09 June 2012

Region 1 No Longer A Marlene Dietrich DVD Loser?

 Several months ago, I ranted about my difficulties with TCM Shop, but I am pleased to say that I eventually purchased and received the TCM Vault Dishonored/Shanghai Express double feature from an Amazon vendor. Despite my criticism of the TCM Shop site, I can only praise its TCM Vault products. This double feature and the one that included The Song of Songs contain solid prints and robust sound, which gives me hope for more TCM Vault and Universal joint releases, especially if the bigwigs can make available a better version of The Scarlet Empress. I would be exaggerating if I claimed that I must blink profusely and hold up an ear horn to fully enjoy the Criterion Collection release of The Scarlet Empress, but its quality leaves a lot to be desired that Amazon critics and even The New York Times critic Dave Kehr have decried. Does anyone know whether Criterion holds exclusive distribution rights in the U.S.? Before superfluous questions make me stray too far from my intended topic, I should spit it out now: American (and Canadian as well?) Dietrich fans are finally catching up with the rest of world as more Region 1 DVDs have hit the market.

With the availability of multi-region/region-free/all-region PAL/NTSC DVD players priced under $100 and sometimes under $50, I admit that my desire for Region 1 DVDs is technologically irrelevant. Technology, however, isn’t the issue. DVD prices also factor into this discussion. I don’t know whether those of you who are casually interested in Dietrich would be willing to buy the Dishonored/Shanghai Express double feature for $24.99 and up, but I imagine that you would be even less willing to purchase just one of these titles in a non-Region 1 PAL format from $25.99, especially if you can’t verify whether you can turn off any non-English subtitles. Those of you who think you’re getting a deal by purchasing one of these titles in an all-region PAL format from $16.80 might possibly be surprised to discover that your disc is dubbed in Italian! Merda!

For those of you interested in Dietrich movies but concerned about compatibility issues that may arise with imported DVDs, you have the option of stepping back in time and purchasing VHS tapes. Hopefully, you still have some kind of VHS player. Most of the current ones available are DVD/VHS combo players. Therefore, you may have to shell out more cash than you’d like if you want a new player. Be aware that most Dietrich VHS tapes you buy will be used, which was the case of all the ones I acquired. From my paltry collection, I can tell that various distributors were releasing Dietrich’s movies on VHS since the 1980s. Probably capitalizing on her death, the company then known as MCA Universal Home Video put out a Marlene Dietrich Collection some time between 1993 and 1994. In 1998, the company re-branded itself as Universal Home Video (more about that history here) and released tapes in the wordier Universal Cinema Classics: The Marlene Dietrich Collection.
Since the advent of DVDs, Universal and Warner Bros., the corporations with U.S. distribution rights to most of Dietrich’s movies, have dawdled while ghastly kitsch such as The Garden of Allah saw a release at the turn of the millennium, and then a second release in 2004 through MGM. In 2006, Universal put out Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection, which I found chintzy given that five titles were crammed onto two DVDs. As an aside, I have become interested in Carole Lombard after reading the delightful and regularly-updated Carole & Co. blog and bought her "glamour" collection, which was anything but. Poor Miss Lombard has one-upped Dietrich with SIX movies on TWO DVDs, and her hair on the colorized cover is the same Heinz hot dog mustard shade as Lady Gaga's "Telephone" video coiffure, which the slipcover thankfully obscures.

Back to Marlene, Universal and Warner have somewhat redeemed themselves since 2010 by releasing Dietrich’s back-catalog as manufactured-on-demand (MOD) DVD-Rs. I held off on purchasing these products because I have read mixed opinions about their quality, but I finally succumbed and ordered enough of these DVDs to make a haul video on YouTube. Maybe naively, I hope that my purchases will contribute to the collective ripple of Dietrich-related DVD purchases that prompt companies to release her flicks in higher-quality formats, including even Blu-ray.

If you insist, I can be more analytical and give you numbers even though I have reservations about Amazon's algorithms, which I will explain now. Search the phrase "marlene dietrich" in Amazon's Movies & TV department, sort your results by "Most Popular," and you'll see the Lombard DVD I had already mentioned and a Greta Garbo collection in the top 12. Is this like when IMDB told us Dietrich is known for Fight Club? Until I figure out how to circumvent these Amazon quirks, you'll have to settle for my lazy anecdotal observations: Whenever I browse the Dietrich DVDs at Amazon, I often see the red-colored font urging me to order soon because only a handful of DVDs are in stock, which would indicate to me that Dietrich's selling and which reminds me to gripe that one of Dietrich’s finest films, A Foreign Affair, has yet to be released in the United States in DVD format! What's the hold-up?! Don't break my heart by releasing The Lady Is Willing before that classic.
My apologies to our many non-American readers whom I've put to sleep, but don't feel left out because I would be thrilled to read about your experiences and difficulties in acquiring Dietrich movies where you live. I'd also like to read from fans of Dietrich who had to discover her movies before the proliferation of home videos. I have romantic fantasies of Dietrich black markets where you bought, sold, and traded shaky 8mm bootlegs furtively filmed at second-run and retrospective theater screenings.

***Note: Photos in this entry were deleted by host site.


  1. First of all, thanks for the compliments about "Carole & Co." (let me return them regarding your site), and I'm glad to hear that the "Shanghai Express/Dishonored" combo is successful in both its packaging and the quality of its contents. "Shanghai" is probably my favorite Dietrich film; not only is she photographed with the iconic affection she deserves, but it's a story with genuine tension and nice work from virtually all the cast (especially Anna May Wong, who never had a better American film role than this).

    At least virtually all of Marlene's early Paramount work is available (if not in optimum condition); the same can't be said of the same period for Carole. (And I'm not placing Lombard's early '30s work on the same level as Dietrich's by any means -- Carole was still finding herself as an actress, and Paramount had no idea how to use her.) While the likes of "It Pays To Advertise," "No One Man," the over-the-top "White Woman" (Charles Laughton chews the scenery as if it were a leg of mutton) and the Lombard-George Raft dance film "Bolero" were programmers at best, all have a little something going for them, and it's unfortunate the only place you can find them are as bootlegs. (Then again, many of Claudette Colbert's early '30s movies are also without a legit DVD issue, so it's not as if Carole is being singled out.)

    1. I have only begun watching that Glamour Collection DVD, but I was charmed by Lombard's screen presence in A Man of the World. Truth be told, I wasn't devoting my full attention to the movie and will have to watch it again, which is usually the case for me. If Carole was still finding herself, it's understandable. She was several years younger than Marlene and didn't have a von Sternberg to guide her and support her as Marlene did.

  2. Bonsoir Joseph,

    Rassurez-vous, votre nouvel article concerne et intéresse aussi les lecteurs européens. Beaucoup de films de Marlene ne sont jamais sortis en VHS et il y a en eu encore moins en DVD. Les films tournés avec la Paramount sont disponibles et certains de ses premiers films pour Universal, et c'est tout. Je me suis rendu compte que les Espagnols avaient plus de choix...
    Nous avons le choix entre cinq ou six éditions de "L'Ange bleu", mais il est impossible de voir "Kismet" ou "The Lady Is Willing"... Et avec la baisse de la vente des DVD, je ne suis pas très optimiste quant à l'édition de films "secondaires".
    J'ai encore des films que j'ai enregistrés avec mon magnétoscope, l'image et le son vieillissent mal, mais je n'ai pas d'autre support.

    Marlene mérite mieux.

    1. Il est posible de voir Kismet chez nous, mais il est imposible de le regarder.;) Serieusement, je me demande si les films de Garbo ou Rita Hayworth sont disponibles en France. Garbo etait la visage d'MGM où Marlene a tourné Kismet, et Hayworth etait la grande star de Columbia où Marlene a tourné The Lady Is Willing. Je plains leurs fans francais s'il n'y a pas rien pour eux. Et vous, je vous plains! Il est insupportable que vous devez regarder quelques films que vous avez enregistrés! Je sais que vous pouvez trouver les films dans les torrents, mais les lois de "digital copyright" sont contre nous.

      Je n'ai eu aucune idee que beaucoup de films de Marlene ne sont pas sortis en France. Est-ce que Martin Roumagnac ou The Monte Carlo Story sont disponibles?

      La baisse de la vente des DVD pourrait expliquer les films en fichier qu'Amazon offre. Je prefere avoir No Highway in the Sky en DVD avec une boite dessinee, mais 20th Century Fox ne semble pas vendre les DVDs "in demand." Je n'ignore pas les autres problemes des films en fichier. Je peux les effacer pour erreur, je peux les perdre si j'achete un nouveau ordinateur ou si un virus infecte mon compu, le format peut devenir obsolete, ou le format peut vieillir. En bref, les films en fichier sont trop ephemeres.

  3. "The Monte Carlo Story" n'est pas sorti. "Martin Roumagnac" oui, il y a quelques années en DVD, car c'est un film avec Gabin, mais ce film est lourd et convenu. Gabin avait acheté les droits du roman avant la Guerre et il voulait à tout prix rentabiliser son achat. Aucun bon metteur en scène n'a accepté son projet, il a trouvé un tâcheron...
    "Kismet" est un film charmant et drôle. J'aime beaucoup le kitsch !
    Tous les films de Marlene m'intéressent. Un film secondaire des années 1940 a souvent un charme et une classe que l'on ne retrouve plus.
    Pour Garbo, Hayworth, comme pour Marlene, les grands classiques se trouvent partout. Il ne faut pas être exigeant.
    Les film enregistrés ne sont pas disponibles en France ou en zone 2.

    1. Yes, Kismet could be called Kitschmet because of the characters played by Dietrich, Ronald Colman, and Edward Arnold. The entire story should have been rewritten to focus on these three, but I suppose I shouldn't slight Joy Page, whose mommy Ann Warner was part of the "sewing circle."

  4. For the Region 2 people there is a 12 disk DVD box called "De Marlene Dietrich Collectie" released by a Dutch production company called

    The box is only €30,- which is rather cheap I think. Yes it is an odd collection of her movies, but I find myself watching about half of them definately more then once. They are all in English except "Marlene" which is a 2000 German biopic starring Katja Flint as Marlene.

    Subtitels: English, German, French, Dutch, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish and Swedish.

    -MARLENE (German biopic)

    You can order the box through this link
    It is a bit annoying since the website is only in Dutch, but I checked and they practically deliver worldwide.

  5. All the pictures in this page were deleted... what happened?

    1. The host site of the photos must have deleted them.