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With: William S. Hart, Groucho Marx, Anna May Wong, etc.
Written by: Dr. Seuss, Various
Directed by: Joseph Cornell, William S. Hart, D.W. Griffith, Thomas Edison, Chuck Jones, etc.
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 642
Date: 18/03/2013

Treasures from American Film Archives (2000)

4 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The fifty films included in Treasures from American Film Archives (Image Entertainment, $99.99) are indeed like little nuggets, jewels and baubles; this box set easily ranks as one of the finest DVD releases of all time. If a single one of these little gems had been lost to the ravages of time, the world would be a far less magical place to live in.

Most of the fun of owning this extraordinary set is coming through the 11 hours and four DVDs to find your favorite film. For me, the winner is Joseph Cornell's Rose Hobart (1936), a mystically beautiful experimental film resurrected from the ashes of the jungle adventure East of Borneo (1931) and named for that film's luminous lead actress. It's worth watching again and again.

If you labor under the false impression that baseball is boring, check out the 8-minute clip of Negro Leagues Baseball (1946), which features more hidden ball tricks than the Harlem Globetrotters can cook up in a whole game.

A wonderful little 8-minute silhouette animation, The Original Movie (1922) kicks off disc one of the box set and depicts the nature of the movie-making business (and very little has changed since then).

Of particular historical interest are Thomas Edison and William K.L. Dickson's Blacksmith Scene, the first film shown publicly in 1893, and D.W. Griffith's exciting chase movie The Lonedale Operator (1911). Seeing such early films is more profoundly shocking that it may seem; you suddenly feel the effect of 100 years' time flowing by.

In addition to these and other shorts, the box also features four feature-length films: an early version of Snow White (1916), the two-strip Technicolor The Toll of the Sea (1922), a high-pitched melodrama starring the lovely, luminous Anna May Wong, the independently filmed Alaskan film The Chechahcos (1924), and the preachy but earthy William S. Hart western Hell's Hinges (1916). Two films come from our own Pacific Film Archive: the 1938 political ad Running Around San Francisco for an Education and the experimental short OffOn (1968).

Other favorites: James Sibley Watson Jr.'s The Fall of the House of Usher, Chuck Jones's Private Snafu: Spies, John Huston's The Battle of San Pietro, Groucho Marx's home movies, G.W. Billy Bitzer's film of the brand-new New York subway, the heartbreaking The Land Beyond the Sunset. I could go on, believe me.

Learning history can be endless fun, as in digging around in the Treasures box. But in either case, the way you see and understand films will be forever changed. For more info, log onto

The complete list of films is as follows:

  1. Luis Martinetti, Contortionist (1894, 1 minute)
  2. Caicedo, King of the Slack Wire (1894, 1 minute)
  3. The Original Movie (1922, 8 minutes)
  4. Negro Leagues Baseball (1946, 8 minutes)
  5. The Chechahcos (1924, 86 minutes)
  6. Rose Hobart (1936, 19 minutes), by Joseph Cornell
  7. Composition 1 (Themis) (1940, 4 minutes)
  8. George Dumpson's Place (1965, 8 minutes)
  9. The Thieving Hand (1908, 5 minutes)
  10. The Confederate Ironclad (1912, 16 minutes)
  11. The Land Beyond the Sunset (1912, 14 minutes)
  12. Snow White (1916, 63 minutes)
  13. The Fall of the House of Usher (1928, 13 minutes)
  14. From Japanese American Communities (1927-32, 7 minutes)
  15. Demolishing and Building Up Star Theatre (1901, 1 minute)
  16. Move On (1903, 1 minute)
  17. Dog Factory (1904, 4 minutes)
  18. Princess Nicotine; or, The Smoke Fairy (1909, 5 minutes)
  19. White Fawn's Devotion (1910, 11 minutes)
  20. Cologne: From the Diary of Ray and Esther (1939, 14 minutes)
  21. Blacksmithing Scene (1893, 1 minute)
  22. The Gay Shoe Clerk (1903, 1 minute)
  23. Interior New York Subway, 14th St. to 42nd St. (1905, 5 minutes), G.W. Billy Bitzer
  24. Hell's Hinges (1916, 64 minutes), by William S. Hart
  25. The Lonedale Operator (1911, 17 minutes), by D.W. Griffith
  26. Three American Beauties (1906, 1 minute)
  27. We Work Again (1937, 15 minutes)
  28. The Autobiography of a Jeep (1943, 10 minutes)
  29. Private Snafu: Spies (1943, 4 minutes), by Chuck Jones
  30. The Battle of San Pietro (1945, 33 minutes), by John Huston
  31. The Wall (1962, 10 minutes)
  32. From The Keystone "Patrician" (1928, 6 minutes)
  33. From The Zeppelin Hindenburg (1936, 7 minutes)
  34. From Tevye (1939, 17 minutes)
  35. From Accuracy First (ca. 1928, 5 minutes)
  36. From Groucho Marx's Home Movies (ca. 1933, 2 minutes)
  37. From Beautiful Japan (1918, 15 minutes)
  38. From La Valse (1951, 6 minutes)
  39. Battery Film (1985, 9 minutes)
  40. From Rural Life in Maine (ca. 1930, 12 minutes)
  41. From Early Amateur Sound Film (1936-37, 4 minutes)
  42. Running Around San Francisco for an Education (ca. 1938, 2 minutes)
  43. OffOn (1968, 9 minutes)
  44. Her Crowning Glory (1911, 14 minutes)
  45. I'm Insured (1916, 3 minutes)
  46. The Toll of the Sea (1922, 54 minutes), with Anna May Wong
  47. The News Parade of 1934 (10 minutes)
  48. From Marian Anderson: The Lincoln Memorial Concert (1939, 8 minutes)
  49. From West Virginia, the State Beautiful (1929, 8 minutes)
  50. From One-Room Schoolhouses (ca. 1935, 1 min)

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