I just did a quick inventory of all the great movie titles that have not been given their due on DVD, and the sheer quantity stunned me. I know that rights issues and other legal quandaries can tie up creative assets for years, but surely if determined minds really applied themselves, some resolutions could be reached.
One inevitable problem is that in the almighty pursuit of revenues, more time and effort gets applied against marketing often mindless new product than in promoting the best of our film heritage. To illustrate this mind-set, when I asked one aspiring West Coast titan several years back why "Bringing Up Baby" , arguably the definitive screwball comedy, was not out on DVD, he replied with a straight face, "Who cares about two dead actors and a leopard?" Scary, I thought. (Something must have registered in our conversation, though, as the DVD is now available).
I must ask the question: how hard can offering these overlooked, first-rate titles be? Most of them have been previously released on VHS, which would be of some consolation except that the VCR has gone the way of the dinosaur. And how about the idea of rescuing major titles from the poor quality DVD oblivion of "public domain" status- for example, why must I watch a lousy transfer of Frank Capra's classic "Meet John Doe" ?)
The fast-approaching reality of a fully on-demand universe means that consumers will rightly expect that for a price, they will be able to access high quality versions of most any movie they want, so those entities that keep outstanding content away from the public, whatever the reason, will hopefully decide to re-assess their position. Or is this simply wishful thinking?
My own perhaps naïve view is that though commerce-driven, great films also represent a vital cultural resource. Though hardly a life-or-death issue, withholding them from public consumption out of greed or simple neglect does constitute an injustice of sorts. Though cynics will scoff, I firmly believe that what we consume by way of popular entertainment helps determine the overall quality of our lives.
We all have special movies that we've always wanted to see in our DVD section, but never have (please feel free to share yours, by the way).
Covering most every genre and period, here is my partial wish list:
1. Red Dust (1932)- A young Clark Gable plays a macho white hunter in Africa opposite a trashy Jean Harlow and a proper Mary Astor. Predictably the women do most of the hunting. Remade to lesser effect twenty years later as "Mogambo" (with Gable repeating his earlier role).
2. The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)- The late Leslie Howard's signature role as masked hero of the French Revolution, posing incognito as an English dandy. Merle Oberon and Raymond Massey co-star. (Public domain title).
3. Ruggles Of Red Gap (1936)- Charles Laughton plays an English butler whose master loses him in a card game to a rich hayseed American, and who is then forced to relocate to the untamed West. Talk about culture shock. Roland Young and Charlie Ruggles (no relation) co-star. One of our finest screwballs, bar none.
4. Love Affair (1939)- Leo McCarey's original version of "An Affair To Remember", with the Cary Grant/ Deborah Kerr roles essayed by Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. Less glossy than the remake, but more affecting in my view, with an enchanting Dunne.
5. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)- Starring Joseph Cotten, this was Orson Welles's second film about a family unwilling to adapt to the changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution. Taken out of Welles's hands and chopped down to 90 minutes, the film still outclasses most other options, and would make a mint on curiosity value alone.
6. The Uninvited (1944)- Spooky, subtle ghost story with Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey as siblings who purchase sea-side house with a grim, hidden past. Chilling, literate film introduced the classic tune, "Stella By Starlight". A forgotten gem.
7. Life With Father (1947)- William Powell plays late nineteenth century patriarch Clarence Day opposite Irene Dunne in this charming and nostalgic family comedy, based on the hit play by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse. Look for a young, adorable Elizabeth Taylor. (Public Domain title).
8. The Gunfighter (1950)- Henry King's signature Western about a gun-slinging outlaw who learns the difficulty of making a clean break with his past. One of Gregory Peck's finest early performances.
9. The African Queen (1951)- Bogie won Oscar playing a broken down ship's Captain who gets into all manner of adventures with spinster Katharine Hepburn in John Huston's first-rate adventure outing.
10. Viva Zapata! (1952)- Marlon Brando expertly portrays Mexican activist turned statesman Emilio Zapata in Elia Kazan's under-exposed historical drama. Also a superb showcase for Anthony Quinn, who plays Zapata's brother.
11. Two Women (1960)- Sophia Loren won Academy Award as a mother who experiences rape (along with her young daughter) at the hands of marauding soldiers during World War 2. A late career peak for director Vittorio De Sica (Public Domain title).
12. A Thousand Clowns (1965)- Magical black comedy features a tour-de-force turn by Jason Robards as an irresponsible dreamer at risk of losing custody of his adoring, like-minded nephew. William Daniels and Barbara Harris provide stellar support.
13. The Wrong Box (1966)- Wacky, wildly clever British comedy involves machinations within one eccentric family to determine who will receive a sizable inheritance. Michael Caine and Peter Sellers star, along with old pros John Mills and Ralph Richardson.
14. Cousin, Cousine (1975)- Saucy Gallic concoction has two distant cousins (Marie-Christine Barrault and Victor Lanoux) meeting at a wedding, and gradually embarking on a very sweet, light-hearted affair, much to the consternation of their respective neurotic, high-maintenance spouses. Just the kind of sexy, sassy romance that the French do best.
15. The Dead (1987)- John Huston's final film brings to life the bittersweet characters and setting of James Joyce's "Dubliners". Clearly a labor of love for the dying director, the film stars daughter Anjelica, who is surrounded by a strong Irish cast.
For close to 2,000 outstanding titles on DVD, visit www.bestmoviesbyfarr.com.
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