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Murnau, Borzage and Fox Box Set
Murnau Borzage and Fox Box Set
Actors: Charles Farrell, Rose Hobart, Estelle Taylor, H.B. Warner, Lee Tracy
Director: Frank Borzage
Genres: Drama
UR     2008     1hr 34min

Genre: Drama Rating: UN Release Date: 9-DEC-2008 Media Type: DVD


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Movie Details

Actors: Charles Farrell, Rose Hobart, Estelle Taylor, H.B. Warner, Lee Tracy
Director: Frank Borzage
Creators: Chester A. Lyons, Margaret Clancey, Benjamin Glazer, Ferenc Molnár, S.N. Behrman, Sonya Levien
Genres: Drama
Sub-Genres: Drama
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Format: DVD - Color - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 12/09/2008
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 1hr 34min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 12
SwapaDVD Credits: 12
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
Edition: Box set
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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Movie Reviews

Worst packaging ever for a boxed set--abrasion damage to dis
Wackford Squeers | California, USA | 12/12/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)

"This is the biggest, heaviest, most pretentious, and worst box set packaging I have ever seen. It leaves the DVDs exposed to abrasion and scratching. Virtually all of the discs came pre-scratched, smudged, and abraded. The set weighs in at about 7 pounds, out of which only 8 ounces accounts for the DVDs. The contents come in a huge faux-leather, two-piece slip-case, which contains an over-sized cloth-bound binder measuring approximately 12 by 13 by 2 3/4 inches. It contains two coffee-table sized paper-back books slipped into pockets on the inside of the front and back boards of the binder. In between are pages with cardboard backing and short cardboard pockets into which the discs are tightly jammed. The playing surface of the discs are directly against cardboard. Three of the discs are the dual-sided variety, leaving BOTH sides exposed and subject to abrasion. The pockets are half the size of the discs, leaving them half in, half out. The dual-sided discs have an abrasion line worn straight across the middle of the playing surface, due to the rough edge of the top of the pocket. The damages to the discs are not limited to abrasion. Some have multiple long parallel linear scratches, looking very much like a cat tried to sharpen its claws on the playing surface. My guess is that some of the disc damage may have been from mishandling even before they were inserted into the pockets, although the rough pocket edges or debris could also be the problem. There are also smudges on the playing surfaces, so these discs may have been hand inserted, rather than by automated machinery. The pocket design is totally inappropriate. I found it impossible to extract a disc without having to touch the playing surfaces. Also, I found it impossible to extract and re-insert discs without inflicting a little more abrasion damage, since the surface must be dragged against the cardboard when removed or replaced. I'm really surprised and disappointed at the poor packaging. The last Fox box set I got was the early John Ford films, and they housed all of those appropriately in the thin half-sized plastic keep-cases, and every disc was in perfect shape. Since the Fox Murnau/Borzage Box Set retails between $180 - $240, shouldn't they have housed the discs in appropriate protective packaging? Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a near-term solution at hand. For now, I'm going to send this set back to Amazon for a refund. I will be waiting and hoping that Fox will eventually re-release these DVDs with the discs appropriately housed in keep-cases, or perhaps they will put them out individually. Anyone who is interested in purchasing this set BEWARE! On the other hand, if you don't mind paying $180 - $240 for 12 DVDs which look like beat up rental discs, then go for it!"
Previously unaccessible silents and early sound films in one
calvinnme | 08/29/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This collection contains 2 F.W. Murnau films and 10 films directed by Frank Borzage from the late silent through the early talkie era. Many of these have long been unavailable.

Silent Films:

Murnau's entries include:
Sunrise (1927) - The story of a farmer ready to forsake his wife and home for a city woman on vacation in their village. She suggests that the husband drown his wife and make it look like an accident. Beautiful visuals make you sorry the silent era ever ended. Already available on DVD in the Fox Best Picture Collection. This film won the only Oscar ever awarded for best artistic film.

City Girl (1930) - This film exists in a sound and silent version. I hope this version is the silent one I saw. Charles Farrell plays the son in a farming family sent to sell the family wheat crop. He doesn't get the money the family hoped for plus he returns with a city girl as wife. This film doesn't show life on the farm as the ideal, but shows the harsh economic reality of farming. As usual, Murnau will thrill you with his excellent visuals.

Borzage films:
Lazybones (1925) - A man knicknamed "Lazybones" raises a homeless girl. After she is grown, he begins to love her as a woman. This story may sound familiar, but Borzage throws some curves in along the way so don't expect the conventional ending or conventional journey to that ending.

Seventh Heaven (1928) - One of several popular pairings of Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor. Janet Gaynor plays a girl beaten almost to death by her sister who is rescued by Farrell, who plays a sewer worker who has become an atheist. The romance is interrupted by war. Farrell becomes a soldier, Gaynor becomes a munitions worker. Remade in the sound era, this silent version is much better. One of three films that won Janet Gaynor a Best Actress Oscar.

Street Angel (1928) - Janet Gaynor plays an Italian girl accused of being a street walker who hides from the police by joinig a traveling circus. There she falls in love with a vagabond artist played by Charles Farrell. Full of splendid visuals.

Lucky Star (1929) - Janet Gaynor is again teamed with Charles Farrell in this late silent era film about a man who is left in wheelchair as a result of injuries suffered in World War I. This film gives Farrell more of a chance to show his acting abilities than his previous teamings with Janet Gaynor, although she gives a good performance too.

Talking films:

They Had to See Paris (1929) - Borzage directs Will Rogers' first talking picture. Will Rogers plays a homespun man who comes into money via an oil well. His wife decides they must go abroad to get some culture into their life. This film is a little stiff as are most early talkies, but it is still full of Will Rogers' unique brand of humor.

Liliom (1930) - Early talkie adaptation of the play with Charles Farrell in the title role. The sound on the prints I've been exposed to in the past has been terrible. Let's hope that part of the reason for the cost of this set is cleaning up the sound.

Song O' My Heart (1930) - Mainly made to exhibit the singing talent of John McCormack. Also, this is the film debut of Maureen O'Sullivan. The sound on this film the last time I saw it was terrible. It will be great to hear McCormack as others heard him eighty years ago.

Bad Girl (1931) - Won two Oscars - one for Borzage's direction and another for adapted writing. This film is really about a struggling young couple's ups and downs. I really have no idea why it is named "Bad Girl" unless it was because tantalizing titles sold tickets in the era of the precode film. Like the stars of many early talkies, the stars of this film did not have distinguished careers.

After Tomorrow (1932) - Charles Farrell stars in a genuine precode with lots of racy language. At heart, though, it is a melodrama like so much of Borzage's work. Not well known probably due to its lack of exposure on TV or home video.

Young America (1932) - Spencer Tracy in a very early role. Tracy plays a druggist whose wife wants to adopt a kid who is constantly getting in trouble. His last brush with the law involves stealing medicine from Tracy's drugstore.

This set also includes a documentary on Murnau, whose career was cut short by his death in a traffic accident in 1931, and Borzage, whose career as a director was quite active into the 1940's. Other announcements have claimed that what fragments exist of Borzage's 1929 film, "The River", shall also be in this set as an extra feature. That report is as of now unsubstantiated.

Soundtrack: English Dolby Digital mono; Subtitles: English, French, Spanish."
Mixed emotions...
Moviefanatic | Chicago, Il | 12/11/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)

"I am noy going to comment on the contents - it's fabulous and a dream come true! I would like to express my extreme dissatisfaction with the packaging. Why make it so huge? What is the hidden reason? At the same time, the disks are not placed in individual sleeves and are prone to scratches. On top of it, the disk with 7th HEAVEN was defective - it would not play on both sides. I had to ca;l Amazon to ask for replacement. Also, I have to return the original package that literally weighs a ton. I did not expect this sloppiness from FOX."
Classic Films Shine Again in Fox Set
Captain Bob | Ferndale, MI | 01/15/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"After combing through the previously posted reviews, I guess I have the great fortune to possess a flawless set of discs. And there's no way it's going on eBay. It'll never leave my library. The staff at Fox is to be congratulated on a complete triumph. This Gift Set definitely befits the films it showcases. The prints are universally in excellent condition given the fact that nearly 80 years have lapsed since most of them premiered. The one exception is the print for 7TH HEAVEN, which is only fair. However I defer to the studio when they say it is "from the best surviving source available."
Overall this is an exceptionally strong array of late silent/early sound films by A-List directors FW Murnau and Frank Borzage. A few notes on the line up, most of which have rarely been seen by modern-day audiences:

SUNRISE(1927). Winner of three Oscars in 1927: Actress Janet Gaynor, Artistic Quality of Production (the only year this award was given) and Cinematography. It was also nominated for Set Design. It is absolutely gorgeous to watch. SUNRISE is the apotheosis of silent cinema, the distillation of everything that was learned up to that time. It ranks #7 on "Sight and Sound" magazine's latest Top Ten list (compiled by over 250 leading film critics from around the world) edging out POTEMKIN. It is a film that should be in every serious film collector's library. Features both the Movietone and European silent versions, commentary by cinematographer John Bailey, outtakes and script.
CITY GIRL (1930). Murnau's penultimate film once thought lost. Beautifully photographed and a pleasure to watch. The print quality is very good. The flip side focuses on Murnau's FOUR DEVILS, presumed to be a lost film. A reimagining based on publicity stills and script notations recreate what movie buffs hope will one day be discovered.
LAZY BONES (1929). Frank Borzage. Silent film featuring the good-natured charm of cowboy star Buck Jones. Enjoyable, but one of the lesser films in the collection.
7TH HEAVEN (1927). Frank Borzage. One of the best remembered of all silents. It was a box-office triumph when it came out, making $1.8 million in rentals, enough to rank 13th among all silent films. Sure it's corny and hokey, but audiences loved it and it weaves an intoxicating spell. The first of 12 Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell teamings, it won three Oscars: Best Actress Janet Gaynor, Directing Frank Borzage and Writing (Adaptation). Additionally, it was Oscar nominated for Best Picture and Interior Decoration. Extras include a well-researched commentary by a pair of noted film historians, the screenplay and soundtrack notes.
STREET ANGEL (1928). Frank Borzage. Beautifully photographed in a smoky chiaroscuro by Ernest Palmer, who was nominated for an Oscar for this. Also nominated for Interior Decoration. One of the trio of films winning Janet Gaynor the first Oscar. Tender love story of a girl who joins the circus while on the lam for prostituting herself. She meets artist Farrell and the movie becomes overtly romantic. It's a truly wonderful wallow. STREET ANGEL was a huge hit with audiences, coming in right after 7TH HEAVEN in box-office leaders, but is far less familiar to film audiences today.
THEY HAD TO SEE PARIS (1929). Frank Borzage. The film itself is no great shakes, but it is fascinating to see the great American humorist Will Rogers in his first talking film, especially when he disregards the camera.
SONG O' MY HEART (1930). Frank Borzage. Tenor Frank McCormack's first sound film features beautiful Irish ballads to go along with a fine story. This forgotten film was a box office hit in its time raking in $1.2 million in rentals, although according to the notes in the accompanying booklet, did not make money. Without knowing, you would think it was a John Ford film. DVD features both the full sound and music and effects version.
LILIOM (1930). Frank Borzage. Early version of the Ferenc Molnar story, later reworked as CAROUSEL, is a fine effort. Excellent visuals put this on a par with the Fritz Lang 1934 version starring Charles Boyer. Good job by Charles Farrell trying to break out of his nice-boy mold.
YOUNG AMERICA (1932). Frank Borzage. Early Spencer Tracy role in contrived, yet diverting film.
AFTER TOMORROW (1932) and BAD GIRL (1931) are both depression-era dramas helmed by Borzage. As with the rest of the films in this set, each is a privilege to view. Both have respectable acting and confront the hard times of that era in realistic fashion. BAD GIRL unexpectedly won two major Oscars: Directing and Writing (Adaptation). It was also a Best Picture nominee, losing out to GRAND HOTEL. Today BAD GIRL would be downgraded for its unconvincing screenplay, yet it connected with audiences at the time and made a sizeable profit of $336,246.
LUCKY STAR (1929) by Frank Borzage is the great find of the set. Beautiful performances by Gaynor and particularly by Farrell buoy this exquisite silent. Unfortunately, it came out when sound films were all the rage and was overlooked. Some sound bits were added, but that version does not exist. The print, recently discovered in the Netherlands and remastered, is in pristine condition; the set design and cinematography are fittingly nostalgic.
Finally, there is a reconstruction of THE RIVER (1930) which is missing the beginning and end reels. Folks, it doesn't get any steamier than this. The Production Code would make sure of that for the next thirty-odd years. Sheer fun to watch.

The set includes an excellent documentary which expertly integrates the lives of the directors and mogul William Fox. The two booklets accompanying the set are also really well done. And although the second one regarding the FOUR DEVILS is a bit redundant given the DVD attempt to recreate the film, it is a nice keepsake. The set is over-sized at 11 ¾ x 13 ¾, but there's no rule that says a DVD set has to be 5 ½ x 7 ½. Overall I spent several evenings thoroughly enjoying these treasures. Rarely have I gotten so much satisfaction from a collection of films. Regarding the numerous comments about the sleeve pockets: I pulled the discs in and out of the sleeves literally dozens of times with no harm. I really don't believe the pockets are to blame for the defective discs. Rather I believe it is a measure of quality control. (And "yes" I did have a defective disc from a different Gift Set that featured disc pockets, but when I looked at that particular disc, I noticed that it was warped, which had nothing to do with the pockets). I might recommend that if you are concerned about this feature, simply transfer the discs to jewel cases. Hopefully the Fox crew will realize that the quality control has to be of the highest order for a product like this, since the overwhelming audience will be discriminating film buffs with the highest of standards.

The bottom line is that, although pricey, this is an exciting once-in-a-lifetime collection with outstanding and immensely enjoyable feature films. It immediately takes pride of place in my nearly 600-film DVD library.