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CHICAGO The Original 1927 Film Restored
Deluxe 2 Disc Edition
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Sexy, jazz-loving and dressed to kill, Roxie Hart (Phyllis Haver) has a doting, handsome husband in Victor Varconi; not to mention a gold-digging affair on the side with Eugene Pallette, who pays and pays, eventually with his life. Put on trial for murder, Roxie secures lawyer Billy Flynn (Robert Edeson), equal part mob 'mouthpiece' and publicity agent. When Roxy hits the headlines, the courtroom theatrics begin. Like the musical Chicago that won the Best Picture Academy Award and five other Oscars in 2002, this original 1927 version descends from a 1926 hit Broadway play by Maurine Watkins. It s a terrifically entertaining mix of humor and melodrama as well as a pungent critique of trash journalism. Frank Urson signed Chicago as director, although it is substantially the work of Cecil B. DeMille and his A-list technical staff. (DeMille apparently judged it unseemly to take full credit for this cynical and secular story while his religious spectacle The King of Kings was still in theatres!) Chicago is silent filmmaking at its peak, with an outstanding score for this edition by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. The 1927 Chicago was long believed a lost film, but a perfect print survived in Cecil B. DeMille s private collection. Restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive in 2006, it has since been widely performed to rapturous audiences. This deluxe Flicker Alley 2-disc collection also includes two excellent bonus films: The Golden Twenties (1950), a compilation documentary feature produced by The March of Time from authentic footage of the era; and Oscar-winning Lauren Lazin's The Flapper Story (1985), in which several self-declared children of the roaring twenties look back across the decades on their youthful lives. A Note on This Edition Chicago is mastered in high definition at 25 frames per second directly from Cecil B. DeMille s original nitrate print, through the courtesy of the DeMille Estate. The Golden Twenties is also mastered in high definition from a 35mm duplicate negative and magnetic sound track, while The Flapper Story is mastered from a composite print by arrangement with producer-director Lauren Lazin. All three films are produced for DVD by David Shepard. Included are a brochure by Thomas Pauly on author Maurine Watkins and the factual background of Chicago, notes by Robert S. Birchard, author of Cecil B. DeMille s Hollywood, and a special documentary supplement, Chicago; The Real Roxy Hart by Jeffery Masino and Silas Lesnick.
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For those of you not familiar with the award winning Broadway musical or 2002 film version, CHICAGO is based on a 1926 play which tells the story of the trial of Roxie Hart, an adulterous wife who shot her lover after he tried to ditch her. The play isn't about the verdict but how the trial is used to promote almost everyone involved except the long suffering husband. Although played for all its melodramatic possibilities with elements of humor, it sadly shows us that little has changed in 80 years when it comes to sensationalistic journalism.
The film rights were quickly snapped up by Cecil B. De Mille who had his own movie company at this time. It's essentially his movie all the way but he allowed Frank Urson (an assistant director) to take credit because of De Mille's involvement with THE KING OF KINGS which was already in theaters. Phyllis Haver gives a wonderfully manic and comic performance as Roxie Hart while Victor Varconi excels as the betrayed husband, Amos Hart and yes that's gravelly voiced Eugene Pallette minus his voice and later girth as the murdered lover. The print looks as if it were processed yesterday and Rodney Sauer's score is up to his usual fine standards. With the usual Flicker Alley extras, CHICAGO is a must for silent film fans and is an ideal introduction to those who are not.
The film was produced by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille, and although the credited director is Frank Urson, there is substantial proof that DeMille directed much of it himself. DeMille is primarily known today as THE director of large scale epics, but during the teens and 20's his forte was films like CHICAGO - witty, sophisticated and erotically charged urban morality plays that were very popular with audiences.
CHICAGO was based on the actual 1924 case of Mrs. Beulah Annan who shot to death Harry Kalstadt allegedly to "save her honor". During a widely publicized trial worthy of O.J. Simpson, the defense attorney won over the jury and Annan was acquitted. This lurid bit of history served as the basis for a 1926 Broadway hit as well as for the famous 2002 musical also entitled CHICAGO. In 1942 Ginger Rogers starred in another film version called ROXIE HART, which is pretty good itself.
Two fine documentaries serve as DVD extras: THE GOLDEN TWENTIES (1950) and THE FLAPPER STORY (1985).
Flicker Alley is to be praised for giving us a spectacular version of this film, mastered directly from DeMille's own original nitrate print which looks immaculate. For a fun film that epitomizes the "Jazz Age", you don't have to look further than CHICAGO.
The restoration of this film is tremendous! The score sparkles. The total effect is like being in a big city 1920's movie palace.
A great way to introduce silent movies to young people.
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