Screen Goddess Collection: Marlene Dietrich

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gordonovitch
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#1 Post by gordonovitch » Wed Oct 25, 2006 10:30 am

Maybe this is old news, but last August, Universal UK released six Dietrich films under the series title, Screen Goddess Collection. It's a six disc and includes:

The Lady Is Willing (Dir. Mitchell Leisen, 1942), Shanghai Express (Dir. Josef von Sternberg, 1932), Foreign Affair (Dir. Billy Wilder, 1948), Destry Rides Again (Dir. George Marshall, 1939), Blonde Venus (Dir. Josef von Sternberg), Devil Is A Woman (Dir. Josef von Sternberg, 1935) - R2 UK Universal

For me, as for any number of others, the curiosity here is of course Shanghai Express, which of course will be included in the mammoth 18 disc set to be released next month. My question: has anybody bought this thing, and, if so, how does Shanghai Express Look? The Amazon.uk listing, which curiously includes neither a cover image nor a listing of the films, is here.

Oh, and one further thing: it's 70% off at 14.95 pounds.

Gordon Thomas

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Gregory
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#2 Post by Gregory » Tue Nov 07, 2006 2:33 am


Nothing
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#3 Post by Nothing » Tue Nov 07, 2006 4:36 am

I'm now kinda annoyed that I bought the French discs of Blonde Venus and The Devil is a Woman but, hey, Shanghai Express + Foreign Affair for £16-80 incl. p&p isn't terrible.

gordonovitch
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#4 Post by gordonovitch » Wed Nov 08, 2006 3:48 pm

Nothing wrote:I'm now kinda annoyed that I bought the French discs of Blonde Venus and The Devil is a Woman but, hey, Shanghai Express + Foreign Affair for £16-80 incl. p&p isn't terrible.
Gritting my teeth and hoping for the best, I went ahead and ordered this thing and am actually very pleased with the Shanghai Express. While not the shimmering hallucination it should be, UK Universal's disc of Shanghai Express is not bad at all. Less grainy and dim than the already U.S. issued Morocco but not quite as detailed and finely gray-scaled as Blonde Venus, it holds its own and is quite enjoyable to watch. When Dietrich, late in the film, is rebuffed by Clive Brook and retreats into the darkened train compartment to endure her dark night of the soul with a cigarette, while Lee Garmes' north light illuminates her upturned face, my eyes misted up. Good ol' von Sternberg. He really nailed it in this one.

Gordon Thomas

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david hare
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#5 Post by david hare » Thu Nov 16, 2006 12:20 am

Gordon does this copy of Shanghai Express include the complete scene of the interview between Oland, and Emile Chautard with Dietrich translating for Emile? The previous LD suffers a large dialogue cut when Emile is revealed as having lied about his military record to impress his sister.

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reaky
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#6 Post by reaky » Thu Nov 16, 2006 12:18 pm

I have to agree with Gordon on the picture quality of SHANGHAI EXPRESS - a pleasant surprise, better than the screencaps on DVDBeaver would indicate. It seems to be taken from the same master used for the 1990s Universal VHS.

David, if you give me a time reference on the missing dialogue, I can check for you.

gordonovitch
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#7 Post by gordonovitch » Thu Nov 16, 2006 1:01 pm

davidhare wrote:Gordon does this copy of Shanghai Express include the complete scene of the interview between Oland, and Emile Chautard with Dietrich translating for Emile? The previous LD suffers a large dialogue cut when Emile is revealed as having lied about his military record to impress his sister.
The interview scene with Dietrich translating is definitely there, but whether it's complete is another matter. I'll watch that scene again, but I do seem to remember that Emile's secret is revealed. If it follows through to the revelation, does that mean the scene is complete?

Gordon Thomas

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david hare
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#8 Post by david hare » Thu Nov 16, 2006 4:22 pm

Should be - the cut in the sequence on the LD is fairly obvious. It's basically set up as a master shot with a few angle/reverse angles.

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foggy eyes
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#9 Post by foggy eyes » Thu Nov 16, 2006 4:48 pm

David, any idea why this was cut in the first place for the LD?

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david hare
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#10 Post by david hare » Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:08 pm

Not really - (it's also cut from the 90s Universal VHS). One guess is the print used censored it to accomodate offended French Military authorities. But god knows.

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foggy eyes
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#11 Post by foggy eyes » Thu Nov 16, 2006 6:14 pm

Thanks. That would've been my guess, but it does seem terribly minor. Anyway, I have to express my sheer delight with this boxset. Not only is it ridiculously cheap, the transfer of Shanghai Express is (unexpectedly) very good. Essential.

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#12 Post by gordonovitch » Tue Nov 21, 2006 10:23 am

davidhare wrote:Should be - the cut in the sequence on the LD is fairly obvious. It's basically set up as a master shot with a few angle/reverse angles.

Sorry this took so long, but having watched that sequence again, I would say the scene with Chautard, Dietrich and Oland is intact on the Universal UK disc. The dialog goes pretty much like this after the three of them are seated at the table and go through some preliminaries. Oland, in examining Chautard's papers, asks why there is no rank indicated. Chautard answers, in French, that he was decommissioned. Dietrich doesn't translate this for Oland, who seems to understand it anyway when he inquires as to why this isn't this noted anywhere, to which Chautard replies, in French, that he's going to visit his sister and doesn't want her to know about his disgrace. Dietrich translates this for Oland. At this, Oland dismisses him, and Chautard salutes and thanks Oland. After thanking Dietrich for her help, Chautard leaves. Dietrich says, with a wave of a hand and to no one in particular, "Merci de quoi?"

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thomega
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#13 Post by thomega » Sun Dec 10, 2006 6:14 am

gordonovitch wrote:I would say the scene with Chautard, Dietrich and Oland is intact on the Universal UK disc.
I disagree. There is an obvious cut between J'ai demissioné and Then why does he wear that uniform. The missing dialog appears to explain the reason for Chautard's dishonorable discharge.

gordonovitch
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#14 Post by gordonovitch » Thu Dec 28, 2006 6:12 pm

thomega wrote:
gordonovitch wrote:I would say the scene with Chautard, Dietrich and Oland is intact on the Universal UK disc.
I disagree. There is an obvious cut between J'ai demissioné and Then why does he wear that uniform. The missing dialog appears to explain the reason for Chautard's dishonorable discharge.
You're right. I watched this again and saw the cut. Sorry for the confusion.

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david hare
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#15 Post by david hare » Thu Dec 28, 2006 6:21 pm

This is bizarre! I first saw Shanghai Express in the 60s during two separate Sternberg retros - including MOMA's 35mm print and a local 16mm MCA TV print. The scene was always intact. But suddenly in it's 90s reaapearance it's cut. I know it's minor but surely Universal has a vault master which is intact?
I still don't have the disc but I guess there's no point in waiting for something better.

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Scharphedin2
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#16 Post by Scharphedin2 » Thu Dec 28, 2006 6:39 pm

Sorry to break into the thread with a more arbitrary question, but has anyone picked up Universal's super-duper 18 film Dietrich Collection that was released recently?? I am sitting here with the £ 150 in my shaking fist and debating whether to fork it over, or to save it for bread and butter in January after literally going for bankrupt in the past month with all the temptations that have been dangled in front of me (that is in terms of exciting DVD releases).

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david hare
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#17 Post by david hare » Thu Dec 28, 2006 7:19 pm

Is it worth waiting for a discounted sale price on this sometime in the future? I really wonder how many boxes they've sold, given the previous releases and potential duplication.

It would surely only be worthwhile if you haven't already bought, for instance the Sternbergs.

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foggy eyes
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#18 Post by foggy eyes » Thu Dec 28, 2006 9:05 pm

I knocked up a thread for this, but there were no takers (it's that expensive). It will probably drop in price pretty soon. The Screen Goddess set was supposed to retail for £49.99, but plunged to £14.99 before anyone noticed that it existed!

Dying to get my hands on Desire and Angel...

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My Man Godfrey
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#19 Post by My Man Godfrey » Tue Dec 11, 2007 6:00 am

I enjoyed the Screen Goddess 6-disc set, but have to post this comment to achieve catharsis:

The Lady Is Willing may actually be the worst movie ever made.

(American Anthem and Congo will, at the very least, have to start watching their backs.)

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Tommaso
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#20 Post by Tommaso » Fri Jan 11, 2008 8:19 am

Although I planned to abstain from this set after reading that CC will probably release "Shanghai" this year, I was lucky to find it cheap at ebay and somehow couldn't resist....
I quickly looked a little through the forum to see what others think of these films. While the Sternberg's of course hardly need any more comment or more praise, I was a little surprised to see the negative views scattered in all sorts of threads here regarding "Destry rides again". I hadn't seen the film before, and must say: I really liked it. There is of course not much of a deeper meaning to it, but I found both Stewart's and Dietrich's performances really damn funny. The stoicism with which Stewart takes all the insults curiously seems believable and only helps to bring out what I'd call his 'coolness' for want of a better term. Even his running gag ("You know, I once knew a man from Oklahoma who...") worked nicely and only became somewhat tiresome near the end.
As to Marlene, it was nice to see her for once not as the half-divine creature of Sternberg, but as a very sparkling and in the end entirely sympathetic 'real life' character (within the confines of the genre and the special take the film has on it). Of course we've seen cat fights more than enough in westerns, but the one in this film (and especially after Stewart stops it by emptying a buck of water on the girls and Marlene totally gets out of her mind after that) must be one of the best of its kind I've ever encountered.
So, I think "Destry" is a charming and very well made film which immediately endeared itself to me. Highly rewatchable, I think.
Haven't made it to "The lady is willing" yet, I hope it's not as bad as My Man Godfrey says...

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tryavna
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#21 Post by tryavna » Fri Jan 11, 2008 5:07 pm

Tommaso wrote:I was a little surprised to see the negative views scattered in all sorts of threads here regarding "Destry rides again". I hadn't seen the film before, and must say: I really liked it. There is of course not much of a deeper meaning to it
I've always felt that, in order to really "get" Destry Rides Again, a viewer has to have some basic familiarity with 1930s westerns before 1939. It's important to remember that, although westerns had been hugely popular with all audiences throughout the silent era, the genre had been almost completely abandoned by the major studios after 1930. But there were still plenty of extremely cheap and cheesy westerns being churned out for the Saturday matinee crowd by Republic and other "poverty row" studios. It's that brand of western that Destry is making (rather pointed) fun of: the clean-cut, too-good-to-be-true hero with a folksy sense of humor; the bad girl redeemed by said hero; dastardly villains who rig poker games and cheat simple folks out of deeds to goldmines; etc., etc. It's the same set of conventions that Laurel and Hardy satirized two years earlier in their own excellent send-up Way Out West.

Since we live in post-Stagecoach era, I think that most audiences aren't fully aware of Destry's satiric meta-level approach to the existing conventions of the genre. (And I don't blame anyone for not going out of their way to catch up on the sorts of westerns that the film is specifically referring to.)

BTW, I like Destry Rides Again. It's a lot of fun.

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Tommaso
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#22 Post by Tommaso » Sat Jan 12, 2008 7:17 am

I wasn't aware of that background at all, but it all makes sense to me. Are these 'cheesy' westerns really only a product of the 30s? I'm not much of a western fan (I actually almost hated the genre before I saw the Fords), so I always thought that these conventions you describe might very well apply to the genre in general, and that's why I always liked not just the brilliant "Way out West", but also the Marx Brothers' "Go west" (though that obviously isn't as great as L&H, but what is?). The Fords or Hawks' "Rio Bravo" always seemed to me the exceptions rather than the normal stuff (though I find the ending of "Stagecoach" terribly conventional, and it marrs a film that could otherwise have been something like an American version of Chaucer for me).

So, obviously I liked "Destry"'s take on the genre, but for me the real attractions are Stewart and Dietrich. I think this is simply very fine acting, and indeed, hilarious fun. Brilliant songs, too.

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tryavna
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#23 Post by tryavna » Sat Jan 12, 2008 2:00 pm

I didn't mean to imply that one can't enjoy the movie without knowing at least some 1930s westerns, but I think that being able to make that connection can certainly enrich the experience tremendously. (I meant it mainly as a response to the "negative views scattered in all sorts of threads here" part of your previous post. Some folks who don't like the movie might give it a second chance if they're more aware of Destry's satiric qualities.)

Also, I don't mean to suggest that "cheesiness" suddenly departed from the genre with the coming of Ford's Stagecoach in 1939. It certainly continues on into the 1950s and 60s, especially in the many, many western TV shows. But what I'm suggesting is that "cheesiness" was more or less all there was for western fans between 1931 and 1938 and that that is what Destry is making fun of in particular. The significance of Stagecoach for the western is not unlike the significance of Cat People for the horror movie three years later: each one more or less single-handedly made it possible for its respective genre to return to a more "adult" mode after seven or eight years of having mainly been directed as the "kid" audience. In other words, Stagecoach made it possible for the later films of Ford, Hawks, Mann, Daves, Boetticher, etc. to be as complex as they were and to reach an appreciative audience. (And I would go so far as to suggest that the work of these masters begins to trickle down into the rank and file of 1950s westerns, even if they are never quite as good.)

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Tommaso
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#24 Post by Tommaso » Sun Jan 13, 2008 7:49 am

tryavna wrote:Also, I don't mean to suggest that "cheesiness" suddenly departed from the genre with the coming of Ford's Stagecoach in 1939. It certainly continues on into the 1950s and 60s, especially in the many, many western TV shows.
Oh yes. When I was a kid I was a big fan of "Gunsmoke", Something like this became totally unacceptable for me when I was a little older, of course. Probably that influenced my view of westerns almost to the present day... :)
tryavna wrote: The significance of Stagecoach for the western is not unlike the significance of Cat People for the horror movie three years later: each one more or less single-handedly made it possible for its respective genre to return to a more "adult" mode after seven or eight years of having mainly been directed as the "kid" audience.

In this respect, I'm looking very much forward to see "The Iron Horse" (the Ford Silents set is already on its way to me). I always thought, not having yet seen it, that this film was pretty much genre-defining from what I heard. But of course, this was a long time before the 30s.

So, thanks for the great information, tryavna. I guess there's a lot for me to discover...

Back to topic with a silly question: why is this set called "The Screen Goddess Collection"? These words show up nowhere on the box, but it seems to be universally known by that moniker.

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tryavna
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#25 Post by tryavna » Sun Jan 13, 2008 12:32 pm

Tommaso wrote:In this respect, I'm looking very much forward to see "The Iron Horse" (the Ford Silents set is already on its way to me). I always thought, not having yet seen it, that this film was pretty much genre-defining from what I heard. But of course, this was a long time before the 30s.
One last point before conversation returns to the "Screen Goddess" point of this thread: Be sure to watch The Iron Horse and 3 Bad Men in as rapid succession as possible, Tommaso. (3 Bad Men being the other silent Western in the Ford at Fox set.) Iron Horse may have been more influential on the genre, but 3 Bad Men is a much better picture -- and goes a long way to show that John Ford probably would have become "John Ford" even without the direct Murnau influence over the next few years.

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