The National Film Preservation Foundation has put together
another excellent set of movies from American film archives. This fifth collection, Treasures 5: The West 1898-1938,
features 40 films that
run a total of over 10 hours spread across three discs.
Like its predecessors, this set is filled
with rare and largely unseen movies and this time the focus is on the
West, both Western genre movies and vintage films portraying what life
in the western states. It's an excellent
collection that is both educational and entertaining.
Western films have been popular since the beginning of film,
both with moviegoers who enjoyed the action and romance of the old
with producers who were happy to cut costs by using any nearby
in place of Texas or New Mexico.
There are several very good western genre films to be found in
collection. One of the most interesting
is The Sergeant (1910), which
as filmed in Yosemite
before it was a national park. (At the
time it was cared for by the US Calvary.) This
is some of the earliest footage of Yosemite
and the producers definitely took advantage of
the locations as the movie is filled with gorgeous landscapes, and some
While most of the films in this set are shorts, there are
some features including The Lady of the
Dugout (1918) that boasts a real life outlaw: Al
Jennings wrote, produced, and
this movie about his life as a bank and train robber and head of the Jennings gang. (Jennings
was captured in 1897 and given a life sentence.
He was granted a full pardon by President Roosevelt in 1907.) In this film Jennings retells some of his
casts himself and his gang as a modern day Robin Hood and his Merry Men. After they rob a bank they give some of the
loot to a starving woman and her child.
It's a fun film, and be sure to watch for a very young Ben
played Officer Frank Smith in the classic cop show Dragnet.
One of my favorite features in this collection has to be the
Clara Bow film Mantrap (1926). Made
a year before she's achieve superstardom
with he most well known film, The 'It'
Girl, this movie shows Clara full of pep and energy.
She plays a city girl who marries a Canadian
and moves with him back to the small town of Mantrap, where she proceeds to flirt
everyone there. It's fun and funny and
Clara exudes so much charm that it's easy to see why she was cast as
with 'it'. The comic film is also aided
by the fact that it was directed by Victor Fleming (who was behind the
on both Gone with the Wind and The Wizard
There are several interesting short subjects that pretend to
look at what life was like in the old west.
One of these curiosities is Life
on the Circle Ranch in California (1912) that purports to show what
do and how they spend their day. It
looked authentic to me until I played it with the commentary track by
Reeves who points out the myriad mistakes and errors that are made.
Another fun short is the early Sennett comedy The Tourists
(1912). This features a very young Mabel
Normand as part of a couple taking a vacation.
When their train stops in Albuquerque NM,
they get off and Mabel
proceeds to buy up Native American crafts, much to the dismay of her
husband. They fight and Mabel storms off
and meets the Indian Chief. They flirt
and he decides to run off with the young girl which gets his wife and
of the tribe in an uproar. While the
chief was played by one of the Sennett regulars, the rest of the extras
Indians who spent their time making traditional crafts just to sell to
Speaking of tourists, there's an interesting travelogue that
was produced by the Harvey Corporation and the Santa Fe Railroad
Company, The Indian-detour (1926).
Harvey owned a
chain of hotels, restaurants and gift shops in the west, and they
with the railroad to create a three day vacation package where
see authentic Indian rituals and habitats, and spend money in Harvey diners
and shops. This film promoted the
excursion that ran for
four decades and was one of the most popular vacations at the time.
There are also some great documentaries in this set as well,
including my favorite film in this collection, We Can Take
It (1935). This
film, made by the Dept. of Agriculture, was made to show what life was
the Civilian Conservation Corps, one of FDR's programs to fight
during the depression. Men aged 18 to 25
could join. They were given free lodging
and three square meals a day as well as $30/month, of which $25 was
automatically sent home to the man's family.
These youths went through a physical (where nearly 75% of them
discovered to be malnourished) and sent to work camps all across America
building bridges and roads, creating parks on public lands, and even
forest fires. It was a very well thought
out program, with the local cities vying to get CCC camps located near
them. Not only did the area get new public
but the local businesses reaped the benefits when the men went into
(especially after pay day) and the CCC promised to hire five local men
run the heavy machinery. After the work
day was done, there were optional classes that the men could take in
and other skills related to their work that turned out to be very
popular. The final shot of this film is of
load of CCC workers, all dressed in their green uniforms, waving
goodbye from a
train as they road off to home. It was
very reminiscent of the scenes of GI's going off to war which was a
ironic foreshadowing because 90% of the men who joined the CCC would
fighting in WWII.
In addition to all of that, the set has a rare early color
film, a Gilbert M. Anderson Bronco Billy flick, newsreels of Indians
to talk with their representatives, a film starring Sessue Hayakawa and
much more. Like the other volumes, it's
a fantastic and varied collection.
This collection of films arrives on three DVDs, each with
its own slimcase. The three cases and a
supplementary 110 page book are housed in a colorful thick-board
All of the selections were accompanied by music composed and
performed by a wide variety of musicians, and they all fit the pieces
well. There were no audio defects and
the discs sounded fine.
These films were all restored by the various archives that
contributed to this set, and they look wonderful. There
is some variation to the quality of the
image, and a few films show signs of decomposition, but they generally
excellent contrast, a good amount of detail, and a wide range of grey
hues. Like the previous sets, these
films look magnificent.
These films all come with commentary tracks from a wide
range of film scholars and historians who offer some very interesting
insights. While a couple of commentators
merely state the action that's happening on the screen, the majority
the background of the film, the actors and people behind the camera,
it had when released.
I really appreciated the commentary tracks, especially the
ones that discussed the social backgrounds to the films, such as Deschutes Driftwood and The Promised Land
Barred to Hobos. In both these
commentaries the plight of
homeless men looking for work are discussed and how they were treated. There were a couple of commentaries that were
a bit too analytical and took things a bit too far.
The track to Salomy Jane comes to mind.
While the commentator, Gary Scharnhorst, is obviously an expert
works of Bret Harte (the author who wrote the book the movie was
on) he goes into too much detail analyzing the Freudian symbolizism in
images of the movies. A girl riding a
horse through a stream isn't an establishing shot; it's a method of
with sexuality since a horse is a symbol of virility.
The same doesn't apply to a man riding
through town apparently. Since the movie
was made in 1914, it's rather doubtful that the director was aware of
his theories on sexuality.
Treasures 5: The West
1898-1938 us a great set filled with many rarities and little
seen films. There are newsreels,
and shorts, all of which deal in some way with some of the American
West. With films made by Mack Sennett and
Griffith and stars such as Mabel Normand and Clara Bow, there's a lot
entertainment here in addition to the historical and educational value
films. The National Film Preservation
Foundation has created another must-buy collection that easily earns
highest recommendation. DVDTalk