I love the MOD (Manufactured On Demand) programs that Sony, Warner Brothers, and other studios have started. Through these, many quality films, often niche titles that don't have a wide appeal, are being released, including a fair number of movies from the silent days of cinema. Case in point: The Sony Choice Collection has just released The Belle of Broadway, a 1926 Betty Compson vehicle that has some ludicrous plot elements but is actually a very nice film.
In the Paris of 1896, Madame Adele was the toast of the town. Staring in the play du Barry she received rave reviews as well as more than a few suitors. The latter really bothered her husband, a member of the theater's orchestra who is incredibly jealous of the rich men who fawn after his wife especially the Count Raoul de Parma. One evening he's had enough and takes their son Paul and runs away to America.
Thirty years pass, and Adele is having trouble finding work. Her youth and beauty have faded, and (like today) it's hard for older actresses to find jobs in the theater. One producer even tells her that he'd put her back on the stage if only she looked like she did decades earlier.
When a friendly neighbor girl, Marie Duval (Betty Compson) stops by later that evening, Adele has an idea: She dresses Marie in her old Madame du Barry costume and the younger girl is a spitting image of the actress back when she was young. Along with her old manager the trio hatches a plan: They'll teach Marie how to play the part and then claim that Marie actually is Madame Adele who has regained her youth after undergoing plastic surgery. The plan does work, and Marie is a hot actress, but the Count suspects something is up (he's the only one however) and plots discover if the new Madame Adele is the original one. When Adele's long lost son Paul arrives in Paris looking for his mother, he falls in love with Marie (not realizing that she's impersonating the woman he's looking for) and things really get complicated.
Yes, the plot is filled with coincidences and stretches believability way past the breaking point, but surprisingly it doesn't ruin the film. It's actually a very enjoyable, light drama mainly thanks to Betty Compson. She has a lot of screen presence: lovely to look at with a pleasant personality, Compson really gives the film its charm. She was a solid star when she made this film, and it's easy to see why, but she'd become even bigger two years after this movie when she stared in Josef von Sternberg's magnificent Docks of New York. It's great to compare her role in this film with her most important role to see just what a wide range she had as an actress. Compson did well in Hollywood, even after the advent of sound. She had a very pleasant voice and made the transition to talkies without major trouble.
This silent movie comes with an original score composed by Christopher Caliendo. It's performed mainly on piano and flute along with a couple of additional instruments (a violin among them) that join in from time to time. Unfortunately there are on credits for the music attached to the film itself, but it doesn't sound like a small group, more like a single artist overlaying multiple tracks (and there's nothing wrong with that). The musicians were talented and scene-specific score itself was very good, though I would have mixed the piano a bit higher. It's a nice accompaniment to the film.
The video quality is simply outstanding. Restored from an original print (rather than a multi-generation dub or reduction copy) the tinted image will really wow fans of early cinema. The image is very clean and clear, the lines are tight, and the contrast is excellent overall. There are a couple of missing frames, but that's the worst thing I can say about it.
There aren't any extras at all, the disc doesn't even have a menu. The movie just starts to play after the FBI warning screens.
This isn't a major film, but it is fun to watch. Betty Compson is very good in the film and her presence really makes the movie. On top of that the restored, tinted image is excellent. Recommended.