Going forward we’re going to be looking at a lot more DVD and Blu-Ray recommendations, starting with these two. Both will be of particular interest for silent film fans. And both cases, they contain rare unearthed gems.
The Devil’s Needle and Other Tales of Vice and Redemption
This impressive set from Kino Lorber and the Library of Congress packs three different “message” films: The Inside of the White Slave Trade, The Devil’s Needle and Children of Eve. But unlike some notoriously bad message films in later decades, these are not overly heavy-handed, and have good stories to back them up.
The Devil’s Needle steals the show in terms of quality. The effects of drug addiction on an artist. It’s a harrowing look at the slow descent into madness it can bring, played expertly by Tully Marshall. Silent legend Norma Talmadge also stars as the girl who first turns him on to drugs and later tries to save him. There are some issues with picture quality at points in the film, but it’s worth wading through those issues for this film.
Children of Eve focuses on unsafe working conditions and child labor, based on the Triangle Factory fire. Not only does it tell that story, but also the underlying theme of how greed can have an effect on people. Much like the previous film, strong characters help drive the message. The fire itself is expertly done.
Lost and Found: American Treasures from the New Zealand Film Archive
This DVD set is even more jam-packed with great material for silent film fans. It’s quite the collection of previously lost material. The content runs the gamut from somewhat minor material, items of historical interest and very important finds.
Two of the films, although low on plot, are high on technological innovations. Lyman H. Howe’s Famous Ride on a Runaway Train not only features early sound synchronization but impressive POV shots of the titular runaway train. It must have been a fantastic sight for early movie goers. The Love Charm is a minor romance story, but is notable for it’s very early use of technicolor.
The most notable features on the DVD are newly found works of three important figures. John Ford’s Upstream is newly found in complete form, along with a trailer for another one of his lost films. Won in a Cupboard is a great treat for silent comedy fans, as it is the earliest surviving film that Mabel Normand directed (she also stars). And finally, The White Shadow is the earliest credit for Alfred Hitchcock, who served in a number of roles: assistant director, writer, editor and set designer. The film is incomplete, but still is important in the career of the legendary director. Also included are such items as newsreels and cartoons.
Overall, there are enough rarities on these two sets to make them essential for classic film fans. Rare material is still being unearthed, and these are great examples of the kind of things that often turn up.