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Three Silent Classics By Josef Von Sternberg

 

Underworld (1927)         The Last Command (1928)


The Docks of New York (1928)

 

Vienna-born, New York–raised Josef von Sternberg directed some of the most influential, stylish dramas ever to come out of Hollywood. Though best known for his star-making collaborations with Marlene Dietrich, von Sternberg began his career during the final years of the silent era, dazzling audiences and critics with his films’ dark visions and innovative cinematography. The titles in this collection, made on the cusp of the sound age, are three of von Sternberg’s greatest works, gritty evocations of gangster life (Underworld), the Russian Revolution (The Last Command), and working-class desperation (The Docks of New York) made into shadowy movie spectacle. Criterion is proud to present these long unavailable classics of American cinema, each with two musical scores.

 


Titles

 

 


 

Underworld
Josef von Sternberg 1927
Josef von Sternberg’s riveting breakthrough is widely considered the film that launched the American gangster genre as we know it.

The Last Command
Josef von Sternberg 1928
Emil Jannings won the first best actor Academy Award for his performance as a sympathetic tyrant: an exiled Russian general turned Hollywood extra who lands a role playing a version of his former czarist self, bringing about his emotional downfall.

The Docks of New York
Josef von Sternberg 1928
Fog-enshrouded cinematography by Harold Rosson (The Wizard of Oz), expressionist set design by Hans Dreier (Sunset Boulevard), and sensual performances by Bancroft and Compson make this one of the legendary director’s finest works, and one of the most exquisitely crafted films of its era. 

Posters

Theatrical Releases: 1927 - 1928

  DVD Reviews

DVD Review: Criterion Collection (3-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC

 

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution Criterion Collection Spine # 528-531 - Region 1 - NTSC
Time: Respectively - 1:21:21, 1:28:27, and 1:15:24
Bitrate:  Underworld
 
Bitrate: The Last Command
 
Bitrate: The Docks of New York
 
Audio Choice of two mono scores per feature (see description below) - English intertitles
Subtitles None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion Collection

Aspect Ratio:
All Original Aspect Ratios - 1.33:1

Edition Details:

  • • Six scores: by Robert Israel for all three films, Alloy Orchestra for Underworld and The Last Command and Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton for The Docks of New York
    • Two new visual essays, one by UCLA film professor Janet Bergstrom on Underworld (36:16) and the other by film scholar Tag Gallagher on The Last Command (35:12)
    • Swedish television interview from 1968 with director Josef von Sternberg (39:40)
    • Ninety-six-page booklet featuring essays by Geoffrey O’Brien, Anton Kaes, and Luc Sante; notes on the scores by the composers; Ben Hecht’s original story for Underworld; and an excerpt from von Sternberg’s autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, on actor Emil Jannings


DVD Release Date:
August 24th, 2010
3 Cases and a book inside a cardboard box
Chapters:
17, 16, 15

 

Comments:

Firstly, this could easily be considered the DVD release of the Year  for many cinephiles - and Criterion have done it up to their usual professional standards - right down to the menus. It is untouchable...

NOTE: The three main features of this boxset are housed in individual un-clickable cases - like the AK 100 box (see image above and below) they are not sold separately, by Criterion, at this time. These particular NTSC editions can only be obtained in Criterion's 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg package at present.

All three DVDs are dual-layered , progressive  and in about their original 1.33 aspect ratios.

There is an option for 2 different scores for each. One by Robert Israel for all three films, Alloy Orchestra for Underworld and The Last Command and Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton for The Docks of New York. There are no, unnecessary, subtitles - the three silent films have English intertitles that appear original.

Bitrates are very strong ranging consistently from 8.11 - 8.13 Mbps.

Included is an amazing 96-page booklet featuring plenty of black and white photos and essays by Geoffrey O’Brien, Anton Kaes, and Luc Sante; notes on the scores by the composers; Ben Hecht’s original story for Underworld; and an excerpt from von Sternberg’s autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, on actor Emil Jannings.

On the image - Criterion have pictureboxed (see our full description of 'pictureboxing' in our Kind Hearts and Coronets review) the transfer. NOTE: The Criterion captures below have been put in their own table to indicate the amount of the pictureboxing (indicated by the black border circumventing the edge). Where this may benefit systems that produce overscan (ex. production made cathode ray tubes) - it detracts from systems that do not requite it (ex. HTPC) limiting the resolution.

Underworld and The Last Command are of about the same quality - and damage on these 80+ year-old films is noticeable at times as is contrast flickering. Neither film's deficiencies effected by viewing in a negative sense and the transfer has had some digital restoration in terms of density correction and instances with dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, and jitter manually removed. The Last Command seemed a bit lighter an cloudy. The Docks of New York stands out as superior image-wise with a more stable appearance and stronger black levels with better detail but it does have an instance, later in the film, of having a full-frame - top to bottom - scratch (see last capture below). prevalent I would, however, think these transfers may very well be the absolute best we are ever going to get for these highly sought silent classics. I have no demonstrative complaints and hope the screen captures below give you a good idea of the visual quality.

Extras are just excellent. We get two fabulous visual essays - one by UCLA film professor Janet Bergstrom on Underworld (36:16) - where she tells the story of how Jonas Sternberg, a high school dropout, became the director of Underworld. The other is by film scholar Tag Gallagher (and DVDBeaver ListServ member!) on The Last Command. It runs 35-minutes - Tag analyzes the style of von Sternberg's silent films. He argues that these works reveal a director already fully in command of the language of film before the arrival of sound - or his future muse - Marlene Dietrich. These might be regarded, by many, as the best DVD supplements of the entire year. There is also a 40-minute interview with director Josef von Sternberg from 1968 Swedish television. Here the director looks back on his career paying special attention to the Silent Era. There are optional English subtitles throughout although it has English speaking parts. I can't say enough about the included booklet - professionally bound and filled with photos and valuable information, essays etc. - it's a wonderful, and heavy, keepsake.

There is attention to detail in every nook and cranny of this marvelous set. I know so many Sternberg and silent era fans will be appreciative of the effort that Criterion has put into this package. I will definitely be revisiting the films (especially Underworld and Docks of NY) - as well as the extras - like Tag's visual essay - multiple times. This should get an absolute mass of votes in DVD of the Year 2010 polling. It's, predictably, highly recommended!      

Gary W. Tooze



DVD Menus



 

Individual Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

Underworld


Josef von Sternberg, 1927

 

Josef von Sternberg’s riveting breakthrough is widely considered the film that launched the American gangster genre as we know it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Individual Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

The Last Command

 


Josef von Sternberg, 1928

 

Emil Jannings won the first best actor Academy Award for his performance as a sympathetic tyrant: an exiled Russian general turned Hollywood extra who lands a role playing a version of his former czarist self, bringing about his emotional downfall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Individual Case Cover

 

 

 

Screen Captures

 

The Docks of New York


Josef von Sternberg 1928

 

Fog-enshrouded cinematography by Harold Rosson (The Wizard of Oz), expressionist set design by Hans Dreier (Sunset Boulevard), and sensual performances by Bancroft and Compson make this one of the legendary director’s finest works, and one of the most exquisitely crafted films of its era.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

 

 

 

Distribution Criterion Collection Spine # 528-531 - Region 1 - NTSC




 

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Gary Tooze

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