Shelfie: Silent Movie Box Sets Galore!

I’m back with another little peek into my silent movie collection. Unlike previous posts (find them here under the Shelfie category) this will be dedicated entirely to multi-disc sets.

(Click on image for more information, pricing, purchase options, etc. I live in California, so all discs will be region 1/A or region free unless otherwise noted.)

Griffith Masterworks

This 2002 Kino box set contains the feature films that are generally considered to be the top Griffith pictures: The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance, Broken Blossoms, Orphans of the Storm, plus a double disc set of Biograph Shorts 1909-1913. The shorts are the real highlight of the set, by the way. I can pretty much live without everything else but I keep them around for reference material.

(This may come as a surprise to some readers but my main objection to Griffith is less about his actual output– I quite enjoy his short films– and more about some people declaring that he invented everything and that he couldn’t possibly have been racist because, like, he had black friends. If his more rabid supporters would knock it off with the hagiographical fawning, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Realistic assessments of his life and career are always welcome but, frankly, they are in short supply.)

Griffith Masterworks 2

This 2008 Kino box is the more interesting of the two. It contains Way Down East, The Avenging Conscience, Abraham Lincoln, The Struggle and Sally of the Sawdust, as well as the documentary D.W. Griffith: Father Rancid Magnolia of Film. So we get a very early feature, his only two talkies, one of his last hits and Way Down East, which I consider to be his most successful feature-length effort.

D.W. Griffith: Years of Discovery

This was an early acquisition for me (after several disappointing Griffith features) and helped form my opinion that D.W. Griffith was a master miniaturist. I have the 2002 Image edition but it is out of print. Flicker Alley has reissued the set as Volume One and Volume Two and it is definitely worth the purchase. The scores are by Robert Israel and Gaylord Carter, so you know you’re in good hands.

The Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection

You whippersnappers may not remember but before 2005, finding Harold Lloyd on home video was quite a challenge. This 2005 set from New Line Home Video changed all that. It’s seven discs of all of Lloyd’s most famous films– not complete but absolute heaven for a Lloyd-starved populace. The set is now out of print and the Criterion Collection is issuing fully-loaded discs of Lloyd’s hits. However, this set can be quite a bargain considering the quality and quantity.

Edison: The Invention of the Movies

Most people have seen The Great Train Robbery but this 2005 Kino box set showcases 140 films produced by Edison between 1891 and 1918. It’s not perfect and I would have liked to see more of the company’s feature-length material (Edison features were remarkably modern in their editing) but it is a wonderful glimpse at a misunderstood pioneer.

Murnau, Borzage & Fox

This monster 2008 box set contains twelve films (two from Murnau) in the silent and early talkie eras. Keep your eye out for bargains, especially if you are a fan of Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor.


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  1. Scott Lueck

    I would agree that the Harold Lloyd box set was a godsend to us Lloyd junkies. Not only were the films very high quality, but they enabled us to finally ditch our clunky VHS copies of Harold’s work. The only quibble I had with it was that it didn’t include Welcome Danger, his first talkie (which I realize wasn’t spectacular, but I’ve never been able to find it on disc, and would really like to own it).

    My goodness, that Image edition of Years of Discovery is pricey. I think I got mine for four or five bucks at a used bookstore. Every now and again I get lucky…

  2. Hedvig

    I have the set of Biograph shorts. I bought it when I was a teenager visiting the US, and was so disappointed when it wouldn’t play on my family’s dvd-player. Eventually I set my computer so that it could only play region 1 dvds. It was worth it in my opinion, I love the biograph shorts. I pretty much share your opinion on DWG. They are all historically interesting, but Way Down East is the one full-length movie he made that I genuinely like as entertainment, mainly because I think there is some real chemistry between the Lillian and Richard. I also think the climax is a great piece of melodrama. It is what it is.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Yes, those regions are such a hassle. I wish we had special dispensation for nerds. (We don’t want to see the latest blockbuster, we just want foreign silent films!)

      Way Down East was also a thematic callback to Griffith’s earlier work and it has an ease about it that is missing from much of his later work. Small town America suited him and it’s a shame he went back so rarely.

  3. A.G. McCormick

    Anyone remember the five Harold Lloyd films released by HBO/Thames Video in the early 1990s (SAFETY LAST, GIRL SHY, THE KID BROTHER, SPEEDY, and HOT WATER)? Cinemax broadcast the five once in 1993. The later DVD collection would carry over the Carl Davis score for SL, SP, and KB, but not the Jim Parker scores for the remainder. Pity, I really like Parker’s GS score, especially in the final chase.

  4. Gene Zonarich

    The Edison and the first Griffith sets were among my earliest big box set purchases. There are so many gems in the Edison collection spanning the entire period from the earliest film experiments (including synchronized sound), to the feature film era (Erich von Stroheim appearing in an early,evil “Hun” incarnation), plus two shorts starring Mary Fuller, who for a brief period rivaled another Mary — Pickford — in popularity. (More Mary Fuller, please !!)

    Speaking of Mary Pickford, my dearest wish for restoration of films held in archives are the Pickford Biographs. The sets of Biograph shorts that have been issued are very short on Pickford material, and also very short on Griffith’s prolific first two years at Biograph, 1908-09. Those two years contain the work of Biograph’s (and Griffith’s) first two lead actresses, Marion Leonard and Florence Lawrence, whose performances show none of the simpering, bird-kissing antics that most viewers associate with “Griffith actresses.”

    Grapevine has issued 6 volumes of Griffith Biograph shorts that include many from this period, but they are transfers of (mostly) very bad source material. Better quality exists among the hundreds of Biographs held by the Library of Congress, including their paper print collection. Other archives also have better source material, especially of the Pickford shorts. Maybe someday … (sigh) …

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Agreed! Frankly, I’m a little surprised that nobody has continued to release quality editions of the Griffith shorts other than what is contained in the box sets and as extras for other films. Seeing these early actresses in motion is indescribably valuable.

  5. Randy Cox

    I bought the Harold Lloyd set when it first came out and have been revisiting it lately. I agree with everything you’ve said about it.

  6. Kerr Lockhart

    I treasure the now OOP von Sternberg set from Criterion. I also enjoy the Chaney set from Warner Archive, although those films are not restored, and some, especially HE WHO GETS SLAPPED. And THE ART OF BUSTER KEATON was wonderful in its day, although its contents are being superseded by new restorations from Lobster Films. Same goes for the Image-Blackhawk set of Chaplin Essanays and Mutuals.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      One thing I can tell all silent movie fans: get whatever you can while it’s still available! These things have tiny print runs and when they’re gone, they’re gone.

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