By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin October 13, 2010 at 4:00AM
Following Warner Bros.’ great success with warnerarchive.com, and Universal’s licensing of vintage titles to Movies Unlimited and Turner Classic Movies, Sony has stepped up to the plate to launch its own vintage movie line on DVD, drawing on its vast library of Columbia Pictures. The more the merrier, says I.
What’s more, the folks behind this initiative have done something their competitors haven’t: they’ve launched a website (www.columbia-classics.com) which has actual content, beyond descriptive copy for each release. Contributors include longtime film buff and distributor Michael Schlesinger and Sony archivist Rita Belda, and special features so far include an interview with Eddie Muller, author and creator of the Film Noir Foundation, and links to an audio interview with Columbia star—
—Kim Novak. The site is promoting reader participation through a series of lighthearted polls (What’s your favorite Three Stooges line of dialogue?), and even offers an “ask the experts” feature.
As for the films themselves, Sony hopes to add a dozen titles to its repertoire every month. The initial offering of “100 titles” includes a number of movies that are already commercially available, but does include an eclectic array of new material, from such film noir titles as 711 Ocean Drive with Edmond O’Brien to Saddles and Sagebrush, a 1943 B western starring Russell Hayden and featuring Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. You can watch a musical excerpt by clicking HERE.
Other new-to-DVD titles include Lou Costello in The 30 Ft. Bride of Candy Rock, Victor Mature in the interesting British noir The Long Haul, Paul Lukas in Address Unknown, Jacques Demy’s The Model Shop, Frank Borzage’s remarkable Depression-era fable No Greater Glory, The Pumpkin Eater with Anne Bancroft and Peter Finch, I Never Sang for My Father with Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas, Louis Hayward in The Black Arrow, Frank Sinatra’s late-career TV movie Contract on Cherry Street, Buck Jones in Forbidden Trail, and several Jungle Jim outings with Johnny Weissmuller. Even The Spiritualist, with Turhan Bey, which has been released on DVD in an inferior copy using its alternate title, The Amazing Mr. X, has been digitally remastered from its original negative. You can watch sample clips from all of the featured titles.
The challenge for this program is to find worthwhile titles that haven’t already been made available on the commercial market. Sony has released a number of terrific, film-buff-oriented collections over the past few years devoted to Hammer Films, William Castle, film noir, and Kim Novak, to name a few. It begs the question, “How many first-rate films are still sitting on the shelf?” I’d say the answer lies in the offbeat, and in Columbia’s enormous backlog of B movies, detective series, westerns, unknown early talkies, serials, short-subjects, and cartoons.
How about a Charley Chase collection, or a selection of Screen Snapshots? The recent Noir City Festival unearthed an interesting Blake Edwards-Richard Quine collaboration called Drive a Crooked Mile with Mickey Rooney. There are little-seen 1930s goodies like Lady by Choice (a followup to Capra’s Lady for a Day, starring May Robson) and a cute musical called The Girl Friend starring Jack Haley and Ann Sothern. I’d love to revisit the tacky serial The Lost Planet. And there are the recently-restored Frank Capra silents.
Sony is inviting film buffs (and potential customers) to voice their opinions, so don’t be shy. If there are titles you want to see, and are willing to pay for, let them know. This is a historic time for movie buffs; we should all take advantage of the opportunity.