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Case Number 18465: Small Claims Court

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Academy Collection: The Envelope Please, Volume 1

The Racket
1928 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Alibi
1929 // 83 Minutes // Not Rated
The Front Page
1931 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
A Farewell To Arms
1932 // 78 Minutes // Not Rated
The Private Life Of Henry VIII
1933 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
A Star Is Born
1937 // 111 Minutes // Not Rated
Pygmalion
1938 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Love Affair
1939 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Infinity Entertainment
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // March 8th, 2010

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All Rise...

And the award for DVD reviewer most disgusted with shoddy DVD reissues goes to...Judge Victor Valdivia!

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Alexander Korda's Private Lives (published May 12th, 2009), Alibi (published August 18th, 2005), Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Romance (published April 17th, 2013), Dusan Makavejev: Free Radical (published November 19th, 2009), Film Noir Classics Collection, Volume Three (published August 1st, 2006), Gary Cooper Double Feature (published January 27th, 2005), Love Affair (published February 4th, 2002), A Star Is Born (1976) (published December 22nd, 2006), A Star Is Born (1976) (Blu-ray) DigiBook (published February 22nd, 2013), and A Star Is Born (1954) (Blu-ray) (published June 30th, 2010) are also available.

The Charge

A rare look at "Best Picture" nominees from Oscar's first decade.

The Case

If you've been wondering if this set takes these films and treats them with a modicum of respect, the answer is simple: No, not at all. Academy Collection: The Envelope Please, Volume 1 is yet another cheap DVD reissue of several films that are currently in the public domain and have been issued in countless cheap DVDs that clutter up drugstores and dollar bins throughout the United States. The only mild advantage is that here you get several of them at once, including one that has never been issued on DVD before, but given the appalling packaging and audio/video quality, that's hardly a recommendation.

The set compiles eight films, all of which were nominated for Academy Awards for Best Picture for the year they were released, into four DVDs. Here are the eight films collected in this set:

The Racket
A clean policeman (Thomas Meighan, The Ne'er-Do-Well) in a dirty town struggles to take down the city's reigning crime lord (Louis Wolheim, All Quiet on the Western Front).

Alibi
Just after being released from prison, a racketeer (Chester Morris, Meet Boston Blackie) begins a relationship with a policeman's daughter (Mae Busch, Sons of the Desert), which provides him with an alibi when another policeman is murdered.

The Front Page
A newspaper reporter (Pat O'Brien, Knute Rockne All American) is eager to leave his job once and for all, but is pulled back in by his demanding editor (Adolphe Menjou, Paths of Glory) over a story involving a sensational murder trial. Directed by Lewis Milestone

A Farewell to Arms
A World War I ambulance driver (Gary Cooper, High Noon) falls in love with a nurse (Helen Hayes, Anastasia), but faces increasing adversity as the war progresses.

The Private Life of Henry VIII
In the sixteenth century, England's King Henry VIII (Charles Laughton, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) embarks on a series of marriages, all of which end disastrously.

A Star is Born
A young Midwestern girl (Janet Gaynor, State Fair) goes off to Hollywood hoping to become a movie star and becomes involved with a fading alcoholic actor (Fredric March, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).

Pygmalion
A famous British language professor (Leslie Howard, Gone With the Wind) bets another scholar that he can turn a poor Cockney flower girl (Wendy Hiller, David Copperfield) into an educated upper-class woman.

Love Affair
A French playboy (Charles Boyer, Gaslight) meets an American singer (Irene Dunne, I Remember Mama) on a cruise ship and falls in love with her, even though both are already involved with other people.

Almost all of these films have been released on DVD before; both The Private Life of Henry VIII and Pygmalion even had their own Criterion Collection discs. Even if you've never seen those releases, they certainly can't be any worse than this set. The video quality is awful. Because two films are crammed onto each disc, the films all look compressed and suffer from heavy artefacting. That isn't helped by the fact that all of these are taken from prints that are dirty and severely damaged. All of the films have multiple scratches and a couple—A Farewell to Arms especially—skip and jump repeatedly, meaning you'll miss several crucial lines of dialogue. Also, every film includes a digital watermark that is a sizable eyesore. The audio quality is even worse. Expect plenty of tape hiss, pops, crackles, and sound dropouts, all of which will make you turn up your volume almost to the breaking point. In fact, during Alibi, you can forget about understanding any of Mae Busch's lines because her voice is so soft that she's completely inaudible. Even the chapter stops for each film are botched, haphazardly programmed sometimes in the middle of scenes. The only extras are just as useless, consisting of trailers for other Oscar-nominated films not on this set, all of which look and sound even worse.

As for the films themselves, they all have some elements worth recommending to them but it's also easy to see why so many of them have become obscure over the years. Just as you're not likely to find too many film enthusiasts claiming that The Towering Inferno is an underrated masterpiece, these films prove that just because a film is nominated for Best Picture doesn't mean it's going to age well over the years. The Front Page does have a few funny jokes and its cynicism about the media has become even more trenchant today, but the scene where a reporter repeatedly uses the word "pickaninny" to refer to a black policeman for laughs isn't going to endear the film to many modern viewers. Alibi has some remarkable visuals that echo the geometric Art Deco look of Fritz Lang, but the slow-as-molasses pacing will frustrate even the most devout gangster movie buff. Both A Farewell to Arms and A Star is Born have appropriately lush visuals but are also the type of mawkish and manipulative tearjerkers that the Oscars tend to fall for year after year (Life is Beautiful, anyone?). Even Pygmalion, as lauded as it is, is such a relic of its time and place that while it does have some entertaining scenes, almost all of which occur early on with Hiller, it's hard to imagine that any current viewer could possibly identify with anyone in it. These films may be worth seeing, but whether or not they're worth owning is a much more difficult question, especially since for most of them, this is easily the worst DVD issue they've ever gotten.

The only newly released film here is The Racket. Remade in 1951 with Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan, this is the silent version that Bartlett Cormack, who wrote the original stage play, adapted into a screenplay. It's a (very) thinly veiled depiction of just how corrupt the city of Chicago was at the time. The main gangster is named Scarfi, which is not too far off from "Scarface," the nickname of Chicago's most famous gangster of the era, Al Capone. The film also includes an unseen character named "The Old Man" who controls the city, including the cops, and always does Scarfi's bidding—he bears more than a passing resemblance to Chicago's infamously crooked mayor "Big Bill" Thompson, which explains why the film was never allowed to screen in the city during its original theatrical run. Though it suffers from the stagy dullness of most filmed plays, especially in the silent era, it does have a few notable visuals and scenes. There's a clever shot in which Scarfi, at a rival hood's funeral, notices the entire front row consisting of shady characters all holding their derbies in their laps, which then dissolves to reveal that they're all concealing revolvers under their hats. The ending is also remarkably realistic—just as in real life, good doesn't necessarily triumph over evil. Still, though this is a film worth watching for gangster buffs, it's not good enough to recommend this set wholeheartedly, especially since the DVD's producers have added a ridiculously inappropriate synthesizer music track that doesn't match the action onscreen at all.

Ultimately, there's little reason to spring for this set. Most of the films are available elsewhere, some in better releases than this one, and the technical quality here is abysmal. Only The Racket is exclusive to this release, and it airs periodically on TCM, so you'd be better advised to wait up for that instead of spending money on this collection. These films, even as flawed as many of them are, deserve better than this third-rate collection.

The Verdict

Guilty of being poorly assembled and compiled.

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Genres

• Classic
• Comedy
• Drama

Scales of Justice, The Racket

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, The Racket

Studio: Infinity Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1928
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Racket

• Trailers

Scales of Justice, Alibi

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile, Alibi

Studio: Infinity Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 1929
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Alibi

• None

Scales of Justice, The Front Page

Judgment: 65

Perp Profile, The Front Page

Studio: Infinity Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1931
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Front Page

• None

Scales of Justice, A Farewell To Arms

Judgment: 60

Perp Profile, A Farewell To Arms

Studio: Infinity Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 1932
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, A Farewell To Arms

• None

Scales of Justice, The Private Life Of Henry VIII

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile, The Private Life Of Henry VIII

Studio: Infinity Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1933
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, The Private Life Of Henry VIII

• None

Scales of Justice, A Star Is Born

Judgment: 60

Perp Profile, A Star Is Born

Studio: Infinity Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 1937
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, A Star Is Born

• None

Scales of Justice, Pygmalion

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile, Pygmalion

Studio: Infinity Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1938
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Pygmalion

• None

Scales of Justice, Love Affair

Judgment: 60

Perp Profile, Love Affair

Studio: Infinity Entertainment
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• PCM 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1939
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Love Affair

• None








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