by HELEN GEIB
My DVD pick this week is Bardelys the Magnificent, a rediscovered “lost” film. A prestige MGM production, Bardelys is a major find. It was based on a novel by bestselling and oft-adapted Rafael Sabatini, author of Scaramouche, Captain Blood, and The Sea Hawk, among other grand tales of romance and adventure; helmed by King Vidor, director of The Big Parade, La Boheme, The Crowd, and other classics of the silent and sound eras; and starred John Gilbert (of The Big Parade, The Merry Widow, numerous films opposite Greta Garbo, and more), one of the top actors of the 1920s. The DVD is a co-production by Flicker Alley (a specialty company with a small but stellar catalog of silent film DVD releases), Film Preservation Associates, and Lobster Films.
Bardelys was believed lost until an incomplete print was discovered in France in 2006. In the usual practice of partial print reconstructions, the action of the missing footage (the third reel out of eight) was filled in for the DVD release using expository titles, the original dialogue titles, excerpts from the original trailer, and production stills, the latter panned to give an impression of camera movement. The surviving print is an export version with French intertitles; the original English titles were reconstructed based on script records from MGM’s archives. Off-setting the incompleteness of the print is the image quality, reputedly excellent. Read the Silent Era review for a detailed report.
The DVD release offers the welcome choice between two musical scores. The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra performs a score based on period photoplay music; the alternative score is performed by Antonio Coppola on piano. Special features are lavish for a silent release: a commentary track by film historians Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta; Rediscovering John Gilbert, a new short documentary on Gilbert that includes an interview with his daughter and biographer Leatrice Gilbert Fountain; a booklet; and an extremely extensive stills gallery (242 images!).
As if Bardelys the Magnificent with two high-quality original musical scores and extensive special features wasn’t sufficiently tempting to the silent film fan, the DVD further includes a second feature film. Also starring John Gilbert, Monte Cristo is a 1922 adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas’s classic novel of adventure and revenge. And again like Bardelys, Monte Cristo was a prestige production, this time of Fox Film Corporation, that survives only in a single- worn, not quite complete, but color-tinted- print. The print was found in the Czech Republic and is missing the original English intertitles; luckily the script survives for this film as well and is the basis for the reconstructed titles. The piano score of period French music is performed by Neal Kurz.