Unboxing the Silents: Tod Browning’s “Drifting” and “White Tiger” on Bluray

More criminal thrills from Universal! Kino Lorber has released a pair of 1923 Tod Browning and Priscilla Dean’s underworld collaborations on DVD and Bluray.

As always, thanks to Kino Lorber for the review copy.

You can order the disc here. (Disclosure: I earn a small commission from sales made through affiliate links.)

Tod Browning? Lon Chaney, Freaks, Dracula, yeah, we’ve heard of him. I say “Priscilla Dean” and a fair number of you will probably say, “Who?” so let’s tackle that.

Dean specialized in playing the kind of tough dames and molls that are usually associated with talkie gangster films and noir pictures. While her films had plenty of action, she wasn’t comparable to serial queens like Pearl White or Helen Holmes. In fact, she was quite often a villain for a good portion of the picture, usually redeemed by a nice fella. (So, in essence, the female equivalent of William S. Hart’s “Good Bad Man.”)

I’ve covered Kino’s release of Outside the Law and I’ve reviewed The Wicked Darling, an early pairing of the Browning-Dean-Chaney trio. Dean is generally billed third in modern releases but she was #1 in the eyes of audiences and Universal when the films were first released. Dean is wonderful. Tough, tender, conflicted… I realize that she isn’t exactly the headliner to modern viewers but if some Chaney or Browning fans discover her because of these quality releases, I will be pleased.

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Drifting is a tale of opium smuggling and in addition to Dean, the picture features Wallace Beery, Matt Moore and Anna May Wong. The tinted 4K restoration is absolutely stunning, especially the cherry red during the fiery climax. Kudos to George Estman and the National Film Preservation Foundation because this is exquisite.

White Tiger survives on 16mm and is a bit worse for the wear but we are fortunate to have it at all, considering the rather poor percentage of surviving Universal silents. It’s still perfectly watchable. This film features Dean, Beery, Moore and Raymond Griffith, plus an automaton.

We also get the remaining fragments of The Exquisite Thief. Check those attics!

Music

Drifting is accompanied by Philip Carli and White Tiger is accompanied by Andrew Earle Simpson, both are characteristically excellent.

You get one film that will knock your socks off, one that survived by the skin of its teeth and some tantalizing fragments. I consider that a bargain. This disc is recommended for anyone interested in seeing the darker side of mainstream Hollywood heroines during the silent era. And, obviously, fans of Tod Browning and/or Anna May Wong will want to check this out as well.

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4 Comments

  1. Daniel Duclos

    Hi
    Thanks for this review.
    I already commanded the two Dean/Chaney/Browning bluray and i hope they will not take 6 months to cross the ocean and arrive in France.
    I hope Warner will in a close futur upgrade on bluray their Chaney/Browning existing DVDs. But not sure…
    During a Browning retrospective in Paris in 2020, i discovered an other Dean/Browing movie, the « Virgin of Stamboul »: it’s was very bad…

    Thanks again for your blog!
    Daniel

  2. rmichaelpyle

    This and the new release of “Outside the Law” have given me a new appreciation of Priscilla Dean. I had old VHS tapes of OtL and WT, but I’d never even heard of the little fragment or “Drifting”, and the latter is superlative and the little fragment left me wanting all of it. Dean keeps reminding me of an early Barbara Stanwyck. Indeed, sometimes in certain parts of “Outside the Law” and “Drifting” she even looks like a young Stanwyck. It’s the eyes and her mouth.

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