10/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Targeted Quality: The Advent Of On-Demand DVDs

As a movie lover and home viewing advocate, I've often complained at needing to wait six months to see a new Hollywood release. I've also lamented that certain classic DVD titles remain unavaillable, for reasons unknown.

On the first point, the explanation is fairly straightforward: the industry wants us all to pay full freight to see their movies in theatres. As to the second issue, the thinking I'd always heard was dicier. I'll use an anecdote to illustrate:

I recall several years back suggesting to a young hotshot Hollywood executive that the Cary Grant screwball classic "Bringing Up Baby" (1938) should be released on DVD. He gazed at me somewhat dismissively and replied, "Who cares about two dead actors and a leopard?"

In other words, in his view the title did not have sufficiently broad appeal to justify the expense involved in making it available. (Thankfully, the little whipper-snapper was wrong, and within a year, the DVD was out.)

This thinking is fast becoming prehistoric, is it not?  All the movie folks need do is glance over at their media brothers and sisters in TV and magazines to see that traditional, broadly targeted vehicles are declining, while more specialized, narrowly defined, vertical media is on the ascendancy.

And recently, it appears this hopeful trend is finally hitting the DVD and home viewing arena.

Several months ago, Warner Home Entertainment, which own the largest library of classic American movies, introduced their Archive Collection, a group of previously unavailable titles which you can buy on-demand, either downloading the specific film or having a customized DVD run off and sent to you.

The Warner team, led by Senior Vice President George Feltenstein, devised a practical and (presumably) profitable way to target a smaller viewing universe, but also a highly desirable one: viewers willing to seek out quality without the  effort and expense of studio marketing, and importantly, cough up a tidy $20 for a film without extras -- simply because they are starved for this type of movie.

Admittedly, the Collection includes more chaff than wheat, but it's still a treasure trove for students of great American cinema. And more titles get added each and every month.

Among the Warner Archive films slated for my site: "Young Mr. Lincoln" (1939), starring Raymond Massey; the film bio of FDR's early days, "Sunrise at Campobello" (1960); "The Pride Of The Marines" (1945), a John Garfield classic; and most recently, what's purported to be Edward G. Robinson's favorite role, "Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet" (1940), a biopic about the German scientist who developed the cure for venereal disease. God bless him.

(You can review all the titles in Warners' Archive Collection by visiting

Not surprisingly, this exciting development is spreading fast.

Just the other day, I decided to get Alain Resnais's classic documentary short about the Holocaust, 'Night and Fog" (1955). Visiting, I noticed that in addition to the older Criterion Collection release, there was now a Special Edition packed with bonus features, most notably two rare wartime documentaries filmed by Alfred Hitchcock.

I quickly said to myself, "Sign me up!", and as I moved my cursor to place the order, I saw that Amazon was offering this as an on-demand product.

Clearly all this is great news, and proof that technology will only offer more quality film choices as time goes by. The trick -- and opportunity -- for savvy consumers and movie fans will be to stay informed as to what's available, and of course, what's really good.

For close to 2,000 outstanding movie titles, visit

Also check out John's videos with weekly movie recommendations at