At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

BEGGARS OF LIFE (KINO/Lorber)

By • Aug 9th, 2017 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

Strong to the point of being offensive in its day, such criticism no longer sticks, but this allows for us to enjoy the aesthetic beauty of the film, and the remarkably subtle performances of the entire cast, particularly Wallace Beery (Wallace Beery = Subtle? Not in my experience until now) It’s also a wonderful opportunity to enjoy Louise Brooks, the cult maverick of nitrate, just before she migrated to Europe and delivered her immortal starring roles in PANDORA’S BOX and DIARY OF A LOST GIRL. She’s great here, full of little gestures and eye movements, and amazingly it feels like she doesn’t know how good she is.

Wellman liked this one better than WINGS, which is considerer by many to be the silent era’s best film. There was another part-talkie version of BEGGARS, no longer extant, and perhaps the director was referring to that cut. Brooks wasn’t as enthusiastic about the film as he was, but nor was she grousing. She comes across, by all accounts, as rather wild but quite bright, and I believe she merely had a clear vision of the film’s strengths and weaknesses.

Adapted from the book by professional hobo Jim Tully, the narrative follows a young girl on the run after killing her abusive father, with a thousand dollar reward on her head, and accompanied by a sympathetic vagabond played by Richard Arlen (also in WINGS). Beery doesn’t appear until after the first act, and straddles the emotional range of intending to ravish her yet being easily persuaded to protect her. Small roles given to the hobo horde are populated with good character actors, including Edgar Washington Blue, a black actor treated fairly respectfully in the film, unusual for the period.

Given the nitrate woes that decimated our silent film history, this is a decent representation of the film that once was. Bright scenes – particularly facial close-ups – are blown out. That’s about the only major flaw with the BluRay print. Other problems are less disturbing. The recently recorded score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra is often lovely and rarely distracting, and there are two commentaries, one favoring Ms. Brooks (by the founding director of the Louise Brooks Society) and another by William Wellman Jr. for balance.

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