“I had in mind a visual poem.” 

– Josef von Sternberg


Described both as the first truly independent American feature film made outside the studio system, as well as the first feature-length avant-garde movie, THE SALVATION HUNTERS was produced on a shoestring budget by the actor George K. Arthur.  It was shot in and around San Pedro, California. Sternberg was the auteur on this film, who was responsible for the direction, writing, art direction, and editing. Chaplin’s support for the film got it distributed through United Artists.

"Sternberg spun the necessity of a low budget into a virtue: the film faithfully captures the grit of the “lower depths” milieu in its story of an impoverished young woman striving to make a better life with her naïve boyfriend, despite being surrounded by men who would exploit her. The film reveals Sternberg, under the influence of Stroheim, rejected the sentimental melodrama of D.W. Griffith in favor of an almost raw naturalism, fascinated with corruption and abasement while also exploring the poetically charged and evocatively contrasting mise-en-scene."

– Havard Film Archive calendar program

"Sternberg (1894-1969) transformed the nether realms of human experience into worlds of picturesque poetry, where décor stands in for society, costume is character, and emotions are phenomena of pattern and light. Pacing and plot are irrelevant to a transcendent glamour, defined by the director as a play of fluid values, of imponderables artfully arranged in a spiritual space, a visual stimulant achieved by flummery.”

– BAM/PFA calendar program

Bonus features on this DVD include the only existing fragment of von Sternberg’s THE CASE OF LENA SMITH (1929), as well as a video essay by film scholar Janet Bergstrom about THE SALVATION HUNTERS.

THE SALVATION HUNTERS was preserved in 2008 by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The fragment of THE CASE OF LENA SMITH was discovered by Japanese film historian Hiroshi Komatsu in 2003 and preserved by Waseda University’s Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum in Tokyo. The Austrian Filmmuseum acquired a 35mm prints of each of these films, which were then extensively digitally restored and remastered for this DVD release.



Format: DVD-PAL / Region 0
(No Regional Code)


(US, 1925)

Director, writer: Josef von Sternberg
Cinematography: Edward Gheller
Cast: George K. Arthur, Georgia Hale, Bruce Guerin, Otto Matieson, Nellie Bly Baker, Olaf Hytten, Stuart Holmes

• 65 minutes
• B&W


Bonus Material

(US, 1929)

Director: Josef von Sternberg
Writer: Jules Furthman & Samuel Ornitz
Cinematographer: Harold Rosson
Editor: Helen Lewis
Art Director: Hans Dreier
With: Esther Ralston, James Hall, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Emily Fitzroy, Fred Kohler, Betty Aho, Lawrence Grant, Leone Lane, Kay Deslys, Alex Woloshin, Ann Brody, Wally Albright & Werner Klingler

• 4 minutes
• B&W

(US, 2016)

Director: Janet Bergstrom

• 30 minutes


Total Running Time: 01:39:00

Language: German intertitles, English subtitles.

Musical Score: Siegfried Friedrich

Booklet Text: Janet Bergstrom & Siegfried Friedrich (Bilingual German & English)

Published By: Edition Filmmuseum

Institutional Price: $250 (plus shipping).

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