DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Lonesome, Blu-ray (1929/2012)

Three interesting features by the little-known Paul Fejos, from the 1929 transitional period from silent to sound.

Published on September 12, 2012

Lonesome, Blu-ray (1929/2012)

Director: Paul Fejos
Cast: Barbara Kent, Glenn Tryon
Studio: Universal/The Criterion Collection 623 [8/28/12]
Video: 1.19:1 B&W/some hand-colored/one scene 2-strip Technicolor in extras
Audio: English PCM mono (3 clips); rest silent
Subtitles: English
Extras: Commentary track by film historian Richard Koszarski; Visual essay on Fejos; audio excerpts from interview with cinematographer Hal Mohr about crane used in Broadway, two other complete films by Fejos: The Last Performance – silent starring Conrad Veidt, with new score; Broadway - 1929 talkie musical with final scene in Technicolor; 32-page illustrated booklet with essays by film critic Phillip Lopate and excerpts from an interview with Fejos
Length: 69 minutes (Lonesome)
Rating: ****

Lonesome is an early Hollywood feature from a little-known Hungarian director who bridged the silent and sound eras. Amazingly, he bounced around between Germany, Austria, Denmark, Hollywood, Madagascar and various other third-world countries, and was also a doctor, researcher, explorer and anthropologist. The filmic essay on Fejos in the extras was to me almost more interesting than Lonesome. The man was a great humanitarian, and seemed to have fantastic luck in always getting the money or opportunities he needed—just when he needed them—to create his films, or later to direct a Rockefeller-financed foundation for anthropology (even tho he never studied anthropology).

The plot of Lonesome is very simple. Fejos insisted on complete freedom from Universal to select the story and make his film, and used a simple short script that the studio had paid $25 for, and was only a few pages long. A lonely young factory-working man and an equally lonely young telephone operator meet during an outing at Coney Island, but then become separated by a small fire and a storm there. At the end they discover they live next door to one another in the same apartment.

The film is a fascinating mix of real locations and cheesy studio effects, of sync sound dialog and non-sync music and sounds, of a few hand-colored portions, a sometimes moving camera, and some quite modern editing tricks. It has good energy that’s missing in many silent films. At this time of transition into the talkies, the film was given only three short lip-sync dialog sequences of conversations between the two stars. The sound for these is clear and understandable. The rest of their conversations are given by intertitles as a silent movie, which seems quite strange.

The other interesting item in the generous extras always provided by Criterion was the reconstructed Broadway—the most expensive film Universal had ever made up to that time, and totally lip sync.  It is about a supper club with a stage show and involves some gangsters and a male lead singer (Tryon again) with a bunch of chorus girls. Acting and dialog are very stiff. The final scene switches from black & white to early Technicolor, but it looks terrible—mostly just reds and black. (The sound is pretty bad at the beginning of Lonesome too, but it improves some as the film goes on.) Perhaps Busby Berkeley learned some things from Broadway; it’s probably more historical interest than anything. One of the unique things about it was the use of the giant crane described by Hal Mohr in the extras, which introduced a revolution in camera movement in the movies.

—John Sunier




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