Even if you're used to the edgy sleaze of precode movies like 1933's Baby Face, it's stunning to see how the activist films of the early 20th century engaged head on with social issues that today's films go to comical lengths to avoid. In the third release by the nonprofit National Film Preservation Foundation—culled from archives at the Library of Congress, MoMA, UCLA, and more—films made between 1900 and 1934 tackle abortion and birth control, the forced assimilation of American Indians in government-run boarding schools, the roots of juvenile delinquency, and the scourge of atheism in America's public schools. And those are just the narrative features, meant to entertain a reform-minded public. The newsreels and "sponsored" films are just as fascinating, from the first-ever traffic-safety film (like so many of its successors, it undermines its message by making the forbidden behavior—here, playing stickball in the streets of Brooklyn—look like fun) to a bittersweet short in which megastar Mary Pickford advocates the purchase of war bonds (most striking for how completely the notion of consumer thrift during wartime has gone out of date).

The most thrilling entry in the 739-minute set has to be Cecil B. De Mille's silent The Godless Girl, from 1929, starring Lina Basquette as a popular vixen who leads her high-school Godless Society with a combination of sexual allure (spit curls and costumes by Adrian!) and exotic intimidation (the initiation ceremony requires the novice to swear on the head of a capuchin monkey). When her rival, handsome student body president George Duryea, gets permission from the principal to suppress the outbreak of atheism his own way, De Mille stages a teenage riot like you've never seen. It begins with hurled eggs, spans four floors of complete mayhem, and ends with a beautiful blonde finding God on her deathbed (and forcing Basquette into an unmistakable pietà). The godless girl eventually converts too, following a stigmatic encounter with an electric fence at reform school, but even then De Mille can't resist a decidedly pagan nude scene in which she frolics, nymphlike, by the side of a stream. No excuses! You must see The Godless Girl. recommended

New this week to DVD: Breathless (Criterion, $39.95), Battleship Potemkin (Kino, $29.95), Inside Man (widescreen version from Universal, $14.95), Into Great Silence (Zeitgeist, $29.99).