Cecil B. DeMille Risqué 'Chicago' DVD: Phyllis Haver a Fantastic Roxie Hart

by Andre Soares
Chicago Cecil B. DeMille Phyllis Haver

Phyllis Haver, Victor Varconi, ChicagoChicago, the restored 1927 silent (unofficially) directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring perky Phyllis Haver (right, with Victor Varconi) as Roxie Hart, is being released on DVD by Flicker Alley, in collaboration with The Blackhawk Films Collection.

The 2002 Chicago remake, based on Bob Fosse's musical which itself was taken from Maurine Watkins' stage play, starred Renée Zellweger (as Roxie), Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere. It was a good-sized box office and critical hit.

Directed by Rob Marshall from a screenplay by Bill Condon (who'll next be directing The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn), Chicago won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Zeta-Jones).

I'm probably in the minority here, but I thought the Chicago remake was all but unwatchable. The 1927 version, however, is something else altogether. There are no long, splashy musical numbers – and that's good, in my view – the cynical dialogue (via intertitles) sparkles, it feels much more daring than the 2002 movie, and best of all, Phyllis Haver is nothing short of brilliant as the ambitious antiheroine on trial for murdering her older lover.

Handsome Victor Varconi plays Roxie's husband; silent film veteran Robert Edeson is the lawyer; and Eugene Pallette, who'd play supporting roles in dozens of Hollywood movies of the '30s and '40s, is Roxie's lover who ends up very, very dead. The scuzzy media plays the scuzzy media – and that's one of the reasons why Chicago 1927 feels more modern (and more relevant, really) than Chicago 2002.

Cecil B. DeMille, who that same year directed The King of Kings, felt that Jesus and Roxie weren't exactly a match made in heaven. Thus, assistant director Frank Urson received sole directorial credit for Chicago. Lenore J. Coffee wrote the screenplay, while John W. Krafft provided the intertitles.

According to the Flicker Alley press release, the two-disc Chicago DVD release will feature an accompanying score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra; The Golden Twenties (1950), a compilation documentary feature produced for The March of Time series, using authentic footage of the era; and Oscar-winning Lauren Lazin's The Flapper Story (1985), “in which several self-declared children of the roaring twenties look back across the decades on their youthful lives.” All three films were produced for DVD by David Shepard.

Also included are a brochure by Thomas Pauly on author Maurine Watkins and the factual background of Chicago; notes by Robert S. Birchard, author of Cecil B. DeMille's Hollywood; and a special documentary supplement, Chicago; The Real-Life Roxie Hart by Jeffery Masino and Silas Lesnick.

Chicago is the twelfth DVD title to be released through the partnership of Film Preservation Associates' Blackhawk Films Collection and Flicker Alley. Their previous releases, all very much worth having, are: Discovering Cinema, Saved From The Flames, Georges Méliès: First Wizard of Cinema (1896-1913), Abel Gance's La Roue, Perils of the New Land: Films of the Immigrant Experience (1910-1915), Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer, Under Full Sail - Silent Cinema on the High Seas, and Bardelys The Magnificent / Monte Cristo, George Méliès Encore, and The Italian Straw Hat.

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