Erich von Stroheim’s first feature film as a director, Blind Husbands (1919), came about through sheer determination. Somehow, Stroheim convinced The Universal Film Manufacturing Company, Incorporated, mogul Carl Laemmle to let him make a film of his scenario The Pinnacle. Vowing to make the film for the usual meagre amount alloted to Universal Westerns, Stroheim (who hadn’t even directed short films before) turned in a film that cost ten times the original budget. But, the film was a critical and popular success that made Universal a million dollars, and Stroheim shot from nowhere to virtual overnight success.
An American doctor (Sam de Grasse) and his wife (Francelia Billington) are vacationing in the Alps. In a mountain village they meet an Austrian cavalryman (Stroheim), who sets his womanizaing sights on the doctor’s neglected wife. As the doctor busies himself with vacationing and emergency work, the cad shrewdly manipulates the emotions of the wife, spending every possible moment with her until her resolve crumbles.
Silent Sepp, the mountain guide (Gibson Gowland, future star of Greed) who is devoted to the doctor, sees the sexual predator for what he is. When the main characters set off for the pinnacle of the mountain together, sexual tension is also set off. Feelings of jealousy, suspicion, guilt and dread clash at the mountain peak. As is to be expected, the just are redeemed and the unholy get their own rewards.
The film was shortened and rereleased in 1924 by Universal. It is this edited American version, as donated to the Museum of Modern Art in 1941, that is the source of most surviving English language prints. A slightly longer German-language version has also survived. — Carl Bennett
Kino International, K246, UPC 7-38329-02462-8.
Windowboxed 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 4.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 14 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
Release date: 10 June 2003.
Country of origin: USA
This Kino DVD edition has been prepared from a 35mm print held by the Museum of Modern Art, which features very-good to excellent image detail and range of greytones, and is marked by the usual flaws of a print its age: emulsion scuffing, moderate speckling, scratches, processing flaws, some frame jitters and dust. Some shots in the print appear to have been shortened, lost over time to print breaks and splices. But the overall image quality of the slightly windowboxed video transfer is quite high and is often a pleasure to watch, compared to the mediocre VHS editions from 16mm prints that have been available over the past decade. On high-definition systems with hardware to upscale a standard-definition NTSC signal to a high-definition 1080p signal, the transfer renders a fairly sharp and filmlike picture that appears to be limited only to the quality of the source materials.
The accompanying music was arranged from the 1919 M. Winkler cue sheet and performed on digital piano (with some brief synthesizers) by Donald Sosin. The performance is pleasing and appropriate to the film’s action.
The disc also includes The Great Gabbo (1929), a starring performance by Erich von Stroheim in his first sound film. The Library of Congress restoration print features excellent image detail. Read edition details here.
The supplementary materials include image details and exerpts from the 1919 pressbook, a still photo gallery, a brief note on the film by Erich von Stroheim, notes on the aborted 1929 remake, audio interview exerpts featuring Valerie von Stroheim and Paul Kohner, and a 1944 radio program featuring a performance by Erich von Stroheim.
We highly recommend this edition of Stroheim’s great success.
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Blind Husbands(1919), color-toned black & white, 99 minutes, not rated.
Edition Filmmuseum, 03, UPC/EAN 4-260100-330032.
Full-frame 4:3 PAL, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, German language intertitles, optional English language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, €19,90.
Release date: October 2006 (reissued June 2007).
Country of origin: Germany
This PAL DVD edition has been mastered from the oldest known surviving print of Blind Husbands (1919), the Austrian release version with German language intertitles from circa 1921-1922.
The presentation is accompanied by a music score by Günter A. Buchwald.
Among the disc’s supplementary materials are a 20-page booklet of articles, a comparison of the American and Austrian versions of the film (10 minutes), the main titles from the 1924 American rerelease version (1 minute), footage of von Stroheim in Vienna in 1948 (1 minute), a stills gallery of photographs and lobby cards, and a DVD-ROM section of additional information and articles in PDF form.
This high-quality edition is recommended to all with a PAL disc player. North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.