In my continuing quest to expand my limited knowledge of silent films, I watched Kino Lorber’s recent Blu-ray release of Zaza. Originally a hit Broadway play in 1899, Zaza, starring Gloria Swanson, concerns the relationship between the nominal music hall entertainer, and a married man. It was adapted for both the stage and screen several times over the decades. While classic film fans familiar with various versions of Zaza may argue that Claudette Colbert gives a more skilled acting performance in the subsequent 1938 version, director Allan Dwan went with Swanson, who, even if she wasn’t a great actress, had an uncanny ability to connect with the camera, make audiences laugh, and relate to her characters emotions. Both onscreen and off, Swanson was known for her verbal wit, which she used to great effect in this film.
Zaza (Swanson) is a vain showgirl in a popular French cabaret. Her act consists of dangling over the audience on a giant swing, and throwing flowers to the men beneath her. She dreams of singing on the Paris stage. She competes for audience approval with fellow performer Florian need (Mary Thurman) who despises Zaza and her catty backstage behavior so much, she conspires to cut the rope on her swing.
Forced to take some time off, Zaza meets and falls in love with a Parisian businessman (a too old H.B. Warner), who has a secret that threatens to tear them apart forever. As you can probably tell, Zaza is very much a character piece. However, Allan Dwan was wise enough to let Gloria be Gloria in a sense, and really strut (swing?) her stuff when it comes to the stage numbers. Even when problems arise in her relationship with the businessman, Zaza doesn’t move around much. She’s just not that type of girl. Zaza is a real fighter who’s going to do everything she can, to make the most out of her life.
Presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Zaza looks quite good for a film rapidly approaching its 95th birthday. Slight wear and tear is evident throughout, resulting in some jumpy frames. Some scratches and speckling are in evidence, but it doesn’t take away from the overall viewing experience. Some obvious blurriness makes detail an issue, and delineation isn’t problematic, but true blacks are largely MIA.
The 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix offers a score composed and performed by Jeff Rapsis, dominated by piano. He does a very good job serving the action on the screen. It’s a simple, but concise track that works very well for the information presented.
No subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Commentary with Author Frederic Lombardi: He wrote“Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios.”
- 10 Page Booklet: Includes an essay by Imogen Sara Smith
Movie title: Zaza (1923)
Director(s): Allan Dwan
Actor(s): Gloria Swanson , H.B. Warner , Ferdinand Gottschalk, Lucille La Verne
Genre: Silent, Drama, Romance, Melodrama
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