Lonesome (1928) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Sometimes, Happiness is Just a Neighbor Away

There’s nothing like a little alone time to give you some perspective on your situation in life — especially when you’re lonely. During his extremely brief career in Hollywood, Hungarian-born filmmaker Paul Fejos directed this early artistic curio contribution to the world of celluloid about a lonely factory worker in New York named Jim (Glenn Tyron), who — bored with the day-to-day drill of his professional life — goes to the mystical Isle of Coney, wherein he meets an equally forlorn female by the handle o’ Mary (Barbara Kent), who works as a telephone operator (because there were few other jobs for women in 1928, you know).

The two hit it off almost immediately, experiencing what can only be described as a storybook romance for the entire day at the beach. And then, before the perfect day draws nigh, the multitudes of other people trying to escape their own worries manage to separate the almost-formed couple — leaving the two to long, yearn, and outright seek each other once more.

Most of Lonesome is set at the beach, focusing on the two friendless folk as they form a connection with one another in an overly-populated, but altogether isolated world. We witness their time together, building our own trust in them as they themselves form their own. Then, as the film leans closer to its climax, we witness the painful, unintentional dividing of the two — a thing that rarely happens in this day and age what with everybody adding each other to Facebook via their mobile phones within minutes of meeting one another. Yes, Lonesome is an extremely dated work, but the message is just as relevant today as it was in 1928.

In addition to telling his 69-minute fairy tale, director Fejos ups the ante for this early cinematic gem in terms of visuals, utilizing several highly experimental techniques (for the time) such as color tinting and superimposing (we didn’t always have CGI, kids), as well as numerous editing and camera tricks. Fejos goes the extra mile by introducing three dialogue sequences to his film; items tossed in for good measure to make sure fans of them newfangled talkies were appeased. All in all, it results in a truly original and hard-to-match motion picture experience.

The Criterion Collection brings us this (mostly) silent classic to home video for the first time in a 1.19:1 presentation that looks quite nice considering the print used for the transfer was less-than-stellar to begin with (and is about the best we may ever see). The presentation contains numerous flaws throughout, but the folks at Criterion have given it their all nevertheless, and the end-result is very crisp and clear. Audio-wise, the mono soundtrack brings us the best the mostly music and sound effects-driven title has to offer. English (SDH) subtitles round out the deal for those of you who have issues with the few bits of dialogue that aren’t written on intertitle cards.

While it’s a pleasure to see Lonesome on home video for the very first time in itself, Criterion’s crew have sweetened the pot by adding two more Fejos titles to this release. First up is a somewhat-complete cut of the silent version of The Last Performance (there was a sound version made at the same time, which has since faded from existence) from 1929, which stars the magnificent Conrad Veidt as a magician who loses his bride to an assistant. Next up is a patchwork reconstruction of Broadway (also from 1929), one of the first films to use a crane, assembled from both the sound and silent versions of the drama.

Lonesome itself features an audio commentary from film historian Richard Koszarksi, who has much to say about the title and its maker. Criterion’s disc also includes a 20-minute audio biography Fejos himself recorded prior to his death in 1963, set to stills of his life in the picture business. Lastly, a brief audio interview with Hal Mohr (Broadway’s cinematographer) from 1973 reflects on the film’s intricate crane shot.

I know there’s a Johnny LaRue joke in that last remark somewhere, kids, but it’s eluding me at the moment.

Luigi Bastardo

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