Infinity Entertainment’s latest themed grouping of public domain movies deserves some props for originality: eight features that were up for Best Picture during the first decade of the Oscars. Not a single one actually won the prize, but as we all know, that doesn’t mean they weren’t worthy of doing so.
In chronological order, then, here are the nominees:
The Racket (1928), a tale of gangsters and cops, a Prohibition story during actual Prohibition. This is also the only silent film here.
Alibi (1929). Another crime melodrama, this time with a recently released con who rejoins the mob. After a policeman is killed, the trick is to crack the man’s alibi, which is a tricky one, since said alibi is a policeman’s daughter.
The Front Page (1931). A zippy tale of newspapers, romance, and an escapee who might just be innocent. If this sounds familiar, it was later remade as His Girl Friday.
A Farewell to Arms (1932). Ernest Hemingway’s tale of doomed love during WWI.
The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), featuring Charles Laughton in a role so made for him, that if Henry VIII had not existed, it would have been necessary to invent him.
A Star is Born (1937). The first version of the tale of a young woman whose rise to fame coincides with her mentor’s fall. Like The Front Page, it would be outclassed by the later remake (the Judy Garland one, not the Barbra Streisand one).
Pygmalion (1938). This, too, would be revisited, and under a different title: My Fair Lady.
Love Affair (1939). And yet another entry in the fodder-for-remake sweepstakes. This shipboard-romance-followed-by-complications weepie would see its fame overshadowed by the subsequent An Affair to Remember.
You’ll note the interesting pattern here – many of the offerings are primarily remembered today as the first versions of stories that would be tackled definitively later on. That said, there is a tremendous amount of classic viewing here. If only it weren’t for the situations in the next two categories…
Those of you who read my reviews of Infinity’s Abbott & Costello and Mickey Rooney collections will not be surprised to learn that the picture quality is pretty ghastly. The best looking transfer of the bunch is, arguably and ironically, the oldest. The Racket is a bit sharper and with deeper tones than most of the others. Basically, we range from the washed-out-and-extremely-grainy-but-watchable (Pygmalion being the other entry that doesn’t offend the eye too egregiously) to the bleached-to-the-point-where-to-watch-is-to-struggle (Alibi, Love Affair). And we have the inevitable “Hollywood Select Video” watermark logo further marring every frame.
Things aren’t great here, either. Lots of static, lots of hiss, and variable volume levels (Love Affair is noticeably more quiet than its companions). The audio quality gets a bit of a buy given the age of the features. It’s also likely that viewers will be so distracted by the picture quality that they’ll barely notice the sound’s shortcomings.
Disc 1 has nine trailers for other nominees from the era. That’s it.
Make no mistake – there are some truly classic films here. But they deserve a much better presentation, budget price notwithstanding.