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Bits of history, lost and found

A Valentino-Swanson romantic drama and real-life footage from the early 1900s have been rescued, restored.

July 11, 2006|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

For some 80 years, the 1922 romantic drama "Beyond the Rocks," starring two legends of the silent era -- Gloria Swanson and Rudolph Valentino -- was considered lost. Only one minute of footage existed at the Nederlands Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.

So the catalogers at the Filmmuseum were shocked when they discovered the first two reels of the movie while inventorying a collection of original nitrate reels of films that had been donated. For months, the staff went through all the unidentified reels and discovered the complete movie.

The archivists at the Filmmuseum painstakingly restored the film, which was unveiled last year at Cannes. It also screened at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Now it's out on DVD (Milestone, $30) and includes documentaries on the restoration and scoring of the film and even a 1955 wire recording of Swanson chronicling her life in Hollywood.

Rounding out the disc is another Filmmuseum discovery: the cute 1919 comedy "Delicious Little Devil," starring Mae Murray and Valentino.

Also new from Milestone is the fascinating "Electric Edwardians: The Films of Mitchell & Kenyon" ($30).

In 1900, traveling showmen in the north of England hired filmmakers Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon to shoot local people going about their lives. These films would later be shown at nearby fairgrounds, theaters or town halls so workers, children and vacationers could see themselves on screen.

The original negatives of these films were recently found in Blackburn, England, in a basement of a building that was about to be destroyed. The bfi National Film and Television Archive preserved the films in collaboration with the University of Sheffield National Fairground Archive.

The films, shot from 1900 to 1913, include such titles as "20,000 Employees Entering Lord Armstrong's Elswick Works, Newcastle-upon-Tyne" (1900) and "Ride on the Tramcar through Belfast" (1901).

Extras include a featurette on the restoration, audio commentary from Vanessa Toulmin of the National Fairground Archive and additional shorts.

Also new

"Basic Instinct 2: Unrated" (Sony, $20): The sequel to the 1992 thriller was roundly trounced by critics and audiences -- it made less than $6 million at the box office. Sharon Stone goes au naturel once again as crime novelist Catherine Tramell, who may be a serial killer. David Morrissey plays a criminal psychologist lured into her web of sex and deception. The DVD includes the deleted scenes and the alternate ending, a by-the-numbers featurette and serviceable commentary by director Michael Caton-Jones.

"Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story" (HBO, $30): Clever, amusing film-within-a-film about the beleaguered production. Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Jeremy Northam star; Michael Winterbottom directed. The extras -- which include scene extensions, behind-the-scenes footage and wryly comical commentary from Coogan and Brydon -- are just as entertaining as the film.

"Grand Prix: Special Edition" (Warner, $21): This lavish 1966 race-car drama certainly wasn't director John Frankenheimer's best film. Nevertheless, it is a visual and technical masterpiece. Frankenheimer attached cameras to Formula One cars and shot during the actual races in Europe to give viewers a breathtaking, you-are-there feel. His use of multiple images and split screen and sound design also heightened the intense and suspenseful race footage. The international cast includes James Garner, Yves Montand, Brian Bedford, Eva Marie Saint, Jessica Walter and Toshiro Mifune. "Grand Prix" won Oscars for editing, sound and sound effects.

The two-disc set features several documentaries, including the retrospective "Pushing the Limit: The Making of Grand Prix," as well as "Flat Out: Formula One in the Sixties," "The Style and Sound of Speed" and "Brands Hatch: Chasing the Checkered Flag." Also included is the vintage featurette "Grand Prix: Challenge of the Champions."

"Perry Mason: The First Season" (Paramount, $50): Television's first successful lawyer series. Based on Erle Stanley Gardner's classic novels, "Perry Mason" starred Raymond Burr -- who was best known for his villainous roles -- as the famous defense attorney who never seemed to lose a case.

Barbara Hale played his loyal secretary Della Street; William Hopper (son of gossip columnist Hedda) was Mason's investigator, Paul Drake; Ray Collins played Lt. Arthur Tragg; and William Talman was Mason's archenemy, district attorney Hamilton Burger. This five-disc set includes 19 episodes from the 1957-58 season. "Perry Mason" aired on CBS until 1966.

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