Studio Vaults Open—On DVD

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by Leonard Maltin
April 25, 2013 12:00 AM
20 Comments
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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.

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20 Comments

  • diskfaktory | April 3, 2014 9:37 PMReply

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  • GARY MEYER | May 5, 2013 3:16 AMReply

    There are some early Paramount sound films they did not sell to Universal or bought back for remake purposes like MIRACLE OF MORGANS CREEK remade as Jerry Lewis' ROCK-A-BYE BABY. They also still have most of their silents.

    Now if Olive or somebody will just start releasing the Fleischer animation we'll be in cartoon heaven.

  • Connie | May 2, 2013 4:38 PMReply

    Warner Archive has no closed captions included. I'm happy to get a film I otherwise couldn't see, but it's the older population in many cases who remembers these films but whose hearing is not so good any more.

  • Martin Grams | April 27, 2013 8:07 PMReply

    MOD certainly opens the doors to rare titles being made available. While the studios offer streaming and downloading, only the smallest of percentage of people have the capability in both internet connections and equipment. There is a much larger market for those who prefer to buy the DVD format so here's hoping the studios don't force people to download only... remember Netflix's error last year is now being used as a text book for what not to do in business. As for price, there will always be the select few who cry $20 is too expensive and prefer the two dollar DVDs. Many prefer not to buy any movies and instead download movies from file swapping sites... and that costs them nothing. The studios have yet to seriously crack down on the illegal downloading and that is the biggest killer for DVD sales. Heck, my neighbor down the road downloads movies from the internet for free and has a room stacked from floor to ceiling with DVDs and hard drives filled with movies and TV shows he's downloaded for free. I for one prefer to support the studios and just bought Season One of DOCTOR KILDARE and the complete NICK CARTER movies off Amazon last week from Warner Archive.

    Oh yeah, some of us own our own private movie theaters with screens 12 feet by 7. DVDs are wonderful... streaming and downloading films don't favor well with screens that big. Warners keep the DVDs coming!

  • Mark A. Vieira | April 27, 2013 3:49 PMReply

    Thanks, Leonard, for alerting us to this. It's great that we still have a choice (after all, this is America) between hard-copy DVDs and streaming. Thanks also for pointing out that "Tender Is the Night" is newly available from 20th. I know it's a fatally flawed film but, wow, what a performance from Jennifer Jones. I'll be happy to own it, finally. Do you remember projecting 16mm Scope prints from Films Inc.? They never looked like they were in focus. This will!

  • DBenson | April 27, 2013 12:47 AMReply

    Disney is notably absent from the MOD market, perhaps because nearly all of their theatrical library has been released on regular DVD. That mainly leaves the old weekly anthology shows; I would certainly go for a selection of the episodes not included in the Treasures series. (Got "The Magnificent Rebel" from Disney Movie Club; to my surprise and delight it was the original "World of Color" episodes with Walt himself introducing each half).

    Warner Archive is blessedly generous with shorts and Bs, offering collections that work out pretty well on price per title or even per hour basis. Wish Columbia would follow their example instead of parcelling out Jungle Jim and Boston Blackie as single features.

  • DBenson | April 27, 2013 12:47 AMReply

    Disney is notably absent from the MOD market, perhaps because nearly all of their theatrical library has been released on regular DVD. That mainly leaves the old weekly anthology shows; I would certainly go for a selection of the episodes not included in the Treasures series. (Got "The Magnificent Rebel" from Disney Movie Club; to my surprise and delight it was the original "World of Color" episodes with Walt himself introducing each half).

    Warner Archive is blessedly generous with shorts and Bs, offering collections that work out pretty well on price per title or even per hour basis. Wish Columbia would follow their example instead of parcelling out Jungle Jim and Boston Blackie as single features.

  • DBenson | April 27, 2013 12:47 AMReply

    Disney is notably absent from the MOD market, perhaps because nearly all of their theatrical library has been released on regular DVD. That mainly leaves the old weekly anthology shows; I would certainly go for a selection of the episodes not included in the Treasures series. (Got "The Magnificent Rebel" from Disney Movie Club; to my surprise and delight it was the original "World of Color" episodes with Walt himself introducing each half).

    Warner Archive is blessedly generous with shorts and Bs, offering collections that work out pretty well on price per title or even per hour basis. Wish Columbia would follow their example instead of parcelling out Jungle Jim and Boston Blackie as single features.

  • DBenson | April 27, 2013 12:46 AMReply

    Disney is notably absent from the MOD market, perhaps because nearly all of their theatrical library has been released on regular DVD. That mainly leaves the old weekly anthology shows; I would certainly go for a selection of the episodes not included in the Treasures series. (Got "The Magnificent Rebel" from Disney Movie Club; to my surprise and delight it was the original "World of Color" episodes with Walt himself introducing each half).

    Warner Archive is blessedly generous with shorts and Bs, offering collections that work out pretty well on price per title or even per hour basis. Wish Columbia would follow their example instead of parcelling out Jungle Jim and Boston Blackie as single features.

  • Derry | April 25, 2013 6:54 PMReply

    Packaging has it's own aesthetic, but who can afford endless $20 discs that just consume space? I for one heartily welcome the arrival of services like Warner Archive Instant. I would far prefer an all you can eat approach to these titles rather than the expense of more discs. Physical media is on the way out. If it's all about the content, then it shouldn't matter what the form factor is. If its less expensive to provide a digital stream, then that is what I will take.

    What are dvd extra's? I haven't seen any in years.

  • mike fontanelli | April 25, 2013 5:09 PMReply

    Please somebody, more Eddie Cantor: ROMAN SCANDALS, The KID FROM SPAIN, PALMY DAYS, STRIKE ME PINK and ALI BABA GOES TO TOWN! Modern audiences may only know Cantor from his handful of cameo "appearances" (via an impersonator) on HBO's BOARDWALK EMPIRE. If that's what it takes to spark interest in the genuine article, then more power to HBO.

  • Jim Reinecke | April 25, 2013 2:28 PMReply

    No, Leonard, you're definitely NOT alone. Being only six years your junior, I proudly fess up to being one of those people who actually enjoys owning something and holding it in my hands. (Recently picked up Alfred E. Green's 1932 Warner Brothers flick UNION DEPOT thanks to the Warner Archive. So typically Warners in its breakneck pace and cast of familiar faces. . .stars like Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Joan Blondell, character players like Alan Hale, David Landau, Guy Kibbee and Frank McHugh and such bit players as Robert Homans, Lucille La Verne, Charles Lane and even little Dickie Moore dot the cast. And this movie has an opening shot which, for the early '30's, is genuinely stunning in its fluidity and looks as if it were studied by Orson Welles before shooting his opening of TOUCH OF EVIL. At 68 lickety-split minutes, UNION DEPOT is definitely worth a peek, folks!) You mention Olive Films picking up so many Paramounts of the early '50's and my local public library has been acquiring them hand over fist, giving me a chance to see such enjoyable offerings as APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER and ROPE OF SAND (but shouldn't this second one, a Paramount release of the '40's, be owned by Universal? I thought that they controlled all of the Paramounts from '29 to '49. I could stand corrected on this.), with CAPTAIN CAREY U.S.A on order. Oh, and did I mention that just last night, thanks to Kino, I enjoyed all 2 hours and 53 minutes of Fritz Lang's epic pseudo-serial, THE SPIDERS? Cyberspace be damned, I love my DVD collection! (And when you and I were kids, Leonard, could we have ever imagined such a thing as DVDs? Nice that we lived long enough!)

  • Kevin Coffey | April 25, 2013 12:15 PMReply

    Can a pristine collection of Bela Lugosi's Monograms be far behind?

  • Jim Reinecke | April 25, 2013 3:54 PM

    And how about a remastered, boxed set collection of Pennant Pictures' Tod Slaughter releases of the '30's and '40's?

  • Kevin Coffey | April 25, 2013 12:14 PMReply

    Can a pristine collection of Bela Lugosi's Monograms be far behind?

  • Kevin Coffey | April 25, 2013 12:14 PMReply

    Can a pristine collection of Bela Lugosi's Monograms be far behind?

  • Kevin Coffey | April 25, 2013 12:13 PMReply

    Can a pristine collection of Bela Lugosi's Monograms be far behind?

  • Michael H. Price | April 25, 2013 12:13 PMReply

    Roger Price said, "If everybody doesn't want it, then nobody gets it." Roger was speaking (ca. 1970) of the cultural threats of mass merchandising, and of course hoping someone would prove him wrong. Nice to see such developments as the Warner Archive collection. And no, Leonard's you are far from alone in your interests and preferences.

  • Jeff Heise | April 25, 2013 8:40 AMReply

    UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948) did come out on DVD from Criterion, and it looks like it is still available.http://blogs.indiewire.com/leonardmaltin/oblivion

  • Ron | April 25, 2013 2:34 AMReply

    Nice article...home movie fans are probably one of the few consumer groups that have to beg for product.I still enjoy having the physical media and the studios are underestimating the demand.Twilight has sold out a few of their 3000 run Blu-rays...you should see the prices being asked on Amazon for some of this stuff.Anyway I'm "supporting"the MOD programs.I hope many will do the same.

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