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Three Women (1924)
Ernst Lubitsch's Three Women, his third American film, is an entertaining but wild ride, blending hints of screwball comedy (arguably more what Lubitsch is known for) with unexpectedly sad melodrama and a hint of a straight-up thriller. Performances are not especially memorable, but Lubitsch's assured direction and intelligently-written script (co-written with Hans Kraly, adapting a novel by Yolande Maree) are enough to make up for the movie's relative lack of star wattage.
Lubitsch's skill as a comedic storyteller is evident right from the beginning, when Edmund meets Mabel. Although he seems to think of himself as a ladies' man, he doesn't make anything of Mabel until Harvey tells him she's worth millions. Almost immediately, Edmund starts checking out her jewelry in a manner akin to a starving cartoon character imagining someone as a juicy steak (another choice bit: him checking the brand of an ornament sitting on a piano while Mabel is in another room). Elsewhere, at college, Jeanne's classmate Dr. Fred Colman (Pierre Gendron) is working up the nerve to try and propose. To get her into a one-on-one setting at her birthday party, he surreptitiously dances her right out the front door, but ends up having to run back to the house a minute later realizing his big gift is in his coat pocket.
These and several other comedic scenes all occur near the beginning of the movie, which takes a turn for the dramatic when Jeanne, despite a letter warning her not to, travels to New York to stay with her mother. Mabel, preoccupied with her attempts to woo Edmund, allows Jeanne to stay but refuses to make time for her, a heartbreak that Lubitsch plays with complete sincerity. Mabel, in turn, is genuinely shattered when Edmund rejects her advances for a mystery woman, and shattered again when she discovers that woman is Jeanne, who ran out of her unwelcoming home and into Edmund's arms.
By the time that the third woman in question (Marie Prevost) enters the picture, and nervous Dr. Fred shows back up, it feels like anything could happen, and while silent era fans might see the film's final scenes coming (dramatically effective, but probably indicative of a certain kind of era-specific idea of moral character), they'll probably surprise anyone else. Throughout, Lubitsch keeps up his visual inventiveness, including a striking match cut between a photo of Jeanne and the real thing, a character kissing someone's hand only to see the engagement ring worn on it, and an excellent use of shadows. Overall, the film could use a little bit more lightheartedness (if Lubitsch and Kraly could find a place where it made sense, anyway), and some stars with a little more charisma, as the pacing drags in the middle, but there's more than enough intrigue in this movie to make it worth a look for fans of the director.
Sepia-toned, black-and-white photos of the film's three women are placed against a matching backdrop, with a bit of computer drop shadow added, and a bit of green design that might be meant to evoke cigarette smoke. Centered above the women, the disc is announced at part of Kino's "Ernst Lubitsch Collection," and the George Eastman Museum is represented both in the upper right hand corner inside the white border and at the bottom as the source for the film's new 4K restoration. The back cover is in line with Kino's usual simplicity -- text and photos in a basic grid with no other flourishes (although there is one mistake: the synopsis incorrectly identifies Lamont's character as "George"). The one-disc release comes in a Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
A 2020 4K restoration by the George Eastman Museum is the source for the disc's 1.33:1 1080p AVC transfer, and a new orchestral score by Andrew Earle Simpson is offered in LPCM 2.0. As with all silent-era films, there is no avoiding print damage, including vertical lines, spots, and scratches, as well as flicker and frame drops, but this is a very nice black-and-white transfer which offers an impressive amount of fine detail and clarity. In fact, I would probably rate this among the most consistently impressive HD masters for a silent-era film that I've seen. One note is that the Eastman museum has made the decision to replace all of the text-based intertitles with newly-created inserts. I have no idea how silent film fans feel about this practice (I can imagine there are purists), but in my opinion, they are mostly well-done, with the possible exception of a single card (what I assume is a telegram about money) that looks a little too "cheap 21st century." Simpson's score is also very creative and energetic, turning some really interesting instrumentation choices and stylistic flourishes to accentuate the action. As this is a new score, there is, of course, no issue with the sound quality.
One supplement is included, an audio commentary by film historian Anthony Slide. Although Slide has delivered a type of track which is not my favorite (one which he clearly scripted in advance and basically reads off of his notes, more like an audiobook than a stream of conversation), he is clearly very well-informed about the making of the film and the players involved, and he has made sure to include a good dose of personal humor and opinion even though the track is pre-written. He does occasionally explain what's happening on the screen, although generally in service of setting up one of his points.
Three Women is a solid entry into Lubitsch's venerated filmography, and the disc looks and sounds excellent, not to mention the film is accompanied by an intelligent commentary (even if it's done in a style I'm not keen on). The package would probably be better as a double feature with a second Lubitsch movie, or accompanied by some short films, but the disc is nonetheless recommended.
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