story of a farmer ready to forsake his wife and home for a city woman on vacation in their village. She suggests that the husband drown his wife and make it look like an accident. Beautiful visuals make you sorry the silent era ever ended. Already available on DVD in the Fox Best Picture Collection. This film won the only Oscar ever awarded for best artistic film.
City Girl (1930) - This film exists in a sound and silent version. I hope this version is the silent one I saw. Charles Farrell plays the son in a farming family sent to sell the family wheat crop. He doesn't get the money the family hoped for plus he returns with a city girl as wife. This film doesn't show life on the farm as the ideal, but shows the harsh economic reality of farming. As usual, Murnau will thrill you with his excellent visuals.
Lazybones (1925) - A man knicknamed "Lazybones" raises a homeless girl. After she is grown, he begins to love her as a woman. This story may sound familiar, but Borzage throws some curves in along the way so don't expect the conventional ending or conventional journey to that ending.
Seventh Heaven (1928) - One of several popular pairings of Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor. Janet Gaynor plays a girl beaten almost to death by her sister who is rescued by Farrell, who plays a sewer worker who has become an atheist. The romance is interrupted by war. Farrell becomes a soldier, Gaynor becomes a munitions worker. Remade in the sound era, this silent version is much better. One of three films that won Janet Gaynor a Best Actress Oscar.
Street Angel (1928) - Janet Gaynor plays an Italian girl accused of being a street walker who hides from the police by joinig a traveling circus. There she falls in love with a vagabond artist played by Charles Farrell. Full of splendid visuals.
Lucky Star (1929) - Janet Gaynor is again teamed with Charles Farrell in this late silent era film about a man who is left in wheelchair as a result of injuries suffered in World War I. This film gives Farrell more of a chance to show his acting abilities than his previous teamings with Janet Gaynor, although she gives a good performance too.
They Had to See Paris (1929) - Borzage directs Will Rogers' first talking picture. Will Rogers plays a homespun man who comes into money via an oil well. His wife decides they must go abroad to get some culture into their life. This film is a little stiff as are most early talkies, but it is still full of Will Rogers' unique brand of humor.
Liliom (1930) - Early talkie adaptation of the play with Charles Farrell in the title role. The sound on the prints I've been exposed to in the past has been terrible. Let's hope that part of the reason for the cost of this set is cleaning up the sound.
Song O' My Heart (1930) - Mainly made to exhibit the singing talent of John McCormack. Also, this is the film debut of Maureen O'Sullivan. The sound on this film the last time I saw it was terrible. It will be great to hear McCormack as others heard him eighty years ago.
Bad Girl (1931) - Won two Oscars - one for Borzage's direction and another for adapted writing. This film is really about a struggling young couple's ups and downs. I really have no idea why it is named "Bad Girl" unless it was because tantalizing titles sold tickets in the era of the precode film. Like the stars of many early talkies, the stars of this film did not have distinguished careers.
After Tomorrow (1932) - Charles Farrell stars in a genuine precode with lots of racy language. At heart, though, it is a melodrama like so much of Borzage's work. Not well known probably due to its lack of exposure on TV or home video.
Young America (1932) - Spencer Tracy in a very early role. Tracy plays a druggist whose wife wants to adopt a kid who is constantly getting in trouble. His last brush with the law involves stealing medicine from Tracy's drugstore.
This set also includes a documentary on Murnau, whose career was cut short by his death in a traffic accident in 1931, and Borzage, whose career as a director was quite active into the 1940's. Other announcements have claimed that what fragments exist of Borzage's 1929 film, "The River", shall also be in this set as an extra feature. That report is as of now unsubstantiated.
Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono; Subtitles: English, French, Spanish.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2010
This is a review for the MURNAU/ BORZAGE FOX BOX which was released in late 2009 to much acclaim but
probably not much sales due to the high list price of the giant DVD/book set. But with that rather high price came 13 mostly unavailable titles and two very large coffee table size books about the films and the film makers.
This box set is an extraordinary collection of films that just have not been seen in years and in fact
are so obscure as to be mostly unknown to most everyone.
There are 12 DVD discs that contain 12 complete films, one partial film (THE RIVER), and a very informative documentary about the directors, F.W. Murnau and Frank Borzage and their films. Along with the two very large
books this box set is one of the most comprehensive collections I have seen. And after watching all of it, this has to be the most satisfying film set ever put on the market.
Despite its still relatively high cost, I would hope that anyone who is interested will find some way to enjoy this remarkable set.
Here is a list of the films included in this box set:
LAZYBONES (1925) dby Frank Borzage. Buck Jones, Madge Bellamy, Zasu Pitts, Virginia Marshall, Edythe Chapman, Leslie Fenton. Frank Borzage's silent film about a town loafer who draws upon unknown reserves of kindness and love to help raise an unwanted litle girl who, after reaching her maturity, becomes the object of his affection. Buck Jones, nearly reprising his similar role in John Ford's JUST PALS (1920), gives yet another fine performance belieing his career as a B western star.
LAZYBONES covers over twenty years in these character's lives and does it with humor, grace and sympathy.
SUNRISE (1927) dby F.W. Murnau. George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Lindsay. Unsophisticated married farmer, played by George O'Brien, contemplates leaving his wife, Janet Gaynor, to take up with a hot to trot city woman, Margaret Lindsay. Eventually, the situation spirals into a possible murder plot just to get rid of the wife. Rather pedestrian plot can't disguise the fact that this startingly beautiful film is one of the supreme cinema achievements. Fox films allowed their new hire, German immigrant Murnau, to virtually take over the studio for the few months of filming and required thier established directors, Frank Borzage, Raoul Walsh, John Ford and Howard Hawks to watch the master at work. Murnau's influence was felt almost immediately, even though SUNRISE was not a box office smash. A truly great movie.
SEVENTH HEAVEN (1927) dby Frank Borzage. Charles Farrell, Janet Gaynor, Ben Bard, Albert Gran, David Butler, Marie Mosquini. The famous silent romantic classic that set box office records during the last days of the silent era. It all takes place in the city streets of Paris
where a free spirited street sweeper played by Charles Farrell, falls for a waif played by Janet Gaynor, who is walking the streets to survive. Once their love is established, WWI starts and the sweeper is swept up in the war, leaving the much stronger and independant girl to fend for herself. SEVENTH HEAVEN is a work of almost blinding romanticism, with many fine studio built sets and some exciting war scenes. Directed with almost painstaking care and precision by the king of romantic films, Frank Borzage.
STREET ANGEL(1928 dby Frank Borzage. Charles Farrell, Janet Gaynor, Albeto Rabagliati, Cino Conti, Guido Trento, Henry Armeta. This is Borzage's follow up to SEVENTH HEAVEN and is similar in story but not quite as intense as his previous film. But Janet Gaynor is just as great in STREET ANGEL where she plays a Neopolitan "woman of the streets" who is doing time for stealing. She escapes, joins a circus and meets Charles Farrell whose character is a painter. STREET ANGEL is usually described as lushly romantic and that is putting it mildly. A more than memorable movie, certainly worth seeking out.
THE RIVER (1929) dby Frank Borzage. Charles Farrell, Mary Duncan. All that's left of this picturesque film is most of the middle portion, the "romantic part." But included in this print is a photo reconstruction of the beginning and the end of what surely was a marvelous film.
Someone said the romance is reminscint of the romance in MAN'S CASTLE, Borzage's 1933 classic.
That's not too far off, but still THE RIVER is a movie, even if only parts of it are left, that can stand on its own.
THEY HAD TO SEE PARIS (1929).dby Frank Borzage. Oklahoman Will rogers hits it big in the oil business and his wife and daughter eventually decide to do likewise in society. Only Paris seems much more preferable than
Oklahoma City. Very early talkie still hits its satirical targets and Rogers is already making off-hand remarks
in the direction of the camera. A fine movie, enjoyable from start to finish.
LUCKY STAR (1929) dby Frank Borzage. Charles Farrell, Janet Gaynor. Janet Gaynor plays a tomboy type who eventually meets and "becomes interested" in Charles Farrell's character. But WWI intervenes and when Farrell returns to his bucolic home he is missing a leg. So the road to romance meets another detour until a bully shows up and shows interest in Gaynor's character. I sometimes forget to mention the as usual astounding visuals in Borzage's films, this one qualifies
as astounding plus.
SONG O'MY HEART (1930) dby Frank Borzage. John McCormack, J. Farrell MacDonald, Alice Joyce, Maureen O'Sullivan, JM Kerrigan. "Youth, Love And Comedy Woven Into A Wistful Romance By The Golden Voice Of John McCormack." Yes, a full length movie starring legendary tenor John McCormack who does a very nice job as a former local singing star shying away from a chance at the bigtime while helping various village characters with their problems. cliches abound but this curio is worth seeing more than once. I'm surprised that I liked it so much.
LILLIOM (1930 dby Frank Borzage. Charles Farrell, Rose Hobart, Estelle Taylor, H.B.Warner, Lee Tracy. A truly amazing fantasy film and again all rests on Borzage's belief in the mystical power of love, even from beyond the grave. There are any number of reasons to see this film, but above all is the chance to witness Borzage's restatement of love conquering all. Frank Borzage was a master director and LILLIOM is just one more piece of evidence should there be any doubt. Remade by Fritz Lang in 1934 in France and eventually remade as CAROUSEL in 1956.
CITY GIRL(1930) dby F.W. Murnau. Charles Farrell, Mary Duncan, David Torrance, Edith Yorke, Anne Shirley, Jack Pennick, Guinn "Big Boy"Williams. Sort of a variation on SUNRISE but a wonderful silent film that can stand on its own. I understand that there was a partial talkie released but the silent version is the one that survives. The story concerns a farmer's son from Minnesota who comes to Chicago to sell this year's crop of wheat under strict orders to hold the price by his unyielding father. When the farmboy meets a city girl waitress, and falls in love, all plans are off and although this story seems almost defiantly old fashioned, it's one of the most enjoyable films that I have ever seen. Another beautiful film by Murnau, and his last fictional work before his untimely death in a car crash.
BAD GIRL (1931). dby Frank Borzage. James Dunn, Sally Eilers, Minna Gombell. A depression era story, yes, a romance, showing that even the lack of money can't halt "doin' what comes naturally." The titled "bad girl" is actually more defiant of social conventions than anything else. Frank Borzage won an Oscar for his direction on this really well done small scale film.
AFTER TOMORROW (1932) dby Frank Borzage. Charles Farrell, Marian Nixon, Minna Gombell, William Collier Sr. Another Depression era social drama but this one involves the entire family of the girl who is engaged to Charles Farrell, in a much improved performance than in his earlier talkies.
One thing after another hinders the would be mariage, most of the problems stem to the lack of money by almost everyone. Frank Capra's thirties movies are always associated with the Depression but Frank Borzage's characters seemed to know as much if not more about the Big Bad Wolf and exactly how many knocks their door will take..
YOUNG AMERICA (1932) dyb Frank Borzage. Spencer Tracy, Doris Kenyon, Ralph Bellamy, Tommy Conlin,
Raymond Borzage, Beryl Mercer. Teenager Tommy, the worst kid in town, breaks into a drugstore owned by Spencer Tracy's character and thus begins the journey into social drama that I'm sure
was supposed to be almost a B movie. But Frank Borzage turns this modest small scale picture into a plea for understanding of today's teenagers and hard up folks in general. Fascinating, well done glimpse of yet another angle of economic hardship and how people might try to get along as best they can.
By the way, I have decided to store the DVDs in plastic CD cases for now, at least.
Of the 12 discs I had trouble removing 3 or 4, getting my fingerprints
on the discs.
I rate the MURNAU/BORZAGE FOX BOX set five stars, although it really should be more like five hundred stars.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 12, 2008
It has taken forever for the Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell silent classics 7TH HEAVEN and STREET ANGEL to make it to DVD but here they are as part of a monumental 12 DVD package devoted to Frank Borzage and F.W. Murnau and the films they made for William Fox before he lost control of his studio and it merged with Darryl F. Zanuck's Twentieth Century Pictures. That story is covered in the special full length documentary MURNAU, BORZAGE, AND FOX. There's also a softcover book of photos and stills from the films.
Of the 12 films included only two are by Murnau. They are the well known SUNRISE (already issued as a limited edition DVD) and the rarely seen CITY GIRL (originally called OUR DAILY BREAD) which proves to be a revelation despite studio interference that caused Murnau to leave after only his third film for the studio. There is also another softcover coffee table book on the filming and story of the missing Murnau film 4 DEVILS which was set in a circus and is very similar to E.A. Dupont's German film VARIETY which was made at the same time.
While the Murnau offerings are highly prized, the 10 Borzage offerings aren't exactly chopped liver. In addition to the Gaynor/Farrell films there's THEY HAD TO SEE PARIS (Will Rogers), SONG O' MY HEART (tenor John McCormack), YOUNG AMERICA (Spencer Tracy) and the Oscar winning BAD GIRL. There's even a reconstruction of what may be his best silent feature, THE RIVER. Borzage was old Hollywood's ultra-romantic and it's great to have some of his movies back in circulation. All of the sound features are in surprisingly good condition while among the silents only 7TH HEAVEN and STREET ANGEL look rather worn but I'm sure they're taken from the best available versions.
Last but not least is the packaging. Others have commented on it and I concur. While it's great to have all this additional material, the giant scrapbook packaging and the cardboard DVD holders are totally unnecessary and will keep all but the most ardent fans (if they have the money) from seeing these classic films. Hopefully Fox will offer them separately before long so that they can reach a wider audience. Twentieth Century Fox is to be commended for finally releasing some of their pre-1936 Fox Films titles (like the earlier John Ford set) but it would seem to defeat the purpose if no one can afford to buy them.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2009
After combing through the previously posted reviews, I guess I have the great fortune to possess a flawless set of discs. And there's no way it's going on eBay. It'll never leave my library. The staff at Fox is to be congratulated on a complete triumph. This Gift Set definitely befits the films it showcases. The prints are universally in excellent condition given the fact that nearly 80 years have lapsed since most of them premiered. The one exception is the print for 7TH HEAVEN, which is only fair. However I defer to the studio when they say it is "from the best surviving source available."
Overall this is an exceptionally strong array of late silent/early sound films by A-List directors FW Murnau and Frank Borzage. A few notes on the line up, most of which have rarely been seen by modern-day audiences:
SUNRISE(1927). Winner of three Oscars in 1927: Actress Janet Gaynor, Artistic Quality of Production (the only year this award was given) and Cinematography. It was also nominated for Set Design. It is absolutely gorgeous to watch. SUNRISE is the apotheosis of silent cinema, the distillation of everything that was learned up to that time. It ranks #7 on "Sight and Sound" magazine's latest Top Ten list (compiled by over 250 leading film critics from around the world) edging out POTEMKIN. It is a film that should be in every serious film collector's library. Features both the Movietone and European silent versions, commentary by cinematographer John Bailey, outtakes and script.
CITY GIRL (1930). Murnau's penultimate film once thought lost. Beautifully photographed and a pleasure to watch. The print quality is very good. The flip side focuses on Murnau's FOUR DEVILS, presumed to be a lost film. A reimagining based on publicity stills and script notations recreate what movie buffs hope will one day be discovered.
LAZY BONES (1929). Frank Borzage. Silent film featuring the good-natured charm of cowboy star Buck Jones. Enjoyable, but one of the lesser films in the collection.
7TH HEAVEN (1927). Frank Borzage. One of the best remembered of all silents. It was a box-office triumph when it came out, making $1.8 million in rentals, enough to rank 13th among all silent films. Sure it's corny and hokey, but audiences loved it and it weaves an intoxicating spell. The first of 12 Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell teamings, it won three Oscars: Best Actress Janet Gaynor, Directing Frank Borzage and Writing (Adaptation). Additionally, it was Oscar nominated for Best Picture and Interior Decoration. Extras include a well-researched commentary by a pair of noted film historians, the screenplay and soundtrack notes.
STREET ANGEL (1928). Frank Borzage. Beautifully photographed in a smoky chiaroscuro by Ernest Palmer, who was nominated for an Oscar for this. Also nominated for Interior Decoration. One of the trio of films winning Janet Gaynor the first Oscar. Tender love story of a girl who joins the circus while on the lam for prostituting herself. She meets artist Farrell and the movie becomes overtly romantic. It's a truly wonderful wallow. STREET ANGEL was a huge hit with audiences, coming in right after 7TH HEAVEN in box-office leaders, but is far less familiar to film audiences today.
THEY HAD TO SEE PARIS (1929). Frank Borzage. The film itself is no great shakes, but it is fascinating to see the great American humorist Will Rogers in his first talking film, especially when he disregards the camera.
SONG O' MY HEART (1930). Frank Borzage. Tenor Frank McCormack's first sound film features beautiful Irish ballads to go along with a fine story. This forgotten film was a box office hit in its time raking in $1.2 million in rentals, although according to the notes in the accompanying booklet, did not make money. Without knowing, you would think it was a John Ford film. DVD features both the full sound and music and effects version.
LILIOM (1930). Frank Borzage. Early version of the Ferenc Molnar story, later reworked as CAROUSEL, is a fine effort. Excellent visuals put this on a par with the Fritz Lang 1934 version starring Charles Boyer. Good job by Charles Farrell trying to break out of his nice-boy mold.
YOUNG AMERICA (1932). Frank Borzage. Early Spencer Tracy role in contrived, yet diverting film.
AFTER TOMORROW (1932) and BAD GIRL (1931) are both depression-era dramas helmed by Borzage. As with the rest of the films in this set, each is a privilege to view. Both have respectable acting and confront the hard times of that era in realistic fashion. BAD GIRL unexpectedly won two major Oscars: Directing and Writing (Adaptation). It was also a Best Picture nominee, losing out to GRAND HOTEL. Today BAD GIRL would be downgraded for its unconvincing screenplay, yet it connected with audiences at the time and made a sizeable profit of $336,246.
LUCKY STAR (1929) by Frank Borzage is the great find of the set. Beautiful performances by Gaynor and particularly by Farrell buoy this exquisite silent. Unfortunately, it came out when sound films were all the rage and was overlooked. Some sound bits were added, but that version does not exist. The print, recently discovered in the Netherlands and remastered, is in pristine condition; the set design and cinematography are fittingly nostalgic.
Finally, there is a reconstruction of THE RIVER (1930) which is missing the beginning and end reels. Folks, it doesn't get any steamier than this. The Production Code would make sure of that for the next thirty-odd years. Sheer fun to watch.
The set includes an excellent documentary which expertly integrates the lives of the directors and mogul William Fox. The two booklets accompanying the set are also really well done. And although the second one regarding the FOUR DEVILS is a bit redundant given the DVD attempt to recreate the film, it is a nice keepsake. The set is over-sized at 11 ¾ x 13 ¾, but there's no rule that says a DVD set has to be 5 ½ x 7 ½. Overall I spent several evenings thoroughly enjoying these treasures. Rarely have I gotten so much satisfaction from a collection of films. Regarding the numerous comments about the sleeve pockets: I pulled the discs in and out of the sleeves literally dozens of times with no harm. I really don't believe the pockets are to blame for the defective discs. Rather I believe it is a measure of quality control. (And "yes" I did have a defective disc from a different Gift Set that featured disc pockets, but when I looked at that particular disc, I noticed that it was warped, which had nothing to do with the pockets). I might recommend that if you are concerned about this feature, simply transfer the discs to jewel cases. Hopefully the Fox crew will realize that the quality control has to be of the highest order for a product like this, since the overwhelming audience will be discriminating film buffs with the highest of standards.
The bottom line is that, although pricey, this is an exciting once-in-a-lifetime collection with outstanding and immensely enjoyable feature films. It immediately takes pride of place in my nearly 600-film DVD library.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
This expansive and comprehensive package is a very risky proposition by its manufacturers. Containing a suite of films which bridge the coming of sound, they originate from Fox. At the time, Fox was a major studio but much of their product from this period has not survived due to a warehouse fire in 1937 when so many of the negatives were destroyed. For those interested in the history of the American film, the package is compulsory viewing. Such an audience may be prepared to pay a high price for the opportunity to own these titles but for a general audience, the package may have little attraction. Compounding the risk is that the package clearly hit the market with many faulty discs which must have hindered sales. A pity too because it may discourage the manufacturers from taking such a risk again, even if they only have themselves to blame. I am fortunate. My package arrived safely and the disks are perfect.
The set can be divided a couple of ways - the films directed by F W Murneau versus those by Frank Borzage or the silents versus those with added sound or full talkies. Murneau was a very famous German director with a superb visual style and Borzage was an American who specialised in idyllic love stories. It also provides an excellent insight into the careers of a number of forgotten actors, particularly Charles Farrell, an actor who made the transition to talkies but soon faded from stardom.
Let's start with Murneau's films.
"Sunrise" is probably the most famous film in the set. A visual masterpiece and a peak of lyrical silent screen movie making, every frame is an image to cherish. It is worth noting just how few inter-titles are used. The story is a simple one of good (Janet Gaynor) and evil (Margaret Livingston) and the man (George O'Brien), married to one but tempted by the other. The print has been restored and the movietone version is accompanied by the superb original score. The DVD comes with many extras, including rare alternate takes, on set stills, an excellent commentary and a complete silent version sourced from Chekoslavakia.
The second Murneau film is the lost "4 Devils", recreated here via stills, sketches and the original script. Superbly constructed, it is as close to seeing the film as you could possible want.
"City Girl" was the third of Murneau's American films and there is a lot to enjoy here. Mary Duncan stars as the waitress in steamy Chicago who marries bucolic Charles Farrell, in town to sell the wheat crop. They return to the farm and Farrell's hostile father who rejects sincere Duncan. The predictable resolution to the drama unfolds while the crop is harvested to avoid destruction due to a pending hail storm. Whilst the film underwent changes not directed by Murneau when talkie sequences were added, we have here a pristine silent version without the tampering. The leads are excellent and there are some wonderful images to savour but the accompanying score is very dull.
The first of the Borzage films is a 1926 silent "Lazybones", the earliest film in the set. A melodrama about a backwoods man who adopts his neigbour's daughter, it stars western star Buck Jones in a change of pace and he is very good. The story is Victorian melodrama, but touching and very well photographed. Unfortunately, the film is accompanied by an awful score which I eventually turned off, finding it completely uncomplimentary to the visuals and the drama in the very good print.
Both "Seventh Heaven" and "Street Angel" are famous silent films which contributed to Janet Gaynor winning the first Best Actress Oscar. These are the films which cemented Borzage's reputation as the director of magical and eternal love stories. The former tells of the love of street urchin Gaynor to sewer rat Farrell who saves her from strangulation by her vicious sister. The film has many lyrical moments and Gaynor acts with her eyes which is perfect. The print is variable and the DVD comes with a reasonable commentary. "Street Angel" is a marginally more realistic tale with Gaynor cast as another urchin who escapes the police by joining a circus. Farrell plays the street artist who falls for her. The print is superior to "Seventh Heaven". The original soundtracks accompany both films and the music is vastly superior to the modern scores which have been attached to other silent films in the set. Farrell is a very handsome gentle hero in both and the films cemented the pair as America's sweethearts.
"The River", released in 1928, was a film thought to be lost but more than half of it has surfaced and the total film is reconstructed here using stills and the original script. What survives gives a great feeling for what is missing and this is a moody melodrama with a very good performance by Mary Duncan as the tough mistress of a convicted criminal who falls for youthful and innocent Charles Farrell. Once again, the lighting and sets overcome any weaknesses in the melodrama and there is plenty of symbolism in the nature of the river itself. The surviving reels vary in print quality.
"Lucky Star" is the third and last film of the Borzage/Farrell/Gaynor combination and may be the unexpected treasure of the whole set. Long lost, an almost pristine silent version is presented here which surfaced from Holland. A touching story of a woodlands girl and her relationship with a crippled war veteran, both the leads are perfect. Borzage's direction is exemplary and the backwoods sets are stunning. The only drawback is that this is another with a lousy musical accompaniment which interferes with the visual images and sensitive acting of the principals.
Now we move into talkies.
The earliest film is "They Had to see Paris", released in 1929 and the talkie debut of American folk hero Will Rogers. He plays a bucolic family man who strikes it rich and takes his family to Paris. The film follows their adventures in the big city. The print is good enough mostly but the sound is difficult. As a very early talkie, the position of the microphone is critical and the voices come and go. Rogers mumbles too and can not always be understood. The humour is basic and this is one film for which the fast forward button became useful. There is no doubt it has historic interest for those keen on Rogers but otherwise, it is a dud and an example of the comedown from the lyrical silent films which preceded it.
"Song of My Heart", filmed in 1929, stars famous Irish tenor John McCormack. This man was a giant in the entertainment industry in his day such that he was able to command an enormous salary for his appearance here. The film preserves his art and when he sings, his enormous talent is obvious. Unfortunately, the rest is turgid and awful. The story is sentimental Irish schmaltz and McCormack, who is no actor, smiles his role. The film was made partly in Ireland but you would never know. Maureen O'Sullivan appears as the ingénue. There is some dreadfully timed Irish humour from some of the supporting cast. The film comes in 2 versions, full and part talkie. I would suggest going for the part talkie because the titles are more bearable than actually hearing the dreadful dialogue.
"Liliom" is a very early talkie (1930) version of the Molnar play on which the more famous musical "Carousel" was based. It is another dreadful film, static and with dialogue delivered as if entirely in slow motion. The film is directed exactly as it might have been for the stage. Charles Farrell is miscast as the barker of the title name. The film was an attempt to give him a more rugged image and although Farrell swaggers and blusters, his high voice and slim physique betray him. The pluses are some interesting set design, H B Warner's warm performance as the emissary on the train to the beyond and above all, a spectacular print in incredible condition given the age and obscurity of the film.
"Bad Girl", released in 1931, was an Academy Award winner for Borzage as Best Director. The film is a revelation. With a first rate script, James Dunn stars as an earnest young man who marries cynical Sally Eilers and the film tracks their adjustments to married life. Minna Gombell plays Eiler's best friend and the relationship between she and Dunn is surprising as it moves through contempt to cynicism to respect. The film focuses on the clunky communication between the newlyweds and the dialogue is literate and mature. The acting of the principals is also first rate. The film makes an interesting comparison to the products of the other studios at this time: not as fast moving as the equivalent Warner Brother's product, but much more carefully directed and produced and far ahead of the pretentious product of the artificial Shearer/Crawford films from MGM. The only drawback is that the print, whilst restored from the best sources available, has continuity jumps mainly from splicing but possibly sometimes due to censorship. Incidentally, the title is misleading because Eilers is not a bad girl at all.
Next comes "After Tomorrow", released in 1932. Charles Farrell plays a young man courting Marion Nixon. The film traces their trials and tribulations, financial and familial, to get to the altar. We hear a lot about pre-code Warners, MGM and Paramount, but very rarely pre-code Fox. In this one, we get adultery, a discussion about pre-marital sex and a suprisingly mature look at a woman, Minna Gombell, tied into an unhappy marriage to William Collier. She dumps him too and suffers no retribution, a refreshingly realistic outcome. The film is another revelation, superbly photographed by the famous James Wong Howe. All the actors are excellent, particularly Gombell and Collier. Josephine Hull, who you may recall from "Arsenic and Old Lace" many years later, plays Farrell's possessive and manipulative mother. There is some excellent dialogue and a great scene between Hull and Collier when he actually tells her to go to hell. The print is really good too. One spoiler moment though which must have occurred when the film was restored - Farrell and Nixon are courting in the park and a truck goes past blaring a song. Problem is the song is Alice Faye singing "Please pardon us, we're in love" from a 1937 musical "You Can't have Everything", released 5 years after this film. Whoops!
One of the less interesting films in the set is "Young America". A melodrama about a misunderstood orphan, the film focuses on the competent youngsters with largely one dimensional roles for the adults. Spencer Tracy plays an unsympathetic role and it is indicative of the mediocre plotting that Tracy makes a switch to nice guy in the flash of a plot twist. The ending is contrived and corny. The print is OK with the exception of some splicing jumps.
Most of the films contain extras such as on set stills, marketing material and some commentaries. Most importantly, there is a separate disk with a documentary about Murneau, Borzage and William Fox himself. If you wish to understand the context of the films then I would recommend viewing it first. There are also two substantial booklets. The first replicates the documentary as well as filling in the gaps on other Borzage films not included in the package. The other booklet follows the reconstruction of "4 Devils". While this might seem like overkill, in fact it is useful to be able to read about all the films instead of replaying the documentary. Concerning the controversial packaging, the disks are hard to remove from their sleeves and the box is a nuisance to store due to its size but I have been fortunate to obtain one without damaged disks and to preserve them, I have simply stored them in conventional DVD storage units.
There is no doubt that this package is a "special event". It is a pity that its production has been less than smooth and one can only hope that it has been a commercial proposition in order to encourage further "special events". I recommend it highly.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 24, 2012
I prefer to form my own opinion, but the other reviewers are on target. The films are excellent as you might expect from Murnau and Borzage. The DVD's arrive loose in the box looking like they've been sandpapered. I haven't watched them all the way through to ascertain whether they are usable or not, but I'm betting that at least one will not play all the way through. The books (that cause all the damage to the discs) are little more than a collection of still photos. I would not buy this set again and certainly cannot recommend it to anyone who takes care of their things. I expected 20th Century Fox to have produced a more professional product.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2009
In addition to all the packaging miseries cited by other reviewers, I'd like to describe yet another hazard. My set had one disc inserted so deeply into its cardboard pocket, it came in contact with the adhesive attaching the pocket to the cardboard backing. Result: glue on the disc.
There's no question this set is a packaging disaster. Any rational person will immediately remove the discs and put them in safe plastic cases, and put the books on a bookshelf where they can be accessed without difficulty, at which point the set's gigantic binder, and the heavy, clumsy, case designed to hold it, become redundant. Mine are now in the attic.
If the packaging definitely rates one (or zero) stars, the movies rate five, so my rating is a compromise.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2008
This is a wonderful set. It is certainly not as interesting as last year's FORD AT FOX set, in terms of variety and type of films. This is a mostly silent film collection; several are "all-talking," and some have the original Movietone sound and effects tracks. At least one, SONG O' MY HEART, features separate prints of both talkie and "silent" versions.
And, no, there is no talking version of CITY GIRL(1930) included in this set. In the accompanying documentation, it is stated that Murnau requested a release from his contract before his work on a talkie version could even be started. A talkie version was completed without his input, with significant changes in plot. He had become (ironically, given this set!) disgusted with Fox over increasing interference with his work. He quit after only 3 films with Fox, one of which (4 DEVILS) no longer exists (and is represented here by a 41-minute visual essay/reconstruction using script, photos, etc). So, Murnau is represented by only 2 films here--SUNRISE and CITY GIRL. Both are important works, but one strongly suspects that 4 DEVILS was the best picture of the three--aren't all lost films the greatest?
Borzage has 10 titles here, not including a 56-minute reconstruction of THE RIVER(1928)....which is missing a few scenes early on and the final reel.
The print qualities range from really great (most of the talkies), to really beaten up with some of the silents. Of course, considering that the negatives for most of these films never survived, we're lucky just to be able to enjoy them today from these extant prints (some provided by the Czech film archive, Nederlands Filmmuseum, MoMA, et al).
There are a few audio commentaries (few-maybe 2), lots of stills galleries, some text notes, screenplays, scenarios, etc. In short, lots of still image/text material. The grandest supplement is a superb 105 minute documentary produced for this set called MURNAU, BORZAGE, and FOX; presented by John Cork. In a really great way, this documentary ties together these 3 disparate characters, and explains much about early filmmaking on their journey.
The two "coffee table books" are this time out large paperbacks. One is all about the lost film 4 DEVILS (which is a little redundant given the audio essay by Janet Bergstrom on the disc) and the other contains additional info/photos RE: our three lead characters.
Overpriced? Well, this one is certainly not as extensive as the Ford box was....and doesn't have the same number or type of bonus features. In today's market, this one is certainly more "specialized" than the Ford set....so we're probably just lucky to have it at any price.
One thing is sure; this is a limited release and they will eventually sell out. The Ebay bloodsuckers are already obtaining their copies....so if you want it and have the dough now..........