I've sung the praises of the Warner Archive program before,
and I'll be doing it again in this review.
It is a great concept where the studio is able to sell genre and
movies direct to the consumer on DVD-Rs.
It's given fans a chance to own hard to track down movies that
never sell enough copies to justify a wide release.
Case in point: 1926's Don Juan staring John Barrymore. Not only is it a very good movie, but it's
historically important too: It was the
first feature movie with a pre-recorded synchronized soundtrack. Made with the Vitaphone sound-on-disc system
(Warner's had purchased the company the year before) this release was
important step along the road to talking pictures. In addition the disc
includes six Vitaphone shorts that were created just for the film's
release. Running nearly three hours all
told, it's a fantastic package that reproduces what it was like to go
movies nearly a century ago.
Don Juan (John Barrymore) was the only son of a wealthy
Spanish aristocrat, Don Jose de Marana (also played by John Barrymore). As a child he witnesses his mother's betrayal
of his father, taking a lover while he's away, and her banishment
because of it
as well as his father's assassination by a spurned lover.
From these events he concludes that women are
not to be trusted and only used for pleasure.
As an adult he travels to Rome where he has a wonderful time
seducing all of the beautiful Montagu
Love - Count Giano Donati the attention of Lucrezia Borgia (Estelle
her brother, Cesare (Warner Oland who is best remembers for playing
Chan) and their partner Count Giano
Donati (Montagu Love). The three of them
through murder and intimidation, and employ a full-time alchemist to
for them to dispatch their enemies. Lucrezia
makes a bet with her partners... she can seduce and keep the promiscuous
with her beauty and charm. To that end
she invites him to a party they're hosting that evening.
At the gathering things don't go as Lucrezia planned. First
Juan seduces her maid (before he even gets into the castle) and then he
for the gorgeous Adriana della Varnese (Mary Astor) once inside. Unfortunately Count Donati has also set his
eyes on the fair Adriana. He plans to
marry her and then kill her father so that he'll inherit the elder
fortune. And since Donati is the best
swordsman in Rome,
he's not afraid of an upstart Spaniard.
For their first Vitaphone feature, the brothers Warner
wanted a top-notch film to draw in the crowds.
For the leading man they selected John Barrymore who gained fame
portrayals of Richard III and Hamlet on Broadway. They
had recently signed the actor and paid a
premium to have him in their stable.
|John Barrymore was irate over
the fact that the Vitaphone process received billing (and in a larger
font) over his name.
For the music accompaniment they hired the 107-piece New
York Philharmonic Orchestra to record the score. The
Vitaphone audio engineer George Groves,
insisted on using an unheard of six microphones to record the
then mixed the feeds live. The engineers
working with him from Victor though he was crazy... they suggested just
single microphone above the orchestra.
The also created a slate of opening shorts to run before the
feature, all showcasing the Vitaphone sound system.
These were classical music and opera
selections from big names in the music world, and it was all stated off
filmed introduction of Will Hayes, President of the Motion Picture
and Distributors of America and future enforcer of the infamous Hays
talking and welcoming the audience to the special event.
The Warners managed to create a wonderful feature too.
This is an incredibly fun movie filled with
action, humor, adventure, and some great drama.
It's fairly amazing how they were able to fit so much into the
without it turning into a jumbled mess.
At the beginning there's a very tense and suspenseful scene
Jose orders that a hole in a wall be bricked up, knowing that he will
sealing his wife's lover in, while she watches.
There's several very funny segments too, including Don Juan
juggle three lovers who all show up within moments of each other,
the husband of one of his conquests. The
way that Juan gets out of that scrape was both hilarious and ingenious. The sword fight at the end is harrowing and
well filmed, and watching Barrymore scamper up the sides of buildings
a woman's bedroom is very reminiscent of Douglas Fairbanks. When all is said and done, this is an
This film paved the way for talking pictures. Audiences
loved the added dimension of sound
and this release proved that there was a market for movies that could
speak. It was only a couple of years
later that Warners would change the face of Hollywood forever with their next big
release, The Jazz Singer.
This film and the copious shorts arrive on a single DVD-R in
The audio is limited to the technology of the time... but it
still sounds pretty good. The sound
track was recorded on soft wax discs that were 16" in diameter and an
thick, which turned at 33 1/3 RPM, much slower than the standard 78 RPM
time. The reduced speed was so that the
length of the records would match the running time of a reel of film,
upshot was that the signal was compressed into a smaller space. Not only that, but the recording wore out
quickly. Each disc could only be played
20 times before it had to be retired.
Even so the sound is very decent.
The score, preformed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra,
through well and adds a lot to the film.
There is some surface noise in the background but I soon got
that. The audio effects, a knock on a
door and the clang of swords during the duel near the end, are strong
clear. I'm sure this disc accurately
reproduces what audiences heard on the initial release.
The picture looks very good for an unrestored film that's
nearly 90 years old. There is some dirt
and spots, but that's a minor problem.
The contrast is excellent and the level of detail and image
very good too.
Usually Warner Archive titles are bare-bones releases but
they went all out for this movie.
Included on the disc are the six Vitaphone shorts that
movie on its premier. These are:
- Introductory Remarks by Will H. Hays
- The New York Philharmonic, under the
direction of Henry Hadley, plays the overture to Richard Wagner's
- Marion Talley performs "Caro nome"
from Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi.
- Roy Smeck, billed as "The Wizard of
the Strings" in His Pastimes
- Efrem Zimbalist performs "Kreutzer
Sonata" by Beethoven.
- Anna Case and The Dancing Cansinos in
- Mischa Elman performs "Humoresque" by
- Giovanni Martinelli sings "Vesti la
giubba" from I Pagliacci
It's interesting to note that the staples of the many
Vitaphone shorts that would soon be produced, vaudeville acts, jazz
popular songs, aren't included here.
This was high brow entertainment for the elite.
Including these is was an excellent choice. It
really adds a lot to have the whole
package, reproducing the gala opening in New York.
This is an excellent film and a great package. The
inclusion of the six shorts that were
originally show with Don Juan is a
great bonus and makes this a must-buy disc.