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John Barrymore Collection

Kino // Unrated // July 7, 2009
List Price: $59.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted July 30, 2009 | E-mail the Author
"There are lots of methods. Mine involves a lot of talent, a glass and some cracked ice." -John Barrymore
John Barrymore was one of the great actors in the early years of the last century.  Coming from an acting family (both his father and mother were successful on the stage) John along with his siblings, Lionel Barrymore, and Ethel Barrymore, made up the first family of both Broadway and the silver screen.  (The tradition caries on to this day... Drew Barrymore is John's granddaughter.) 
Kino has released a set of four silent films featuring the great actor boxed as The John Barrymore Collection.  While only one of the movies (Sherlock Holmes) is new to DVD, all four films are very good and worth owning.  In them, Barrymore shows how wide of a range he had.  While many fine actors play characters that are very similar from picture to picture, these four pieces show Barrymore in four totally different roles, and all of them he pulls off admirably.  From horrible monster  to action hero to a sleuth with a razor sharp intellect and even a great lover, John Barrymore could play them all.  Check out this set and see for yourself.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920):
One of his most famous silent film roles, John Barrymore does an outstanding job in this early adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson story.
Set in Victorian England, Henry Jekyll (John Barrymore) is a gentleman, philanthropist, and medical doctor.  While his peers are content to treat what illnesses they can, Jekyll wants to expand the scope of human knowledge and unlock the mysteries of the universe.  When he's not doing research he spends his time at the free clinic he runs in the undesirable part of town, treating the poor as best he can. 
Jekyll is engaged to the stunning Millicent Carewe (Martha Mansfield), but when her father, Sir George Carewe, (Brandon Hurst) takes Henry out to a dance hall the sensual movements of one of the dancers, Gina (Nita Naldi), awaken the doctor's more base instincts.  Contemplating the possibility of a man who lives solely by his instincts and desires, Jekyll locks himself in his lab.  Eventually he prefects a formula that will release the primal man hidden inside and when he drinks it, he transforms into an evil creature he christens Edward Hyde.  Hyde takes up with Gina and lives by his emotions, even killing when the mood strikes him. 
Barrymore did a magnificent job in the dual role as Jekyll and Hyde.  The transformation scene was very effective, especially for the time, and the makeup Barrymore donned for Hyde became the definitive look for the evil creature, influencing future generations the way Universal's Frankenstein cemented that monster's look in the public mind.   With elongated fingers, distorted features and a pointed head, Barrymore is nearly unrecognizable in his guise.  Hyde is the personification of evil and Barrymore brings the creature to life wonderfully.
The movie also does a good job of creating a dark and foreboding atmosphere.  The city streets are dirty and filled with fog and smoke.  The dark alleyways and shadowed doors are very effective at building suspense in the film.  The sets are almost another character, they add so much to the picture.
The score was preformed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and they do a wonderful job, as always.  I really can't think of anything new to say about this group, save that they are the best combo currently scoring silent films.  If you see their name on a DVD, you can be assured that you're in for a good soundtrack.
The full frame tinted image was okay, but not outstanding.  Granted, this is a nearly 90 year old movie and the print is showing its age.  There are scratches, dirt, and spot throughout the movie, and while it is more noticeable than the average restored silent film, it isn't so great as to ruin the film.  The contrast is generally good and the detail is very acceptable.
Kino has put some fun and interesting bonus material on this disc.  First off is an excerpt from another 1920 film production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This one stars Sheldon Lewis and is an obviously inferior production.  It was too bad the entire film wasn't included as it is only 40 minutes long.  Easily the best extra is the 1925 short Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pride a two reel Stan Laurel short made before he famously teamed up with Oliver Hardy.   There's also the audio of the Jekyll/Hyde transformation from a 1909 play, and a nicely illustrated text piece on the history of the story on the big screen.

Sherlock Holmes (1922):
This is a rare film, thought lost for years, this is the first time it has been available on home video.  The story begins when Sherlock Holmes (John Barrymore, nartually) and Watson (Roland Young) are in college.  The two team up to clear up a case of theft and the pair end up meeting the man who would become Holmes arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Gustav von Seyffertitz).  This confrontation so intrigues the young Holmes that it convinces the young man to study criminology.
Year later Holmes is set up at 221B Baker Street, when a young prince is accused of a crime that has international ramifications.  Holmes and the ever-present Watson investigate and discover that Moriarty has crafted a plan that may plunge the world into chaos.
First the good things:  Barrymore certainly looks the part, and fills the shoes of the master detective well.  He's suave, tall, and thin, and moves with the assurance that Holmes would have. 
Unfortunately the rest of the film doesn't hold together as well as one might hope.  It's based on a stage play, but there are still a lot of problems with pacing.  While the end and to a lesser extent the beginning are engaging, the rest of the film is rather dry and a bit tedious.   Things movie awfully slowly, and it takes the first half of the movie for the main mystery to be revealed.
For a silent film, it is very verbose too.  The title cards pop up too frequently and are too long.  Most silent directors recognized that intertitles ground the action to a halt and so they either made them humorous or used them sparingly.  Neither happens with this film, and it suffers because of it.
There are some interesting aspects to this heavily flawed movie however.  Seeing the streets of London in the early 20's in fun and this film also boasts the first film appearances of both Roland Young (Topper) and William Powell (The Thin Man.)  While fans of Barrymore and Holmes will find this worth watching just for the historic aspects, less enthusiastic silent movie fans should go on to the other films in this set. 
The film is accompanied by Ben Model on a Miditzer Virtual Theatre Organ.  I'm not a huge fan of synthesized scores, but I have to admit that this one sounded fine.  The score, composed by Mr. Model was very good but wasn't enough to overcome the film's failings.
This newly restored film looks quite nice overall.  Since this comes from a single source, the movie does have some problems.  There are a couple of scenes that are a little bright and there are spots and scratches, but generally the image is sharp with a  fair amount of detail and nice contrast.
Unfortunately there are no extras included on this disc.

The Beloved Rogue (1927):
My favorite film in this set, The Beloved Rogue casts Barrymore in a swashbuckling comedy like those of Douglas Fairbanks and the thespian rises wonderfully to the challenge. 
In this adventure Barrymore plays the famous French poet François Villon (1431-1463) a man who is ""poet, pickpocket, patriot, loving France earnestly, Frenchwomen excessively, French wine exclusively."   An impish rapscallion, Villon makes fun of Duke Charles of Burgundy and his jest reaches the ears of King Louis XI (wonderfully played by Conrad Veidt) who has the poet exiled from Paris.  Even though he's lost the favor of the king, Villon does his best for France, robbing the evil rich and giving to the poor, and even disrupting a Burgundy plot.  For the latter he's sentenced to death, but Villon doesn't have time to die, he still has to woo Charlotte, the king's ward.
It's hard not to see parallels between Fairbanks movies Robin Hood and The Mark of Zorro in this feature.  Barrymore leaps across rooftops and always manages to elude the guards that are after him with great style and élan (especially when he's being flung out of a catapult.)  The one area where he clearly surpasses Fairbanks is in the romance department.  Barrymore is truly elegant and charming during the love scenes and seems right at home doing them.  His natural charisma comes shining through at those times and his good looks don't hurt at all.
The film also boasts Conrad Veidt's American debut and he does a magnificent job as King Louis XI.  He adds just the right dose of comedy to the role of the king who is described as being ""superstitious, crafty, cruel, and a slave to the stars."
This film includes an old piano score from 1971 by William P. Perry.  While it is competent, I would have like to have heard what Mont Alto or Stephen Horne could have done with the film.  There is a low level hiss in the background that wasn't distracting.
This tinted version of the film looks pretty good.  Though it has not been restored, there is minimal print damage and the contrast is nice.  The image is a little on the soft side, but that is not unexpected.  Overall this is a solid presentation.
There is also the Orson Welles intro and outro that he recorded when he presented this film as part of the 13-part TV series The Silent Years back in 1971.


Tempest (1928):
This is the film Barrymore made right after The Beloved Rogue, and not to be confused with the play by Shakespeare.  This movie is an interesting comment on the Russian revolution, something that was recent history when it was made.
Sgt. Ivan Markov (Barrymore) is a heroic NCO in the Russian Army under the Czar.  A general has taken notice of him, and through his hard work and brave service Ivan is given an officer's commission, something unheard of in the strict class system.  The other officers don't accept Ivan because of his peasant origins and when he falls in love with a general's daughter, things go from bad to worse. 
Ivan sneaks into the young girl's bedroom one evening and leaves her a piece of jewelry, but accidently falls asleep on her fragrant bed.  When she discovers him she calls for her father.  Stripped of his rank and imprisoned, Ivan nearly goes mad in jail until the revolution comes.   But how will the new rulers treat his beloved, a member of the ruling class?
This was a very different film, and I can only imagine its impact in 1928.  While the Russian aristocracy was portrayed as stuffy and oppressive, the people who took power after the revolt were even worse.  Blood thirsty and vile, the Bolsheviks were shown as being worse than the rule of the Tzar.   The aristocrats were beautiful and cultured while the masses were ugly and crude.  This film presents a very unusual take on the Russian Revolution.
This also has an older piano score by William P. Perry that fits the movie well, but didn't move me very much.  It comes across as a little melodramatic in parts.  Like The Beloved Rogue there's a very slight hiss in the background.
The full frame image is fine though not outstanding.  The picture is on the soft side and there are frequent spots and scratches on the film.  The contrast is good and the level of detail is acceptable making this easy to watch.
Unfortunately there are no extras.

Final Thoughts:
This was a great set that shows the wide range of roles that Barrymore could play, all of them convincingly.  While only one of the films are new to DVD and the other have not been restored, it's still a very good set showcasing a great artist.  Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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