“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
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.
CHILDREN OF DIVORCE was actually directed by Frank Lloyd for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation/Paramount Pictures, with a million-dollar budget. The story of the film begins in an American "divorce colony" in Paris after the First World War, where parents would leave their children for months at a time. Jean, Kitty, and Ted meet there as children and become fast friends. Years later, in America, when wealthy Ted (Gary Cooper) reconnects with Jean (Esther Ralston), the two fall deeply in love, vowing to fulfill a childhood promise to one day marry each other. But true love and the most innocent of plans are no match for the scheming Kitty—played by the original Hollywood “It” girl, Clara Bow—who targets Ted for his fortune. After a night of drunken revelry, Ted wakes up to find he has unwittingly married Kitty. This unfortunate turn of events, however, carries with it the traumatized pasts of the three players, whose views of marriage have been shaped as children of divorce.
“[Paramount producer B.P. Schulberg] decided the film needed some European sophistication, and he turned to von Sternberg…The actors, having gone on to new films, were available only at night, so shooting took place after hours. As all the sets had already been struck, von Sternberg and cinematographer Victor Milner filmed everything in a tent, timing shots between rainstorms. This gave von Sternberg complete command of lighting, particularly during Bow’s death scene (suicide by poison) in Ralston’s arms. Shadows and texture imposed a poignant atmosphere…CHILDREN OF DIVORCE showed that von Sternberg could be a company man and work as part of a team. He was rewarded by Schulberg with the film [UNDERWORLD] that would launch his reputation.”
– John Baxter, von Sternberg
Sourced from the original nitrate negative held by the Library of Congress, as well as their 1969 fine grain master, this new restoration of CHILDREN OF DIVORCE was scanned in 4K resolution, and represents over 200 hours of laboratory work by the Library of Congress in order to create the best version possible. Though some deterioration remains, this is the first time the film has ever been released on home video (by Flicker Alley), allowing audiences to enjoy a rare viewing of classic performances from two of early cinema’s most recognizable stars, namely Clara Bow and Gary Cooper.
Related American Silent Feature Length Films of Interest from GME: