by HELEN GEIB
This time last year, 20th Century Fox Studio Classics gave us the monumental DVD box set “Ford at Fox.” This year, the studio’s gift to film lovers is “Murnau, Borzage and Fox,” a collection of 12 films, most previously unavailable on DVD, made at William Fox’s Fox Film Corporation by directors F.W. Murnau and Frank Borzage.
The Murnau films included in the set are the two extant features he made at Fox: the deservedly famous and justly acclaimed Sunrise (1927) and the undeservedly obscure and criminally underrated City Girl (1930). To tempt movie lovers who snatched up Sunrise when Fox released it as part of a collection of the studio’s Academy Award winners, the re-release is loaded with features.
The most significant is the alternate European-release silent version of the film, which has a different aspect ratio than the American-release Movietone version (1:20 as compared to 1:30). Other features include a commentary by ASC Cinematographer John Bailey, a commentary by Robert Birchard and Anthony Slide, outtakes with commentary by Bailey, outtakes with text cards, a reproduction of a copy of the original scenario with annotations by Murnau, the screenplay, the original trailer, a still gallery, and notes on the film’s restoration.
City Girl has only one feature (a still gallery), but is accompanied by a new score arranged and conducted by Christopher Caliendo. The Murnau portion of the box set also includes two features on his lost film 4 Devils (made between Sunrise and City Girl), the film Murnau’s 4 Devils: Traces of a Lost Film (2004) by Janet Bergstrom and the screenplay.
The Borzage portion of the set is anchored by his two most famous and highly acclaimed silent films: Seventh Heaven (1927), a great popular success for its grandly romantic story and pairing of popular screen couple Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, and the somewhat less well-known, but superior Street Angel (1928), which reunited Gaynor and Farrell in a similar story. Seventh Heaven has a commentary by Birchard and Slide and Street Angel has a still gallery.
Included on the Seventh Heaven disc are features on the partial reconstruction of Borzage’s part-sound, part-silent film The River (1929), a beautiful film I prefer – despite, or perhaps because of, its incomplete state – to its more famous predecessors. (The River survives only in an incomplete print that is missing the talkie segments that open and close the film.) The other silent films in the set are Lazybones (1925), with a new score composed and conducted by Tim Curran and a still gallery, and Lucky Star (1929), with a new score by Caliendo and a still gallery.
Rounding out the set are six early Borzage sound films: They Had to See Paris (1929), Lilliom (1930), After Tomorrow (1930), and Young America (1930), each with a still gallery; Song O’ My Heart (1930), with an alternate-soundtrack version of the film (for which the audio track was replaced by a synchronized soundtrack of music and sound effects) and a still gallery; and Bad Girl (1931).
This box set is easily one of the most significant DVD releases of the year for the films alone. To sweeten the offer even more, it also includes a new documentary, Murnau, Borzage & Fox by John Cork, which the studio’s website promises includes rare and unseen contemporary footage, and two coffee table books of photographs from the films and essays by Janet Bergstrom.
Other new releases this week: The Dark Knight, Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who, Man on Wire