Early Universal Vol.1
It’s a depressing fact that a great many of the films produced during the silent era have been lost. Not only have masters and prints been destroyed, gone missing or disintegrated over time, but critics and distributors tend to keep most of their focus on big-name directors and stars from the era, such as Lang, Murnau, Chaplin and Keaton. As such, there’s a huge chunk of cinematic history that is either gone forever or is at least hard to come by for anyone without access to studio vaults or historical archives.

Eureka Video and Universal Pictures attempt to redress the balance somewhat with this handsome package of three obscure but worthy silent movies.

None of these films offer anything that will rocket them to the status of ‘lost gem’ but as curios from a long distant time and as examples of early innovation they have a lot to offer.

Complemented by excellent new original scores and commentaries, this box-set provides a compelling taste of an era when Hollywood was finally producing fully-fledged movie-making in the modern sense, hardly held back by the lack of sound.

BD25 + BD50 | 1080p AVC | 204 min | 61.3 Gb + 3% rec
Language: English intertitles
Subtitles: none
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Sport

The Shakedown (1929) is an early work by prolific director William Wyler whose career would reach into the 1960s, with three Oscars and a plethora of classic movies on his resume including Ben-Hur, Roman Holiday, Mrs Miniver, Funny Girl and Wuthering Heights. The story, like the other two in this set, is quite simple and takes the form of a pretty standard “conman gets his foot caught in the door by the love of a woman in a small town” sub-genre. However Wyler’s direction stands out throughout with some really interesting shots that could not have been easy to pull off with the technology at the time including a downward angle above an ascending and descending pulley attached to the side of an oil platform, and a sequence involving two trains. The main draws here are the performances and the emotion that Wyler manages to ring out of such a rote situation and all done (save the occasional title card) in pantomime. While his performance is rarely subtle, James Murray brings real pathos to his conflicted trickster who must choose between throwing a boxing match or the love of his girl and the respect of a plucky orphan boy who has latched on to him.

Skinner’s Dress Suit (1926) is broader than The Shakedown and would probably be best described as a light comedy. Downtrodden clerk Skinner (Reginald Denny) pretends to his wife (Laura La Plante) that he has been given a big raise in order to avoid disappointing her. Predictably this triggers a spending spree by his wife starting with the titular garment, and Skinner finds himself getting buried in debt as he tries to hobnob with the local high society.

The third and probably quaintest is The Shield of Honor (1927) which begins with a chest-thumping dedication to the Policemen of America and then spends its entire runtime showing the audience what a great bunch of chaps they all are. Starting with a police parade, it hilariously almost comes across as a propaganda film, before settling into a tale of father and son cops who are respectively being forced into retirement and being made LAPD’s first flying policeman!