Well Flicker Alley has done it once again. For
their latest release they've joined
forces with Blackhawk Films, the French company Lobster, and TCM to
very rare silent gem: Miss Mend. This
unusual film is a three part serial,
with each chapter running about an hour and a half.
What's more interesting is that it was made
in communist Russia by a pair of directors who were trying to emulate
adventure films. The result is a very
good flick that will have viewers entranced for the entire five-hours
takes to watch the show.
Set in the United States (something that's not clear at the beginning
and had me scratching my head in a few spots) this action starts at a
factory (??) where the workers are striking and demanding a living wage. The evil Organization has a member on the
cork company's board and he sends the police in to beat and arrest the
Boris is sent to cover the strike for his pro-company
newspaper along with a photographer Vogel, and a clerk for the company,
Tom. When they arrive the police have
just gotten to the scene and the captain is about to attack the union
only to be stopped by a plucky typist for the cork company, Vivian Mend. The three men are taken with her bravery and
help her to escape from the resulting riot.
In order to escape, Miss Mend jumps into a passing car and
meets a man who introduces himself as "Engineer Johnson".
He too is attracted to the rather homely Miss
Mend and not only drops her at her home (where he discovers that she's
her dead sister's child all by herself) but also prevents the police
arresting her when they arrive. That's
because he's really Arthur Stern, the son of the cork factory's owner.
Now this wouldn't be a serial if there wasn't a convoluted plot
and that fact wasn't missed by the soviets.
It turns out that Stern Sr. was murdered by the Organization
wouldn't support their capitalist cause.
They framed a Bolsheviks group and forged a will that they
forced him to
sign. This will gave all of his property
to The Organization to fight the evil communists, something Arthur is
happy with since it will avenge his father's death.
Meanwhile Miss Mend's nephew is really Arthur's half
brother. It turns out his father raped
the Vivian's sister while she was a maid in his house, and she killed
her son was born not being able to bear the shame. When
the Organization finds out, they kidnap
the tot, since he's Stern's heir too.
If that's not all, The Organization is heavily involved in
developing new horrific weapons. They've
invented deadly compounds to wage chemical and bacteriological warfare. The effectiveness of these is not known
however, so they decide to conduct a large scale test:
by releasing them in Russia. This
will not only give them the data they
need, but also wipe out the plague of communism!
So it's up to the three reporters and Miss Mend to find
Stern's missing son, stop the murder of countless Russians, and take
This was a fun series that has a lot of action and chase
scenes as well as an interesting and twisting plot.
It's easy to tell that they were really trying
to mimic Western movies and that this was a conscience departure from
well known Russian films from that period such as the work of
Eisenstein. They do a good job overall
though it's not
quite up to the standards set by the best action films Hollywood was
out at the time.
Even so, there's plenty of action. One
chase scene features a car trying to
drive through a field followed by the three reporters on horses that
from the police, who are being chased by a motorcycle and finally the
horse-less cops on foot. The directors
really tried to insert a sense of fun and comedy into the adventure,
the most part it worked. The serial does
have its serious side though, and people are killed on screen to point
gravity of the situation.
It's easy to tell from the synopsis that this serial is
filled with propaganda, but the message is never too overt and it's not
as many US movies (especially B films released during WWII). The Organization is a typical evil group
trying to take over the world and while they're targeting communists
not any more over-the-top than your typical serial villains.
One curious aspect of this adventure is that the focus of
much of the serial is actually on the three reporters more than Miss
Mend. I actually had a hard time buying
premise that every man who sees her falls in love instantly, because
really not that attractive. Of course
she's plucky, and that undoubtedly adds to her appeal.
She's raising her young nephew all by
herself, and doesn't hesitate to lose her job coming to the defense of
workers being oppressed by the police. All that is nice, but the
have much screen presence and never seemed all that interesting as a
person. It's a minor complaint, I'll
admit, and doesn't distract from the excitement of the movie.
This three-episode serial runs 4 hours and 45 minutes.
It arrives on a pair of DVDs in a clear
single width keepcase with a double sided-cover.
The orchestral score
composed and conducted by Robert Israel is excellent.
Recorded in the Czech Republic, the score
accents the action and comedy on the screen while never being too
overbearing. I really enjoy orchestral
scores though they are usually too costly for any but the most
releases and I'm very happy Flicker Alley went to the added expense. It makes this presentation very enjoyable.
The full frame image is simply amazing. I
was surprised at how clean and clear this
serial is, especially giving its age and origin. The
level of detail is very good, with fine
lines being evident in the backgrounds and shadows.
The contrast is excellent, and there's only
occasional blooming in some white areas, but this is minimal. The print does have some damage, scratches
and spots, but these are not that prevalent and never become a
distraction. The film is also includes tinted
scenes, which is a nice bonus. The team involved with
set has done a magnificent job!
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there were some
video extras included with this set.
First off is a very good 20-minute documentary Miss
Mend: A Whirlwind Vision of an Imagined America that talks
about the idea behind the serial, to make a western-style action flick,
soviet perception of the US. It was
quite interesting. Next is a look at the
score: The Music Behind Miss
Mend: The Invisible Orchestra. This
12-minute featurette includes footage of
the recording sessions and an interview with Robert Israel.
There is also a 16-page booklet included with the discs that
has an essay about the film, advertising posters, and production images. It's a nice addition to the DVDs.
This is a fun film in its own right, but Miss Mend is
also an interesting
historical footnote which makes it even more enjoyable to watch. Flicker Alley and their associates have done
another magnificent job with this release.
The picture looks much, much, better than it has any right to,
orchestral score is very good, and the extras are interesting. This is another Flicker Alley release that