'Garden of Eden': a new temptation

Critic's Choice


February 09, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach

There's a new player in town when it comes to putting silent movies into the DVD marketplace, and if its first release is any indication, Los Angeles-based Flicker Alley should prove quite the blessing to cinephiles both dedicated and developing.

Star Corinne Griffith and director Lewis Milestone combine for a delightful comedy of mistaken identity in 1928's The Garden of Eden. She plays Toni LeBrun, an aspiring opera singer who, after signing on to what she thinks is a prestigious opera house (it turns out to be a seedy cabaret that specializes in dancers wearing see-through outfits), flees to Monte Carlo, accompanied by her new friend and benefactor, a lowly seamstress (Louise Dresser) who turns out to be widowed Hungarian nobility fallen on hard times. Once in Monaco, armed with a hefty pension check that lets them splurge until the money runs out, the two take on all manner of royal airs. Eventually Griffith's character catches the eye of Richard Dupont (Charles Ray), a rich suitor, who decides he must have her. But what will happen when he learns the poverty-row truth?

Griffith, whose production company was responsible for The Garden of Eden (the first and only film it ever made), is a winsome delight, playing to the camera in a way that's always endearing, never annoying. And Milestone (two years away from his greatest triumph, All Quiet on the Western Front), specializes in engagingly lighthearted scenes, most memorably the first encounter between Griffith's and Ray's characters -- a display of flashing hotel bedroom lights that seems to involve most of Monte Carlo.

The print of Eden transferred to DVD isn't quite pristine, but it's still in excellent shape for a silent film; despite some scratches and dirt, the black and white film shows very little loss of tone or other evidence of decomposition. With luck, this will prove the first of many examples of early cinema plucked from undeserved obscurity by Flicker Alley.

To order: 800-936-1115.

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