The Film Preservation Society Has Too Many Kisses For Us All

There's a new blu-ray label on the scene, called the Film Preservation Society.


They're focusing on all 460+ Biograph films directed by D.W. Griffith between 1908 and 1913.

"Oh.  Well uh, good luck to them."

Their first release is the long lost cinematic debut of Harpo Marx!

"Hey now, why didn'tcha say so?"
Yes, from my inner monologue to yours: what we have here is Too Many Kisses, the 1925 silent film where audience's caught their first glimpse of a Marx Brother on the silver screen.  Yes, this is the one we saw a clip of ("this recently unearthed footage, long thought lost by even the most ardent Marx Brothers fans") in The Unknown Marx Brothers.  The FPS has restored the entire film from a print scanned at The Library of Congress.  But fans should know, the aforementioned clip comes dangerously close to showing Harpo's entire on-screen performance.  He's in other scenes, but mostly as an extra, with only about a minute or so to flex his comic talents, and his character feels like a last minute inclusion.  This is really a romantic comedy starring Richard Dix (Cimarron).  If it weren't for the fact that Marx historians have been writing about Too Many Kisses for decades, I'd've said this film would be better marketed towards Thin Man fans, as William Powell has a much larger, showier role as the film's antagonist.
Dix is a millionaire playboy who's sent to Basque by his father to set up a business venture, and more importantly, stay out of trouble with the ladies.  Of course, that falls apart almost immediately, as Dix falls for a local young woman who's already somewhat betrothed to local captain of the guard, Powell.  So expect lots of silly humor about the eccentric locals, sweet vows of love, bitter duels, wacky miscommunication and of course swooning women.  Even for its time, I'd say it was easy, predictable fare.  But it's charming if never hilarious, briskly paced (although, as ever with silent films, subtitles instead of intertitles would've helped immeasurably) and still plays better than something like Holidate.  Harpo's son, Bill Marx, was enlisted by the FPS to compose and perform the score, and I was wary of nepotism torpedoing this film's potential... especially when I heard this was his first silent soundtrack. So I was actually pleasantly surprised how nice it turned out and how well it interplays with the action on screen.
2020 Film Preservation Society BD.
Presented here in 1.38:1, TMK was shot in 35mm, but only a 16mm reduction print survived to be scanned in 2k in 2020.  But for a film believed lost for decades, I think viewers will be pleased and impressed with how clear and strong the image is.  Grain is a little soft for 16, but generally well preserved and authentically filmic.  Clearly a lot of care has gone into removing print damage, steadying the frame and generally turning this into an image modern audiences can sit through comfortably.  Scene-appropriate color tinting was back to the picture.  But, still, one thing annoyed me, and I took some shots from the restoration featurette to get a better handle on it.
from the restoration featurette
The scan was given to the FPS by the Library of Congress, who then could only work their "digital magic to make this thing look like it was almost 35mm" (their phrase) on what was provided.  So if we notice a little imperfection, we can give them the benefit of the doubt that it could've originated on the LoC's end.  We can certainly appreciate the little white flecks of damage that have been cleaned away here.  But there seems to be some slightly awkward edge enhancement going on, even on the left (which, admittedly, we don't know to be a raw shot from the LoC... it could already be partially restored by the FPS at this point).  But it's exasperated in the final frames on the right.  The shadow of Harpo's arm in the second shot looks like it was underscored with a thick black crayon, which your eye is drawn to even more thanks to some light haloing.  Or the left side of Frances Howard's face in that night scene.  And in those shots it's not so troubling, but it flares up all throughout the film, and can be distracting when some insignificant detail on a background character's clothing is suddenly the blackest black on screen.

I don't know.  I don't want to make too big a deal of it.  It's not a huge problem, and considering the scarcity of proper film elements, some tweaking could be said to be a necessary evil.  But I guess I was expecting this to be one of those "show the industry how it's done" moments, but instead it feels like just another new outfit of enthusiasts finding their way through it and taking a few too many liberties along the way.  I mean, the audio is lossy, too.  Come on.
But this'll cheer you back up.  FPS have provided some fun extras, the most noteworthy of which is The House That Shadows Built, a 1931 Paramount promotional film celebrating their 20th anniversary.  It's full of trailers and snippets of their then upcoming movies.  But what stands out is their supposed clip of The Marx Brothers' next feature, Monkey Business, is actually a five-minute scene from their stage play I'll Say She Is.  This footage has been seen before, in whole or in part in various Marx Brothers documentaries and features, but FPS has restored it so it looks better than ever, and now in its full 47-minute context.  If you'd prefer, they've also included the option to just watch their segment by itself.  Then there's the aforementioned restoration featurette, which covers not just Too Many Kisses, but all the Griffith shorts they've been working on.  It's only five minutes, but gives some great insight into their work.  And if they've got your interest, they even included one of those restored shorts (1910's A Child's Impulse).  Finally, they include an excellent, 16-page full color booklet with multiple writers contributing lots of great information about all three films on this disc and their restorations.
I hope I wasn't too harsh on these guys.  All told, this disc is a little treasure and I hope this is just the first in a long history of releases from the Film Preservation Society.  But before the next one, maybe they could solicit a few tips from Arrow, Vinegar Syndrome or even Paramount's home video department, since their logo's on this disc, too.  They wouldn't let something go out with lossy audio, no subs and, well... maybe they would let a little digital tinkering through their door.  But you see my point.

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