Many of the
major studios no longer want to be in the DVD (or Blu-ray) business; they’d
rather stream or download their films. There are some notable exceptions, however,
and they spell good news for serious buffs and collectors. Warner Home Video
dominates the market with its highly successful DVD-on-demand service at warnerarchive.com. They’re so good at
this game they now distribute Sony and MGM’s on-demand product and have just
taken over what is left of Paramount’s new release schedule. Every week Warner
adds new titles, ranging from ultra-rare early talkies to recent TV shows and
miniseries, from the third season of The
Ricky Gervais Show to season one of Dr.
Kildare, not to mention the long-awaited Eddie Cantor musicals Whoopee and Kid Millions. I hope they never stop.
20th Century Fox has become more aggressive in its release of classics in all forms of disc—MOD (manufacture on demand), DVD, and Blu-ray. Earlier this year Fox staged a “Voice Your Choice” program that invited fans to vote for the titles they most want to see digitally restored and released on Blu-ray. The winners include Call of the Wild, Jesse James, The Black Swan, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Carmen Jones, Desk Set, and a popular write-in candidate, 1933 Best Picture Oscar winner Cavalcade. The latter title will come out in August, and the others will appear in December. If you’re on Facebook you can learn more at 20th Century Fox Studio Classics.
Now available on MOD are a number of Fox pictures from the 1930s onward that are overdue on disc, including Clive of India, Thanks a Million, Remember the Day, Coney Island, Unfaithfully Yours, Mr. 880, 23 Paces to Baker Street, and Tender is the Night. The company is also releasing one classic a month on Blu-ray, including Panic in the Streets, Laura, Hello Dolly, Cleopatra, In Old Arizona, and Viva Zapata! Coming up on May 7 is a Henry Fonda DVD box featuring Jesse James, Drums Along the Mohawk, The Grapes of Wrath, The Return of Frank James, The Ox-Bow Incident, The Immortal Sergeant, My Darling Clementine, Daisy Kenyon, The Longest Day, and The Boston Strangler. No hidden gems there, I’ll admit, but now Fox is releasing a Jane Withers collection featuring 17 hard-to-find titles from the 1930s and 40s. I guess anything is possible if you just wait long enough. The 20th Century Fox titles are widely available online or you can check in HERE at foxconnect.com.
Sony has had an on-again, off-again program of MOD, including out-of-print titles from its DVD catalog and other titles never released before on disc. These trend toward the obscure and arcane, including B movies and westerns from the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, which is good news for fans of Buck Jones and Jungle Jim, but like Warners they also include more recent made-for-TV movies and series. I recently wrote about their welcome release of Three Stooges rarities and Charley Chase two-reel comedies. You can check out the entire catalog at the Warner site: wbshop.com.
Paramount has licensed a vast number of its library titles to the low-key but prolific Olive Films, which is now digging into one of the studio’s most interesting assets: the Republic Pictures library. (I recently wrote about the joy of watching John Ford’s The Sun Shines Bright.) So far they’ve been focusing mainly on John Wayne titles, but a lot of people will be happy to acquire first-class copies of everything from The Three Mesquiteers series to A Man Betrayed, taken from their original negatives. They’re also releasing films that Republic acquired when it was known as NTA, such as Stanley Kramer’s The Men with Marlon Brando and Don Siegel’s Private Hell 36 with Ida Lupino. Olive also releases the work of indie filmmakers like Hal Hartley. To keep up with this ambitious label’s DVD and Blu-ray releases, click HERE.
As you can see, there is a rich harvest for film buffs to enjoy on disc. We still count on the Criterion Collection to bring us the best of world cinema, including its new Pierre Étaix boxed set and the upcoming Harold Lloyd series, while VCI is parceling out a wide variety of vintage British titles from its seemingly inexhaustible archives. The expanded Kino Lorber company distributes contemporary filmmakers’ work as well as Buster Keaton silents and Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire. Twilight Time has cornered the market in providing isolated music tracks for film score buffs, in limited edition Blu-ray releases. Flicker Alley presents treasures from the silent and early-sound era, lovingly restored. And the folks at Turner Classic Movies are mining the Columbia and Universal vaults for a wide variety of classic Hollywood fare.
As someone who doesn’t trust cloud technology and wants to read liner notes and enjoy bonus features, I’m not ready to abandon my physical collection of discs…and I suspect I’m not alone.