Arresting Ladies

Imagine French and Saunders, in collaboration with Miranda Hart, taking over the Dick Wolf Law and Order franchise, and you get a peripheral idea of what the British series NO OFFENCE (now available in its entire three series on DVD from Acorn/RLJ Entertainment/Fremantle/Abbott Vision LLP) is all about.

Yep, it’s a Manchester-based female-fueled police precinct, and one of the freshest (and I mean that in every sense of the word) takes on the TV crime genre that you’ll ever witness.  For one thing, the women on the show be real – not the phony-baloney L.A.’s Finest kinda crap we get here.  These ladies don’t use words like “poop” and “boobs” to show they’re street-tough; they say (with great frequency), “Get the fuck out of here!”    Of course, this has prompted much criticism (mostly from the conservative right) on how women, especially those on view for millions of impressionable girls, should act.  To which the show’s characters would undoubtedly reiterate, “Get the fuck out of here!”

So, yes, they’re funny (and filthy) as hell.  I love them all, and confess am partial to…But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The key four ladies who populate NO OFFENCE comprise DI Vivienne Deering, a no-nonsense, snarky alpha who, as the saying goes, gives as good as she gets.  Prone to a fault for speaking her mind (and fuck all if ya don’t like it), Deering is played with panache by Joanna Scanlan.  Second in command is DC Dinah Kowalska (Elaine Cassidy), a single-mom, family-oriented homebody whose loving demeanor is counterbalanced by her penchant for popping you in the mouth.  In contrast, there’s DS Joy Freers (Alexandra Roach), a demure up-and-comer whom Viv and Dinah are rigorously teaching the ropes (causing her to override Kowalska in her DS promotion; again, unlike most police shows, this doesn’t cause antagonism, as these femmes are all pals, and musketeers to the end).  Finally, there’s PC Tegan Thompson (Saira Choudhry), the lower rung in-the-field copper, who unabashedly enjoys a quick shag in the locker room to start the day.  This assuredly does get the juices flowing – and without the caffeine.  Okay, Dinah’s my fave, and Tegan’s a goddess.

The girls, when not solving crimes, love to talk trash; their conference room of choice (for personal and professional use) is the precinct Ladies WC, where much of the show (dare I say) unloads.  Of course, there are males on the force, and, once more (unlike their standard television cookie-cutter versions), they are not the usual suspects.  Randolph Miller (Paul Ritter) is a sardonic forensic expert (and recovering alcoholic work-in-progress) who adores his superiors as much as they cherish him (as one astute female implies, “he’s even bitchier than us.”).  DC Spike Tanner (Will Mellor), the macho dude who usually comprises the “I don’t take orders from women!” asshole, is a veteran detective who sees the women’s genius in their approach to criminology and sleuthing and is with them 110%, especially telling in one subplot where he goes undercover to dethrone a misogynist replacement DCI (Nigel Lindsay), straight out of the 1950s.

When stick-up-their-bum women do arrive to lead the charge, Deering does her damnedest to bend that rod, much in the same way she does to the law (“Just when I had her trained,” spouts Viv, when a newbie superior is transferred).

The series isn’t all fun and games (although it’s consistently terrific entertainment).  The three cases covered in this batch (one per series) are as shocking, violent, controversial and even horrific as anything else out there.

The brainchild behind NO OFFENCE is Paul Abbott, who created and cowrites the show (for his Abbott Vision production company).  Abbott is also the scribe responsible for such major UK hits as the original Shameless, Cracker, State of Play, Touching Evil and the previously reviewed Alibi: https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2019/03/12/logans-run/.  That he and Hans Rosenfeldt, creator/writer of Marcella (https://supervistaramacolorscope.wordpress.com/2019/01/15/killer-cop/) and The Bridge, have dually given contemporary TV audiences the current best roles for actresses proves that some of us (meaning “guys”) do get women (it should be noted that their behind-the-scenes colleagues on individual episodes do comprise female scripters and directors).

Each one of the three series is excellent, and demands discussion.  In SERIES ONE (8 episodes on 3 discs), we are introduced to the team as they are faced with perhaps their most unsavory case.  A serial killer is targeting women with Down syndrome.  When one victim (Charlie May-Clark) is spared (not a Down sufferer, but someone simply perennially wasted), she is taken in by Dinah, and joins her quasi-dysfunctional family.  Viv, meanwhile, can’t figure out how the killer is always one step ahead, and takes refuge in the enjoyment of her “down” time with loving husband Laurie (Risteard Cooper), who moonlights as the head of a rock band, a hobby which seems to be getting some serious attention.  The conclusion is unlike anything you’re apt to see on TV or the big screen.  There’s nothing like it.  You’ll never see it coming.  SERIES ONE is the disturbing concoction of creator Abbott, Paul Tomalin, Jack Lothian, Jimmy Dowdall, Mark Greig, and codirected in macabre, yet cynical (bordering on hilarious) fashion by Catherine Morshead, David Kerr, Misha Manson-Smith, and Harry Bradbeer.

SERIES TWO has the squad battling rival mob factions:  an age-old scumbag contingent and a modern, more organized (but equally violent) organization, ruled by a black woman, Nora Attah (who seems to occasionally channel an evil version of Viv).  While ostensibly appearing to use her ill-gotten gains to do good for the community, Attah (played regally by Rakie Ayola) sees her faux philanthropy go to shit when it’s discovered that she’s behind a child trafficking cartel.  The ladies don’t like that.  This powerhouse installment (7 episodes on 2 discs) comes from the minds of Tomalin, Greig and Dowdall (working under the auspices of Abbott), and was co-helmed by Morshead, Sarah O’Gorman, Samira Radsi and Robert Quinn).

The final series (at least to date) demonstrates how world politics (meaning us with a side trip to France) has an effect on not only international negotiations, but on global mainstream broadcasting.  In this blistering (but nonetheless wickedly acerbic) series, Deering & Co. take on a rising politician (Lisa McGrillis) with ties to white supremacists.  That the head Mayoral candidate is a woman initially provides a kumbaya moment for the coppers – until her ulterior motives are revealed.  Then, the fun begins, as they concurrently plot her demise, along with the racists.  A breathless opening where a longtime regular becomes a victim will leave you gasping, and redefines the adage “hell hath no fury…” to additionally accommodate “like women lied to, vehemently fucked with and who were out to take you down with a vengeance anyway.”  The twists and turns here are so numerous, that multiple screenings is practically mandatory (although you’ll want to keep this series on your re-watch list anyway).  It says something that the most crazed character is not the skank politico, but a major force in the bigot brigade (Tamara Lawrance), who not only is a woman, but a woman of color.  This jaw-dropper (6 episodes on 2 discs) was conceived by Abbott, Tomalin, Tom Grieves, and Julie Rutterford and directed by Morshead, Manson-Smith and Quinn.

The Acorn Media DVDs are, as usual, top-notch, with the anamorphic widescreen presentations as sharp as the cast and with just as much color (superbly capturing the cold Manchester locations).  Big nod to David Marsh, Tony Coldwell, Jamie Cairney, Mark Garrett and Kieran McGuigan for their cinematography.  The music to NO OFFENCE is simply wonderful, utilizing a banjo-folk vibe and an exuberant main title theme. Kudos to Vince Pope.  Each set, BTW, comes nicely packaged in its own nifty slipcover.

Different, funny, thrilling and relentlessly addictive, NO OFFENCE ably demonstrates how real women approach home/workplace problems (admittedly, some, if not most, out of the norm), with authenticity, humor and determination and (ultimately and importantly) “get it done.”

NO OFFENCE:  All color and widescreen [1.78:1]; 5.0 stereo-surround. Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment/ Fremantle/Abbott Vision LLP. SRP: $49.99@

SERIES ONE: CAT # AMP-2671. 

SERIES TWO: CAT # AMP-2672.

SERIES THREE: CAT# AMP-2613.

 

Crossing the Line

I never thought that the forces behind the 2011 Scandinavian mini-series The Bridge could ever top the suspense and passion that pulsated throughout its ten riveting episodes.  In my humble opinion, the series is one of the greatest TV shows I’ve ever seen; furthermore, as far as thrillers go, it’s likewise one of the best I’ve ever viewed – and that encompasses the theatrical motion picture arena. I was, thus, skeptical when I heard a follow-up was being produced.  How could they top the first?  Even cautiously approaching the early episodes of THE BRIDGE, SERIES 2 (aka, Bron/Broen 2), now available in a 4-disc DVD set from MHz Networks/Filmlance International & Nimbus Film), I wasn’t convinced

Until it grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let up.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are aspects of SERIES 2 that lack the uniform brilliance of Series 1; this BRIDGE’s suspension does sag minimally at times; however, nothing is done in these shows that doesn’t belong.  Everything is crucial, everything is there for a reason.  It’s a monstrous, deranged filmic version of Clue, where generally nothing ends well.  Then again, I said “minimally.”

In Series 1, we were introduced to two opposites:  the extrovert Martin Rohde and the introvert Saga Noren.  One works for Danish police, the other for Sweden.  They are co-investigators in a heinous murder case that requires both their country’s input since the crime was committed dead smack in the middle of the massive Oresund Bridge that connects the two nations.

As engrossing as the crimes and the unraveling of info was, nothing could rival the psyches and bonding relationships between Martin and Saga.  I’ll go as far as to say that this pair comprises perhaps the finest sleuths in broadcast history.  Saga, alone, is one of fiction’s greatest characters.  Beautiful, damaged, brilliant, 100% analytical, void of any social skills or basic human emotion, Saga, with her slightly scarred twisted lip and prerequisite leather pants (as indigenous to her as Sherlock’s deerstalker cap) is the hero of the age.  And I’m not kidding; in SERIES 2, she virtually saves Mankind. Piqued?  Methinks you are.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The show begins with a ship crashing into that now infamous title structure.  Aboard are a handful of young people:  drugged, sick, dying or dead.  It’s the beginning of an attack by eco-terrorists.  The doomed victims are the preamble to bio-chemical warfare upon Swedish and Danish normality.  The perps have created a new bubonic plague that they plan to unleash in retaliation of the constant polluting of the environment.  This is all the more horrific stuff, as the reason behind it is correct; the use of deadly violence and suffering and, potential Armageddon certainly ain’t.

It’s been a year since Martin and Saga have seen each other.  Since capturing the serial killer who murdered his son, Martin has understandably been in therapy.  He has moved out of his house, despite a deep yearning for his wife and surviving children.  Saga, meantime, has satiated a near-relentless pursuit of sex by finally hooking up with a lover whom she trusts enough to allow the appreciative male to move in with her.  In a switch of the usual sexual roles, Saga considers the hunky dude nothing but a fuck toy.  That she has admitted him into her space should be reward enough.

The two protagonists’ reunion to battle the animal skin-wearing bio-killers is just what each needs.  It should be mentioned that a key subplot tells us about Saga’s past (her sister’s suicide, her mother’s Munchausen disorder) – important info that helps to explain the stoic woman’s apathy.

As with Series 1, SERIES 2 seeds its nightmarish imagery and narrative with dark humor.  Saga’s inquisitive nature regarding irony, her inability to get a joke, her blatant, inappropriate sexual questions to coworkers and her boyfriend’s mother are highpoints – and hilarious ones.  Saga’s orgasmic masturbation as a reasonable response to her lover’s refusal to have sex with her (his mother is visiting and trying to sleep in the next room) gave me a much-needed laughable respite from the otherwise grim proceedings.

Martin’s world is way blacker.  The captured killer who forever destroyed his life is in his head.  The detective uses his authority to arrange prison visits to the human monster – trying to exorcise personal demons that might eventually enable him to return to his family.

The vast tapestry of characters (some held over from the previous series, others introduced…and, ultimately, murdered) almost requires a scorecard.  That the dominant personalities are female is a big plus.  That the outcome of the survival of Mother Nature rests with the women is (to me) a given.  The evil that permeates each and every episode emanates from the age-old bugaboos, greed and obsession…money and sex.  But as the Mother of 3 eco-terrorists announce in their frequent broadcasts/podcasts, you don’t compromise Earth.  And if you try, NO ONE deserves to live.

There’s so much going on within the series’ 580 minutes that it’s impossible to do it all justice.  Let me say that the intro of one police detective, Pernille, was inspired.  And that the final two episodes freaked me out.  I’m not kidding.  I’ve seen decades of wonderful, exciting, crazy-wild and thrilling mysteries, but I’ve never been exposed to something like THE BRIDGE, SERIES 2.  There were moments during the climactic twenty minutes where I couldn’t properly breathe.  I was shaking my head, biting my lip and buggin’ out.  It’s that great.

Of course, so much of this is due to the enormous contribution of the magnificent ensemble cast (standouts include Vicki Bak Laursen, Dag Malmberg, Sarah Boberg, Camilla Bendix, Sven Ahlstrom, Lars Simonsen, Puk Scharbau, Julia Ragnarsson, Lotte Munk, Lotte Andersen, Tova Magnusson, Henrik Lundstrom), but mostly to the outstanding leads Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia.  There really needs to be an International Bestest-Ever TV Award, and Helin and Bodnia need to each get one.  Why Helin isn’t being hounded by every major studio in the world is a mystery that rivals the scenario (unless it’s her personal choice).  Bodnia has fared better, being one of the principals in the smash UK/US series, Killing Eve.

Natch, the direction and writing deserve major thumbs-up, and so be it.  Mucho kudos to Henrik Georgsson, Morten Arnfred, KathrineWindfeld, who shared the former and Mans Marlind, Bjorn Stein, Camilla Ahlgren, Nikolaj Scherfig, and Maren Louise Kaehne who collaborated on the latter. Can’t omit a BIG nod to cinematographer Carl Sundberg, who embellishes the usually beauteous landscapes of Denmark and Sweden with a hellish pale, startling look (the MHz Networks DVD is quite excellent in both picture and sound, but, damn, I wish they’d go Blu-Ray).  Ditto, the powerful score by Patrik Andren, Uno Helmersson and Johan Soderqvist or that reprise of the haunting title tune Hollow Talk, performed by The Choir of Young Believers.

The supreme unsung hero of THE BRIDGE is producer/creator/head writer Hans Rosenfeldt.  The concept of lethal crimes that culture clash between what one incorrectly perceives to be similar countries is pure genius.  Rosenfeldt’s ability to create “real” people, and more pertinently provide extraordinary actresses with the roles of their lives cannot be heralded enough.  It’s no accident that Rosenfeldt is the driving force behind perhaps the best recent British crime drama, Marcella, starring the amazing Anna Friel.

The anti-climax of THE BRIDGE, SERIES 2 will knock you down again (if you haven’t recovered yet from what occurred directly before it; otherwise, it will simply knock you out).  And yes, there is a Series 3 and Series 4 that chronicles the two master detectives’ exploits and lives into 2018.  Stay tuned.

THE BRIDGE, SERIES 2.  Color. Widescreen. [1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 5.1 stereo-surround [Swedish and Danish w/English subtitles]; MHz Networks/Filmlance International & Nimbus Film.  CAT # SKU-16898.  SRP: $39.95.

bridgeSERIES2_COVER

 

 

The Apparent Trap

Imagine a former Disney star hooking up with a former Hammer star in an upscale British PBS version of Love, American Style, and you get a simplistic, but nonetheless tantalizing idea of 1970’s TAKE A GIRL LIKE YOU, now on limited edition Blu-Ray from the mods at Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures Industries.

The whole thing would be, as the Brits say, “bollocks,” if the leads weren’t so appealing; thankfully, they are.  As the winsome, savvy lass from the hinterlands, we get Hayley Mills, all decked out in stockings and mini-skirt.  As her relentless suitor, there’s former werewolf (as a different species of lupo) Oliver Reed.  They’re surrounded by a terrific cast of veterans, moving and shaking through late Sixties mod London in groovy clothes and dancing to flowery-powery psychedelic tunes.

London, in 1970, is a perilous snare for any girl set to take the city by storm.  Cue up Jenny Bunn (Mills), not a model, nor would-be actress/rock star or someone looking to “find herself,” but a newly gainfully employed teacher. Jenny is “smashing,” to use a term of the day, with the extra perk of being super smart and loads of fun.  Her one caveat, and it’s big one for the free love generation, is her strict rule that there be no sex until A) marriage or B) she’s ABSOLUTELY sure.  Patrick Standish (Reed), a fellow teacher, will have none of it.  No weddings for him.  And why bother?  It’s a period where every date means guaranteed sex.  The babes literally can’t get their Peter Maxx-manicured cuticles off him.  It’s all a game, but as Patrick and Jenny are slow to discover, who’s playing whom?

Jenny, obviously not an example of the endless bubbleheads Patrick’s bedded, at once becomes his prime objective.  The cool thing about this movie is that Jenny is amenable.  She likes to fool around – up to “that” point.  When, after a rigorous petting session in Patrick’s flat, she reveals her “condition (virgin),” Standish is aghast (truly, Reed’s reaction shot to Mill’s admission of being pure as the given snow should have won him the Oscar).  Standish, still stunned by her virginity, acquiesces to Jenny’s terms, and begins a courtship – well, a courtship Oliver Reed-style (translation:  other birds are ripe for the “plucking” until he wins her proper).

There is no reason on planet Earth why these two opposites should have any chemistry, but they do; they’re absolutely believable and even quite adorable together (my wife asked me if they were actually a couple).  Mills, in particular, is excellent, especially in the aforementioned foreplay segment; instead, of the usual “No, no – a thousand times NO!,” she’s totally getting into it, and loving it.  And, knowing when to stop (she breathlessly tells Ollie to cease his mission before her submission).

A subplot framing this pair is quite engaging as well.  Jenny lives in a lodging house, owned by a local, inept labor politician and lecher Dick Thompson (John Bird) and his weary, snarky wife Martha (Sheila Hancock).  Martha matter-of-factly informs Jenny during an initial tour of her digs, “If he makes a pass at you, just kick him in the crotch.”  Not surprisingly, the other boarder is another fetching young woman Anna (Geraldine Sherman), whom, BTW, Patrick has already conquered.

Young people, being all liberal, naturally are for labor, and, when Thompson runs for election, Jenny volunteers as a staffer.  An exquisitely fab moment occurs on Election Day when Bunn and her adversary’s Tory rep compare voter notes.  That the conservative lady is none other than the great Penelope Keith makes it all the more hilarious.

But, of course, every Garden of Eden must have a snake, and here its purple, velvet suit-wearing cad Julian (third lead Noel Harrision), essentially portraying the George Sanders role.  Harrison, rich and with even fewer morals than Reed, sees the adult version of Candyland that each are playing, so naturally wants in – and the only way he knows how, by cheating; the rake intends to ply Jenny with drink when the occasion arises, desperately determined to turn Pollyanna into a Dollyanna.  Living in his own private suburban sex castle (not making this up), a mammoth structure about to be demolished by the government (and the reason he enters the picture, to support Thompson’s election and stopping the razing of his gargantuan crib), Julian practically runs his own personal cab service to London (for the sullied lasses, of which there are a multitude).

The curious thing about this movie is that none of its populace comes off as revolting, annoying or disgusting as they sound (and most of them should be).  Again, this must be credited to the casting (that also includes Aimi MacDonald, Ronald Lacey, John Fortune, Pippa Steele, the truly scrumptious Imogen Hassall and George Woodbridge), but kudos are likewise in order regarding the direction and writing.

TAKE A GIRL LIKE YOU was the only theatrical motion picture directed by Jonathan Miller (theater/opera producer, director, writer and practicing physician; in the 1960s, he co-authored the decade’s seminal revue Beyond the Fringe, the comedy-musical that put Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore on the map).  The script, that often goes from deft to daft, is loaded with nifty lines and puns, courtesy of George Melly, from a novel by the celebrated Kingsley Amis (ranked ninth by The Times as one of the 50 greatest writers since World War II).  To add to the strangeness of the mix, it should be noted that TAKE A GIRL LIKE YOU was produced by American ex-pat (and former Dead End Kid) Hal E. Chester, best known as the co-producer/co-writer of the 1957 horror classic Night of the Demon (indeed, it looks like Harrison’s palatial residence comprises the same interiors as satanist Karswell’s). Miller and Chester clashed throughout the production, when the producer began doing unwelcome re-writes.  Miller predicted disaster, and, indeed, the movie, upon its release, was a critical and financial bomb.  It has, since then (perhaps nostalgically so), gained a growing fan base, even being remade for British television in 2000.

TaGLY was photographed in trippy Eastmancolor by the era’s perfectly-named d.p. Dick Bush, who always managed to bestow modest projects with a lavish brush (for example 1971’s Twins of Evil).  The peppy and so-Sixties music score is by Stanley Myers (available on this platter as an IST), and features a bubblegum pop title tune (that’ll haunt your cranium like an earwig!), as warbled by The Foundations (Harmony Grass, whose attempt at the former will have you praying for the latter, supplies another musical interlude).

The Twilight Time Blu-Ray is outstanding – so clear and detailed that you can see every scar on Reed’s face from a near-fatal 1960 pub brawl knife-slashing.  Maybe not the greatest recommendation, but a valid description on how good the quality is.  For all who find this comment offensive, pray it doesn’t go 4K.

Two deceptive trailers are included, where footage is speeded up like a wacky slapstick two-reeler (no such device is used in the actual movie).  I surmise this to have been Mr. Chester’s way to trap you cinematically concurrent to Patrick luring Jenny luring Patrick carnally and matrimonially.

TAKE A GIRL LIKE YOU. Color. Widescreen [1.85:1; 1080p High Definition]; 1.0 DTS-HD MA. Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures Industries.  CAT# TWILIGHT336-BR. SRP: $29.95.

Limited Edition of 3000.  Available exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment www.screenarchives.com and www.twilighttimemovies.com

TAKEAGIRLLIKEYOU_COVER

 

Flapper Fantasy, Italian Style

The term “Latin lover” and the 1920’s girly swoonmoblile tag of “He’s SUCH a sheik!” wouldn’t have been possible without the celluloid appearance of one Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Gugliemi di Valentina d’Antonguella.   By the time he had been modified to “Rudolph Valentino,” the die had been cast. Even today the name is synonymous with “screen sex symbol.”   Valentino’s fame, via a succession of “hot” movies (Blood and Sand, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Sheik), mostly for his home studio (Paramount), had cash registers ringing throughout the globe.  His untimely death in 1926 was like the passing of a world leader.

It’s therefore damningly strange that such blatant negligence reigned supreme regarding the preservation (or lack) of his many motion pictures.  This is evidenced in two volumes (sold separately) of his work, now on Made-to-Order Blu-Ray from Flicker Alley, simply entitled THE RUDOLPH VALENTINO COLLECTION, VOLUMES 1 & 2.

The available materials are often incomplete and, even by heightened Blu-Ray quality, shoddy (bits and pieces culled from international sources, some from the libraries of private collectors).  The six pics presented on these discs represent the actor’s output from 1918-1922, in other words, from extra/bit player to swarthy, supporting villain to American superstar.  Because of the condition of the surviving material, is this a compartmentalized buy for Valentino fans and silent film historians?  Not necessarily.  These platters, especially VOLUME 1, are startling enough in thematic content, plus the visual evolution of an icon to warrant a spot in ANYONE’S serious movie archive.  Read on, and you’ll see what I mean.

 

Valentino plays a small, but pivotal role in 1919’s EYES OF YOUTH, a quite remarkable movie that almost demands to be seen by 2019 audiences.  The lead of the piece is Clara Kimball Young, a big star of her day.  She portrays Gina Ashling, a talented, ambitious woman faced with many decisions.  Should she pursue her dream of becoming an opera singer?  Or, perhaps, the more responsible (but way less high profile) vocation of a teacher?  A third possibility rears its ugly head when a reptilian (supposed) billionaire proposes to her; marry him, and you don’t have to do anything!

A free spirit, Gina has an encounter with a mystic Hindi, who reveals her fates with all three.  As a celebrity, she will be abused by the misogynistic powerful of show business.  As a teacher, she will essentially be ignored. As the wife of an important figure (the path taken), she may be able to use her position to help others.  That said, whatever direction Gina chooses to take ultimately stymies her independence.  Indeed, every choice a 1919 woman has to endure is apparently a bad one.  Her marriage proves intolerable, due greatly to her spouse’s constant cheating.  When she attempts to leave by citing his infidelities, he taints the situation by placing her in danger with a professional womanizing gigolo (guess who?).  She is told that if she proceeds to trial, he and his rich, privileged white friends will make her a tabloid whore.  But Gina risks all in an amazingly modern segment where, during her trial, she slams the anti-woman 1% (see title cards below).

 

EYES OF YOUTH, as directed by Albert Parker, who also wrote the script (from an adaptation by  Charles E. Whittaker of Max Marcin’s play)  obviously has much merit today, if, for no other reason than to demonstrate, that for all the progress made since 1919, little has still changed in 100 years of female emancipation.

The print is in suprisingly good shape, transferred from the only existing tinted materials (the movie was superbly photographed by the great Arthur Edeson).  A new score by Robert Israel accentuates the drama and WTF appeal.

 

A lot had happened in Rudolph Valentino’s career between 1919’s EYES OF YOUTH and 1922’s MORAN OF THE LADY LETTY.  For one thing, Valentino no longer was playing thugs and ne’re-do-wells.  He had now become a major attraction and the heart throb of millions of women.

No, he is not Moran of MORAN OF THE LADY LETTY, as Moran is the female lead, Dorothy Dalton.  There is, however, a bizarre relationship in the movie that has nothing to with Dalton.

Valentino plays Ramon Laredo, a yachtsman who is shanghaied (didn’t know they were still doing that in 1922) by a sadistic brute of a sea captain, played by screen villain extraordinaire Walter Long.  Forced to work in slave-like situations, Laredo asserts himself by proving not quite the milquetoast the captain thought him to be.  In fact, he gives back as good as he gets.  Soon, his ideas for more efficient seamanship are accepted by his now frenemy, who has practically made him a surrogate son.  He also has risen to the position of first mate.  Could this Jack London muthafucka not be the dastardly scumbag we thought him to be?

HA!  That all changes when Moran, a beauteous tomboy, is rescued from her father’s capsized ship The Lady Letty.  Captain Kitchell (the Long character) immediately begins thinking with alternative body parts, and Valentino’s Ramon protects the woman, who becomes increasingly attracted to him (the feeling is, as they say, mutual).  Laredo must prevent Moran from ever being alone on-board with Kitchell (nicknamed “Slippery”).  But that doesn’t exactly go to plan, resulting in an exciting and rather jaw-dropping violent climax.

MORAN OF THE LADY LETTY is a true find, having been mastered in 1080p from the only known 35MM print (obtained via the Cinematheque Royale de Belgique).  The direction by George Melford presents a meticulous eye for detail, and, when appropriate, is fast and furious; furthermore, the adaptation by Monte M. Katterjohn (from a novel by no less than Frank Norris) hits all the right dramatic notes, appended by excellent cinematography from William Marshall and Bert Glennon.  The ubiquitous Robert Israel provides another excellent score.

 

While VOLUME 1 can be enjoyed by most movie buffs, VOLUME 2 is definitely for serious archivists, as three of the four full-length comprising this Blu-Ray are in fragmentary form only, and of marginal quality.

1918’s A SOCIETY SENSATION offers up 25 minutes of what once was a 5-reel feature.  Valentino, still billed as Rodolpho De Valentina, plays Dick Bradley, the prerequisite rich playboy who falls hard for the beautiful daughter (Carmel Myers) of a fisherman.  When she is kidnapped, her father naturally seeks revenge upon Bradley – not realizing that the culprit is far closer to home.  Interesting for early appearances by ZaSu Pitts (billed as “Zazu”) as a local, longing lass and Fred Kelsey (about as young as you’ll ever see him), A SOCIETY SENSATION sadly looks like the way most folks think silent movies look.  Yet, that’s all there is.  The Universal picture was directed by Edmund Mortimer and (uncredited) Paul Powell, scripted by Powell and Hope Loring (from a story by Hapsburg Liebe) and photographed by William S. Cooper and Orestes A. Zangrilli (the latter pair, who are probably turning in their graves).  An organ score performed by Bob Mitchell makes the tattered visuals a bit more palatable.

1919’s VIRTUOUS SINNERS, directed by Emmett Flynn, is the highlight of the platter, and the most complete of the quartet.  An abused woman (Wanda Hawley) ends up in a homeless shelter, where she becomes a guiding light for the other residents.  A Raffles-eqsue crook (Norman Kerry) sees her, and starts laundering his ill-gains into resources for the mission, before his romantic intentions become honorable.  Valentino plays one of the unfortunates, and is quite good in his supporting role. SINNERS, made for the Pioneer Film Company, leaves us no records of any additional tech credits (shame, since it’s very well photographed) and includes a score by (you guessed it) Robert Israel.

1922’s STOLEN MOMENTS is a trick pic, but not in the way you think.  Made years earlier, and starring opera star-turned-silent-screen-heroine Marguerite Namara (yep, they did that back then, think DeMille’s early star, Geraldine Farrar), the movie revolved around Namara’s Vera being seduced by the lustful Jose Dalmarez (Valentino).  After an agonizing walk-of-shame moment (and the realization that her heartfelt love is a joke to the bastard), Vera, goes through innumerable shame-pains, eventually hooking up with a respectable attorney (Albert L. Barrett).  But sleazy Jose has other ideas, and intends to blackmail the lady with some scorching love letters.  Then, he’s found dead.

By 1922, with Valentino a major star (and Namara not so much), Lewis J. Selznick (that’s David O.’s pop) picked up the rights to the 1920 production, cut the six-reel feature down to 35 minutes and released it as a new Rudy drama; the removal of nearly half the footage gave the heart throb the majority of screen time.  That’s the only version (to date) currently in existence, and it’s presented here in a fairly decent copy.  STOLEN MOMENTS (the title does present an irony, considering the deceptive editing butchery) was directed by James Vincent, and scripted by Richard Hall (from a story by H. Thompson Rich).  As with the other above Pioneer production, the photographer remains unknown (the movie was shot in New York with the South American sequences filmed in Florida).  A score by Jon Mirsalis is included.  Billed as Rudolf Valentine (in the 1920 press materials), STOLEN MOMENTS would be his last turn as a cad.

1922’s THE YOUNG RAJAH is an authentic big “A” vehicle designed for the Paramount star that, sadly, remains only in truncated form (most of the movie is patched together with stills and a continuity script).  The pic promised to be interesting, to say the least. Amos Judd, a WASP New Englander, is actually an Indian member of a royal family.  His American success story (Harvard grad, engagement to a beautiful girl next door, etc.) is compromised when his “heritage” kicks in, giving him mystic visions of the future.  When an assassination attempt is made on his life, Judd faces his destiny: that he must return to India and weed out the very human demons who pushed him into exile.

Directed by Phil Rosen (the majority of whose surviving work comprises his later Poverty Row output, and not these elaborate Jazz Age epics), and written by the noted June Mathis (from a novel by John Ames Mitchell and a play by Alethea Luce), the 25 minutes available is a mere suggestion of what this drama likely was.  Photographed by James Van Trees (whose legacy is mostly represented by his television work in the 1950s and 60s), the remnants of this essentially lost movie contains another score by Jon Mirsalis.

Even in the versions available, the material in THE RUDOLPH VALENTINO COLLECTION, 1 & 2 provide a glimpse of early star power – when it REALLY meant something.

THE RUDOLPH VALENTINO COLLECTION, VOLS. 1 & 2. Black and white, with some tinting; Full frame [1.33:1; 1080p High Definition]; 2.0 DTS-HD MA (music scores).  Flicker Alley/Library of Congress/ The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum/ROAM/CINEMATEK.  CAT#s FA-MD3 055 (VOLUME 1) and FA-MD3 056 (VOLUME 2).  SRP: $19.95 @