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Warner Archives at Scarecrow: Take 1

"Why isn't that on video?" In the 17 years I've been here at Scarecrow, I've heard that question more than a few times, and nearly every time, the answer is always the same - It's up to the studio that owns the rights to put it out. And there's more to it than that. To properly release a title and give it its fair due, the studio often has to go back to the original elements, remaster them so the film doesn't look horrible on DVD, add extra features if they can find them, and so on. Then they have to pay to produce the actual DVD, spend money on advertising, marketing, and distributing. And then, after all that, they have to cross their fingers and hope enough people buy the thing so that they can make their money back. Sure, a DVD is easy enough to produce and earn money every time a huge blockbuster comes out, but what about all of the older films that were made (gasp) before the dawn of home video. Fox, Sony, Universal, Paramount, and Warner have been sitting on thousands of these films and in reality have only released just a few. Their logic is that only a small percentage of the public would ever want to see them. Some studios are better than others at maintaining their classics divisions, but since the dawn of DVD, Warner has been out ahead of the pack the whole time, in large part due to the herculean efforts of George Feltenstein, who runs the classics catalog. The guy is a film nut just like us. He's responsible for the lavish editions of CITIZEN KANE, CASABLANCA, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, AMERICAN IN PARIS as well as countless box sets such as the four amazing Film Noir Collections, three Gangster Collections, the Thin Man box, the Astaire/Rogers Collection, and...well, you get the idea. So what's a film nut to do when he's sitting on thousands of fantastic titles, like a 1933 Wallace Beery/Marie Dressler drama set in Seattle and a bizarre Ibsen adaptation featuring a very shaggy Steve McQueen, and knows they might never see the light of day if forced to wait for approval by the silly mucky mucks at the top of the studio ladder? He makes the call to burn them and sell them. That's right. Warner Home Video has embarked on a Quixotic journey to (apparently) release everything they've been sitting on over time via a method in which the DVD-Rs are burned on demand and sent to the customer, free of extras, menus, and all the other fancy stuff that goes along with a normal release. If you want to own one yourself, it'll cost you $19.95 a pop on Warner's official site. But if you just want to see the damned thing, you can rent it at Scarecrow. In the short, short time the Warner Archives have been selling DVD-Rs, their collection has grown to 205 titles with new ones added every month. To name a few.... THE RAIN PEOPLE (Francis Ford Coppola, 1969) Coppola's precursor to THE GODFATHER is a quiet, intense road movie about a wife (Shirley Knight) who wakes up one morning, hops in the station wagon, and leaves her husband with no plan in mind. Years ahead of its time, and featuring James Caan and Robert Duvall in key roles, THE RAIN PEOPLE is a forgotten film of the late '60's that deserves another look. COUNTDOWN (Robert Altman, 1968) A year before RAIN PEOPLE, Caan & Duvall attempt to get blasted into space by Robert Altman, who is operating in full on studio mode. WICHITA (Jacques Tourneur, 1955) A really great discovery and one I've been waiting years to see. Every bit as tight as CAT PEOPLE or OUT OF THE PAST, this Cinemascope Western from Tourneur uses every inch of the very wide frame effectively to tell one version of the Wyatt Earp/OK Corral legend. With Joel McCrea as Earp and great supporting parts by Wally Ford, Lloyd Bridges and Vera Miles. PARTY GIRL (Nicholas Ray, 1958) It's Ray's only MGM film, and he made great use of their resources. Musical numbers (including one with Cyd Charrise in a leopard-spotted thing I will never ever forget,) gangsters, Cinemascope and lavish Technicolor all contribute to and hype up another wrenching take on Ray's perennial outsider trying to fit in. WESTBOUND (Budd Boetticher, 1959) This Boetticher/Randolph Scott collaboration is often referred to derisively in relation to the five films they made with producer Harry Joe Brown, but it's a hell of a lot more enjoyable than the reputation that precedes it and well worth a look. BRAINSTORM (William Conrad, 1965) Did you know Conrad directed a few fine thrillers? I didn't, but took a chance on this one and had a blast. Jeffrey Hunter is the noir sucker in over his head, Anne Francis is a femme fatale of sorts, and Dana Andrews is her husband, the slimy power monger. Check out another Conrad thriller we just got in from the Warner Archives, MY BLOOD RUNS COLD (also from 1965.) Troy Donahue is the psycho-on-the-loose and Joey Heatherton is the object of his affection. THE MONEY TRAP (Burt Kennedy, 1965) features Glenn Ford as a good cop gone bad. Elke Sommer, Joseph Cotten, Rita Hayworth, & Ricardo Montalban are all terrific, and the story comes from a tight little novel by the guy who wrote THE KILLING, Lionel White. TUGBOAT ANNIE (Mervyn LeRoy, 1933) Want to see what Seattle looked like in 1933? Rent this movie and you'll not only travel back to the waterfront of 80 years ago, but you'll also see Wallace Beery, Marie Dressler, Robert Young and Maureen O'Sullivan in a pretty fine drama. BEAST OF THE CITY (Charles Brabin, 1932) is a harrowing pre-code crime drama from Warner. Walter Huston is a crusading cop and Wallace Ford is his honest brother seduced over to the dark side by a barely clad Jean Harlow. Hardcore vigilantism 40 years before DIRTY HARRY but every bit as gritty. CONVICTS 4 (Millard Kaufman, 1962) The cast alone sold me on this - Ben Gazzara, Sammy Davis Jr., Ray Walston, Stuart Whitman, Broderick Crawford, Vincent Price, and a gloriously unhinged Timothy Carey, but around them is a pretty well put together movie about redemption and prison reform. Noted scribe Kaufman made his first and only directing attempt here and was smart enough to assemble a crack team to help, including the talented cast, composer Leonard Rosenman who contributes a moody, intense jazz score, and frequent Sam Fuller lenser Joseph Biroc who finds much beauty in the shadows of Folsom prison. ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE (George Schaefer, 1979) Steve McQueen was grudgingly under contract to First Artists to make one more movie, but part of that contract said he got to pick the project. So, reportedly out of spite he chose something doomed to fail commercially, namely a Henrik Ibsen play about a small town doctor. Strangely but perhaps not surprisingly, once the shooting started he grew to like the material and this strange amalgamation of Hollywood meets Norwegian chamber drama turned out pretty good. Of course, after all that, Warner put it on the shelf almost immediately and it has hardly been seen since. In many ways, the rarest of the 205 titles released to date in this collection. Let's not forget the wealth of additions to our director's sections either. The Frank Borzage shelf just got a lot better with digital editions of the formerly only-on-VHS  THE SHINING HOUR, MANNEQUIN, BILLY THE KID, and THREE COMRADES. Added to our Raoul Walsh section - LION IS IN THE STREETS, DISTANT TRUMPET, & ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE, and the marvelous masterpieces COLORADO TERRITORY and STRAWBERRY BLONDE (actually these two should really be right at the top of the list but we just got them in thus the hurried late addition.) Just about anything Walsh directed has a constant level of high energy, great storytelling, and a terrific cast, and these are no exception. Other tasty additions to the director's sections are Don Siegel's debut feature THE VERDICT, James Whale's GREAT GARRICK, Sidney Lumet's BYE BYE BRAVERMAN, Anthony Mann's BAMBOO BLONDE, Leo McCarey's ONCE UPON A HONEYMOON, and Vincente Minnelli's FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE. Should you wish to look at new-to-DVD Garbo, we have LOVE, WILD ORCHIDS, THE SINGLE STANDARD, and THE KISS. There's also a quartet of previously unavailable John Garfield films - THE FALLEN SPARROW, CASTLE ON THE HUDSON, PRIDE OF THE MARINES and FOUR DAUGHTERS. I could go on longer, and hopefully will at some point when we get in more. We have 145 of these rarities so far, the remaining 60 are en route, and plan to get every newly announced title. These gems ain't gonna show up at Netflix, Blockbuster or even your local library. For now, they're right here at Scarecrow, so take advantage of this opportunity. Stop by on 2-for-1 rental Wednesday and have yourself a William Conrad mini-fest if you like, or spend a thrilling weekend with Raoul Walsh. There's always more to come, so watch this space!