Paul Fejos was a technically daring filmmaker, who made four American films before fleeing Hollywood to go back to his native Hungary. "The Last Moment," his 1927 Hollywood calling card, is lost. In 1928, he went on to make "Lonesome" for Universal, followed in 1929 by "The Last Performance" and "Broadway." "Lonesome" has been progressively restored over the past 20 years, and Criterion has just released it on Blu-ray and DVD.
Fejos' U.S. career coincides exactly with the period depicted in "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Artist" — the chaotic transition from silents to sound. Universal decided that "Lonesome," shot silent, needed three gratuitous dialogue sequences, awkwardly shoehorned into the story. The film also has a few color scenes, which required frame-by-frame inking directly on the celluloid, done by hand on each individual print. Yoicks.
The story — about two blue-collar workers, a boy and a girl, who meet and fall in love at Coney Island, only to lose each other again — feels like a cross between King Vidor's "The Crowd" and F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise." It doesn't rival those two, but almost no dramas in the '20s did. There is probably nothing that can be done about the scratchy soundtrack; and the video, while clean, is far grainier than other silents on Blu-ray. Richard Koszarski provides a lively commentary track.
Criterion's release has a 20-minute photomontage, accompanying audio of Fejos reminiscing. But the real attraction in the extras is the presence of both "The Last Performance" and "Broadway," so that all three of Fejos' surviving American features are here. Neither has undergone restoration, and both are far more ragged and faded than "Lonesome" — which is probably why Criterion isn't marketing this as a multi-film package. As a pair of extras on a regular-price release, they're great to have.
"Lonesome" (Criterion, Blu-ray, $39.95; DVD, two discs, $29.95)
ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).