Monday, June 22, 2009

Some Classics Not on DVD

Last night, I decided to pop in the recently reissued DVD of the 1961 classic Splendor in the Grass, which starred Oscar nominee Natalie Wood and the ever-bland Warren Beatty, in his film debut. This edition marked the second release of the film, as part of a new Natalie Wood boxed set (with titles also available individually). Then I remembered that another one of her classics had yet to be released on DVD which started the ball rolling on this entry. So starting with that film, I compiled a short list of some notable classic movies that are not on DVD. All but one have never been available on Region 1 DVD.

Love with the Proper Stranger.
This 1963 romantic comedy drama rather charmingly tells the story of a one-night stand that leads to pregnancy. Natalie Wood, in another Oscar nominated performance is the girl from a strict Italian Catholic family who finds herself in the family way, with Steve McQueen as her suitor. Daring for its time in its depiction of pre-Roe v. Wade abortions, the film finds a suitable balance between the funny and the poignant. Tom Bosley is incredibly endearing in his film debut.

The African Queen. One of the most famous action adventure films of all time, for some reason John Huston's classic (from the novel by C.S. Forester) about a boorish boatman and upright missionary drifting downstream in the Congo has never been released on DVD in Region 1. Humphrey Bogart won his only Academy for his performance as Charley Allnut while Katharine Hepburn takes one of the many spinster roles that defined her film career in the 1950s. The film thrives on the personality clash of its stars and is aided by some lush Technicolor cinematography shot on location. Hepburn was given one minor piece of direction by Huston that completely helped her find her character: think Eleanor Roosevelt. She later claimed it to be "the best piece of direction I have ever heard."

Dear Heart. This gentle romantic comedy is about the unexpected romance between maturing postmistress Geraldine Page and the uneasily betrothed Glenn Ford while Page is in NY for a convention. Shot on location in NY, it features some of the last footage of the old Penn Station before its upper level was demolished for the new Madison Square Garden. Angela Lansbury makes a spirited entrance in the film's final act as Ford's fiancee.

Wings. The first-ever Academy Award winner for Best Picture, this one's about best friends (from opposite sides of the tracks) and World War I flying aces who find themselves competing for the affections of the same girl (Clara Bow). The film is especially notable for its air fight sequences, and also for being the only silent film to ever take top prize at the Oscars. Plus it's got a young Gary Cooper in a supporting role. It's one of two Best Picture winners not currently available on DVD. The other is the 1933 adaptation of Noel Coward's Cavalcade.

Wuthering Heights. The 1939 adaptation of the Emily Bronte gothic novel was previously available from Samuel Goldwyn on VHS and DVD but has been long out of print. Directed by William Wyler, the film starred Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon as the passionate but star-crossed lovers in an adaptation that drives purists insane as it cuts the second half of the book (leaving out the entire parallel second generation). However, it remains a beautifully directed, shot and acted piece of film. And the only Best Picture nominee of that banner year of 1939 not on DVD at the present.

The Magnificent Ambersons. Orson Welles' followup to Citizen Kane was to be even more ambitious: an epic adaptation of Booth Tarkington's sprawling novel about the fall of a powerful Midwestern family. However, once Welles finished the film and left Hollywood, RKO took over preparations for the final cut. When it tested poorly, executives cut out 50 minutes and added an uplifting ending much to Welles' displeasure. Still, the final film is incredibly well regarded in its 88 minute running time, with great performances from Joseph Cotten, Anne Baxter and an Oscar-nominated Agnes Moorehead.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This adaptation of Betty Smith's classic bildungsroman (thank you, English degree!) about a young girl and her family growing up in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century is absolutely beautiful, with an Oscar-winning turn by James Dunn as the ne'er-do-well father. Dorothy Maguire is the long-suffering mother, Joan Blondell the lusty lovable Aunt Cissy and Peggy Ann Garner's sensitive portrayal of Francie (along with appearances in Nob Hill and Junior Miss) garnered her the special Juvenile Oscar for outstanding child actress of 1945.

Hopefully these films, and others will eventually find their way onto DVD. Until then, we have to rely on TCM and other stations for showings. Warner Home Video recently started the Warner Archive, a DVD on demand catalogue with obscure classics never before released burned onto a DVD-R for $19.95. The archive releases contain a digital transfer of the current film elements (no restoring or remastering) and have no special features. (That's how I got my copy of Sunrise at Campobello with Ralph Bellamy recreating his Tony-winning performance as FDR). Also, Turner Classic Movies keeps a list of the viewer poll's top 200 classics not currently available.

Are there any personal favorites you would like to see released...?


Esther said...

I don't know what the holdup is with The African Queen. I've read for years about people wanting it on dvd. Bogie is one of my favorites. Of course I've seen it on tv.

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Fortunately, I saw "Wings" and "Cavalcade" when the hot new technology was VHS recordings.

"Wings" is great. "Cavalcade"? Not so much.

Kevin Daly said...

Love "The African Queen."

"Cavalcade" is one of those overripe affairs that must have been big at the time, but has not aged well.