John Barrymore Collection: (Sherlock Holmes / Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde / The Beloved Rogue / Tempest)
DVD | Box Set
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SHERLOCK HOLMES (1922) - From the collection of the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department. - When a young prince is accused of a crime that could embroil him in international scandal, debonair super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes comes to his aid, and quickly discovers that behind the incident lurks a criminal mastermind eager to reduce Western civilization to anarchy. Adapted from the hugely popular stage version of Arthur Conan Doyle s stories (by William Gillette), SHERLOCK HOLMES not only provided Barrymore with one of his most prestigious early roles, but also presented the screen debuts of two notable actors: William Powell (The Thin Man) and Roland Young (Topper). SHERLOCK HOLMES was mastered from a 35mm restoration by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department, and is accompanied by a score by Ben Model, performed on the Miditzer Virtual Theatre Organ. Starring John Barrymore, Roland Young, Carol Dempster, and William Powell.
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920) Considered by many to be the first great American horror film, John S. Robertson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde allowed stage legend John Barrymore to deliver his first virtuoso performance on film. Blending historic charm with grim naturalism, this version of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde is one of the more faithful of the many screen adaptations of Stevenson's story, recounting a visionary scientist's ill-fated attempts to unleash the human mysteries that dwell beneath the shell of the civilized self. Mastered from a 35mm negative and complemented with a wealth of supplemental material, this Kino on Video edition beautifully showcases the dramatic brilliance and gruesome thrills of this influential American classic. (LOADED WITH EXTRAS) Starring John Barrymore, Nita Naldi, and Charles Lane.
THE BELOVED ROGUE (1926) John Barrymore In the swashbuckling adventures of Francois Villon. - Includes Filmed Introduction by Orson Welles - John Barrymore sought to out-swashbuckle Douglas Fairbanks in his breathless depiction of France s rapscallion poet, thief and vagabond: François Villon (1431-1463). To prove his mettle, he bounds over the snowy rooftops of Paris, scales a castle tower, and is hurled skyward by the royal catapult but this is no mere stunt picture. Barrymore wielded a simmering sexuality that Fairbanks lacked, endowing the film with an element of eroticism that perfectly suits Villon, who loved France earnestly, Frenchwomen excessively, French wine exclusively. A lavish spectacle boasting the set designs of William Cameron Menzies (The Thief of Bagdad), THE BELOVED ROGUE is Hollywood myth-making at its most ambitious...and entertaining. Starring John Barrymore, Conrad Veidt, Marceline Day, and Mack Swain.
THE TEMPEST (1928) John Barrymore in a stirring romance of Russia on the brink of revolution. An epic romance set in Russia during the final days of the Tsarist autocracy, TEMPEST stars John Barrymore as Sgt. Ivan Markov, a dedicated soldier who defies the rigid class system to receive an officer s commission. But even as he rises through the ranks of military and society, he must contend with resentment from the aristocratic officers including the monocled Ullrich Haupt, who delivers a sinister performance worthy of Erich von Stroheim, himself an uncredited screenwriter on the project. Ignoring the warnings of a grim political prophet (Boris de Fast), Ivan continues his climb to power, and falls in love with a haughty princess (Faust s Camilla Horn), who spurns him and causes him to be stripped of rank. However, the tables are turned when the prophecy of a people s revolt is realized, upending the aristocracy and putting Ivan and Princess Tamara at the mercy of a sweeping tide of fate. Starring John Barrymore, Camilla Horn, and Louis Wolheim.
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Kino's useful boxed set brings together four of their silent John Barrymore releases that show the star at the peak of his powers, albeit to varying effect.
1928 silent Tempest may not be a great picture but it is a great star vehicle for a star in his prime before drink and self-parody took their toll on his reputation. In fact, it's richly ironic that in one of those art-predicting-life moments it's drink and a scandal involving a woman's honor that causes John Barrymore's peasant-made-officer's downfall in this lavish romance set in the period before and during the Russian Revolution. If you're only familiar with the Barrymore of later years, this is a revelation, the Great Profile seen at his best, with a gravitas and intensity that he wears lightly, devilishly good looking and confident but not arrogant with it. The perfect movie hero, it's easy to see why he was such a major influence on the young Errol Flynn. Indeed, in one sequence on a horse in a river you could almost be looking at Flynn in his prime.
The film itself is romantic hokum, but executed with real conviction and produced on a lavish scale. Barrymore's a peasant cavalryman from the wrong side of the Urals, no socialist or red but no fan of the aristocracy either, who manages to become the first commissioned officer to rise from the ranks in a decade thanks to George Fawcett's paternalistic general only to lose his rank and his honor thanks to an unfortunate but innocent indiscretion with the general's daughter (Camilla Horn) who publicly loathes him so much you know it must be love. Throughout he's shadowed by Boris de Fast's strikingly spectral Bolshevik peddler who acts like a nagging devil on his shoulder as his disillusionment is fuelled and he ultimately finds his niche deciding who's going to be lined up against the wall after the Revolution. Naturally redemption and true love will enter into it, but not before the filmmakers have expressed their dismay with both sides - the aristocrats, exemplified by Ulrich Haupt's von Stroheim-lite villain (Erich von Stroheim was an uncredited writer on the picture) who stubs his cigarettes out on lowly NCO Louis Wolheim's neck and then berates him for ruining a perfectly good cigarette, and the Bolsheviks who respond with even greater cruelty in the vivid conveyer-belt-like execution scenes. The only chance the hero and heroine have for a happy ending in this kind of world is to escape their own country and leave it forever, a situation that would have struck home with the many White Russian exiles in Hollywood at the time.
The film's ably directed by Sam Taylor (with uncredited scenes by Lewis Milestone and Viktor Tourjansky) with a strong and imaginative eye for composition - there's a particularly striking execution scene played in the time it takes to open and close a door, and Charles Rosher's superb camerawork and William Cameron Menzies' production work together to good effect even in the occasionally worn surviving prints, the film opening with a lavish tracking shot around a model of a garrison town before melding it almost flawlessly to a real set in a single camera movement. The ballroom sequence is particularly outstanding, with the socially ostracised Barrymore entering the brightly lit ball silhouetted in the foreground and later drunkenly watching his `betters' while their dancing reflections can be seen in the silverware in front of him. And when he finds himself facing years in solitary confinement, the walls of his cell become a giant movie screen on which he can see images of his comrades fighting at the front and the woman he loves laughing at him as he goes mad. They may not make them like this any more, but thankfully while prints still survive we can at least still see those they did.
Kino's DVD has no extras but boasts a fine transfer.
It's hard to disagree with Orson Welles, who idolised John Barrymore, that the great man is not at his best in The Beloved Rogue, but the film has so much else going for it than the lead performance that it works surprisingly well despite his going down with a particularly virulent strain of drunken Douglas Fairbanksitis. As Francois Villon, the 15th century French poet and rogue caught between the machinations of the beleaguered and devious king and the ruthlessly ambitious and devious Duke of Burgundy, he's clearly making a grab not just for the people's crown as King of the Fools but Fairbanks crown as King of the Swashbucklers, sliding from rooftop to rooftop, climbing and jumping from castles, springing over city walls through bedroom windows from catapults and also, unfortunately, hamming, overacting and prancing around as if Paris was the Yellow Brick Road and he was off to see the Wizard, the Wonderful Wizard of Oz...
It's a shame, because it's the best role Errol Flynn never played (and one that Ronald Colman did, in If I Were King, as did several others from Yul Brynner on TV to Oreste in the forgotten MGM musical The Vagabond King) and had his Don Juan director Alan Crosland been able to reign him in, one that Barrymore had the ability to play much better. But Barrymore just seems content to play to the gallery, act the drunken fool and thumb his nose at the supporting players when he was capable of so much more at that time in his career - he gets the balance between swashbuckling, comedy and romantic dignity right in Don Juan, but this seems to owe more to bottled spirits than high spirits, sending up his own Hell-raising image at the expense of the part and, at times, the film.
The supporting cast are more successful, among them Conrad Veidt doing a Lon Chaney twisted and superstitious King Louis the Little, Marceline Day making a little bit more of the romantic interest than is in the script and future Freaks co-stars Henry Victor and Angelo Rossitto (and yes, there is gratuitous dwarf kicking involved), while the filmmakers get great comic mileage out of Dick Sutherland's remarkable features as the executioner Tritran L'Hermite. Yet despite Paul Bern's script replacing Villon's own poetry with simple doggerel and never quite showing enough wit and invention for a hero who survived dangerous times through wit and invention, the film still manages you to carry you along without feeling cheated (though the ending is a bit underwhelming) and, thanks to Joseph August's cinematography and William Cameron Menzies' production design, the film certainly looks a treat: the King of Fools sequence may make ample use of Universal's full-scale Hunchback of Notre Dame sets, but Menzies puts his stamp on the film in the snow swept side streets of a city in the midst of winter that gives it a feeling part vivid storybook, part reality that's where the film's real poetry is to be found.
Kino's Region 1 NTSC DVD offers an acceptable print with the only extra a brief and cursory introduction by Orson Welles filmed for a TV screening and which is in far worse condition than the film itself!
Despite being one of his signature screen roles, John Barrymore's hugely successful 1920 version of Robert Louis Stevenson's oft-filmed tale is far from the definitive one - for that you'd have to see the 1931 Rouben Mamoulian-Frederic March film, which is still striking today. Despite a few moments of censor-baiting child cruelty and sexual exploitation, it's a rather flat adaptation, with Barrymore the main attraction. His Jekyll may be a bit of a milquetoast, but the ham in him knows that Hyde is the real meat-and-potatoes for an actor, and he devours it readily, showcasing his own remarkable makeup-free initial transformation achieved with little more than some expressive scrunching of his own features and some subtle lighting that is extraordinarily successful (later shots of him fully transformed did take advantage of some monster makeup, however). It's a party trick Barrymore repeated, perhaps even more successfully, in a scene in his later Don Juan, but where that had a great film built around it, here the transformations at times feel too much like the whole show. And it's certainly worth the price of a ticket at least once, even if the film itself is distinctly average even for its day.
As one of the most popular Public Domain titles on the DVD market, there's no shortage of truly terrible transfers - most poor prints, often running at the wrong speed, sometimes incomplete and often with hideous and irrelevant scores - so it's worth noting that Kino's Region 1 NTSC DVD release is probably the best version we'll ever get. Aside from a good print at the right speed, it also comes with copious and always relevant extras - an extract from the rival and much cheaper 1920 Sheldon Lewis version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde that was offered to exhibitors who couldn't afford the more expensive Barrymore version, an early Stan Laurel short film Dr Pyckle and Mr Pride, detailed production notes that are far from the usual PR fluff you get on DVDs as well as a rare 1909 audio recording of a particularly hammy stage version of `The Transformation Scene.' It may cost a bit more, but it's worth it.
Movies have been taking liberties with Conan Doyle's creation long before Guy Ritchie, with the Great Profile's 1922 silent take on the Great Detective, Sherlock Holmes (aka Moriarty), a modern-day version ill-advisedly rewriting the book in a manner that offended the purists while not coming up with anything new to appeal to the more casual moviegoer, then or now. Partially shot on location in London and opening with some striking overhead shots of the city, it's not as terrible as its reputation nor as good as it should be considering all the talent and money involved (Reginald Denny, Louis Wolheim and future gossip queen Hedda Hopper are in it as well). Revolving around a blackmail attempt and some love letters to a European Prince from the woman who killed herself when they were prevented from marrying, it's at times a talky script, always a problem in a silent film, with more of a taste for melodrama than sleuthing.
A very loose adaptation of William Gillette's play, it begins with Holmes and Watson as fellow university students, charting his first encounter with Moriarty (on learning the fate of various detectives who have tried to bring him to book, Holmes responds "Oh! - Well, of course, if you're as difficult to know as all that, I'd better be getting back to my microbes") that sets him on a life of fighting crime. But along the way we get Holmes rustically ruminating on human nature and, of all things, falling in love at first sight with Carol Dempster's innocent girl and spending much of the first half of the film in a daze. Or it could be plain disinterest as Barrymore hardly seems terribly engaged with his role, going through the motions of concentrating and staring into the far distance while making little impression. Not that he has much to work with, Holmes going by instinct rather than deductive reasoning - `It's easier for me to know Wells is guilty than to explain how I know it' he admits early in the game - while only briefly demonstrating his deductive reasoning in a scene with a clumsily shaved Roland Young's underemployed Watson. As for the domestic revelation in the last scene, it's enough to give the hardcore Holmes fans a fit, though it is rather obvious that Barrymore's real-life hatred for co-star Dempster led to him insisting on a stand in for her in their final clinch.
Holmes isn't the only one to get a bit of a makeover. Gustav Von Seyffertitz's scruffy Moriarty, introduced in the middle of a spider's web and operating from a torture dungeon in Limehouse, seems inspired more by Barrymore's Mr Hyde than Doyle while, aside from a paperboy in the unsatisfactorily perfunctory ending, the closest it gets to a Baker Street Irregular is William Powell in his first film as a thief who defects to Holmes' side and whose fate is left vague for much of the last part of the film by the still missing footage. Whereby hangs a tale.
The film was lost for decades until the negative of several cans of out of order sequences were found in George Eastman House in 1970, with Kevin Brownlow and William K. Everson screening them for director Albert Parker and basing the lengthy restoration (funded by Hugh Hefner and the National Parks Foundation among others over more than three decades) on his notes. Unfortunately things get rather confusing towards the end thanks to some still missing footage: where public screenings of the restoration filled in the gaps with stills and explanatory captions, Kino Video's extras-free DVD from 2008 makes no such concessions, with events around Holmes' second encounter with Moriarty particularly abrupt (a wounded man and a rejected proposition referred to in one title card literally come out of nowhere while another segment ends abruptly). One for the Barrymore and Holmes completists only, though it is amusing to note that even in 1922 films were making in-jokes about evil masterminds wasting time on elaborate death traps rather than simply killing their nemesis the easy way.
As for the other films, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde is the most available of all four, and the DVD with the most extra features in this set. While the extras make it superior to all competitors, they do not feature John Barrymore, but rather the history of the Jekly and Hide productions. Also, this DVD has been previously available from Kino and is found in another box set. While I love Kino, that does irritate me a little, since that practice only seems convenient for people who don't buy many of their products. In other words, it already seems like it's not a product made for people like me.
The Beloved Rogue and Tempest were both already available from Image Entertainment. The Kino edition of the Beloved Rogue has an improved image quality and adds an extra feature, an introduction by Orson Welles from the 70's; the piano score is also apparently still the same used in home video since the 70's. The Kino edition of Tempest, however, has no special features unlike the Image edition, which included home movies of John Barrymore on his yacht, "Vagabonding on the Pacific".
I really wanted to be able to rate this set higher, but i feel it has some shortcomings as a product. For Barrymore fans, Sherlock Holmes is probably the main appeal, but if you're a long-time Barrymore fan then you've probably already purchased some of the existing DVDs on the market. If so, then you probably don't need to double dip here, just buy Sherlock Holmes, especially now that it's on Blu-ray. I can't quite understand Kino's decision not to add anything else to films that are already available on home video--in some cases apparently recycling existing musical scores! Perhaps it's just me, and maybe I've been spoiled by stellar DVD releases of silent films, but I don't see why any film from the silent era wouldn't deserve extra features to add appeal and also put them in context. I don't want to judge the product too harshly on content I feel is absent, but on the other hand, it's difficult to recommend this set on the content that is included. Still, Kino is reknowned for quality silent DVD releases, and the transfers here would only disappoint the strictest critics. As long as you're aware that this product is almost limited to just quality film transfers and aren't expecting fully loaded DVDs, then this set won't disappoint.
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