The Archive Vaults of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Are Bursting with Classic Cinema
By: Ellis Nassour
The vaults of Warner Bros.’ Warner Archive Collection are bursting, and growing weekly, with classic, popular, and blockbuster films from the 30’s onward, and you can actually have the key at www.WarnerArchive.com , where the variety is almost infinite and the prices quite affordable. Often, there’s even free shipping. The releases are single sets and TV show series in the Manufactured-on-Demand (M-O-D) collection.
The films from Warner’s and other studios are either long out-of-regular DVD circulation and hard-to-find gems [films of Bogart, Crawford, Davis]. All DVD and Blu-ray discs feature original art. The site also often features preview clips.
Recent M-O-D finds:
How about these rarities? Vanessa Redgrave, in an acclaimed but totally-snubbed performance by awards here and in the U.K., and Kevin Anderson in Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending, directed by Sir Peter Hall, who directed the duo on Broadway (1989) and Redgrave and Jean-Marc Barr on the West End.
The 1936 spectacular-for-its-time [that broke many racial taboos and depicted miscegenation ] and much acclaimed screen musical of Edna Ferber’s Show Boat, with Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s score, about life on the Mississippi, starring Irene Dunn, Allan Jones, Helen Morgan [singing "Bill," "Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man (o’ Mine)"], Paul Robeson [singing "Ole Man River"], Charles Winniger, the black dancing duo Queenie Smith and Sammy White, Hattie McDaniel [she and Robeson are a hoot singing "I Still Suits Me" and joining Morgan on "Can’t Help…"], Francis X. Mahoney, [he, Morgan, and Winninger are from the original Broadway cast]. Directed by James Whale [Frankenstein, The Man in the Iron Mask]. Early versions of Technicolor were in use, and if ever a film cried out to be shot in color, this is it. Still, at 113 minutes, long for its time, it captures much of the drama the equally spectacular 1951 M-G-M color remake doesn’t. Sadly, Universal thought the film was too long and deleted two songs; "Life upon the Wicked Stage" was never filmed; and "Why Do I Love You" is only an instrumental.
Six by Sondheim, directed by James Lapine, adds
up to quite a theater lover’s/collector’s prize package, in which the composer is revealed, primarily in his own voice with candid anecdotes, through the creation and performance of six of his iconic songs: "Being Alive," "I’m Still Here," "Opening Doors," "Send in the Clowns," "Something’s Coming," and "Sunday." The HBO documentary also weaves dozens of interviews with the composer, rarely seen archival material spanning more than half a century (including newly discovered footage of Ethel Merman performing in Gypsy), and re-stagings of three songs produced especially for the film featuring Darren Criss, America Ferrera, Jeremy Jordan and Audra McDonald; in addition to Sondheim standards by Yvonne de Carlo [original Follies], Dean Jones and Larry Kert [original stars, Company]. Mandy Patinkin, and Bernadette Peters.
Other finds: Alan Parker’s production of Frank McCourt’s best-seller Angela’s Ashes, starring Emily Watson and Robert Carlyle; Jane Powell, Tony Martin, Debbie Reynolds, Ann Miller, and Vic Damone are among the stars of Hit the Deck, adapted from Vincent Youmans’s Broadway musical Shore Leave and featuring choreography by Hermes Pan; George C. Scott in Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, directed by Franklin Schafener; Howard Keel, Ann Blyth, Dolores Gray, Damone, and Monty Woolley tempt fate in Vincente Minnelli’s lavish Kismet, first time on Blu-ray, in glorious Technicolor and with Wright/Forrest tunes set to Borodin magical music ["Not Since Nineveh", "Baubles, Bangles and Beads","Stranger in Paradise"]; Barbra Streisand and Yves Montand in Minnelli’s production of Lerner and Lane’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, co-starring Bob Newhart and Jack Nicholson; Pauline Collins and Tom Conti in Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine, directed by Lewis Gilbert.
A tribute to the late James Garner, one of Hollywood’s most popular and amiable stars, includes several seasons of Maverick (1957-1962) and the complete Bret Maverick series (1981). Movies include: The Americanization of Emily, co-starring Julie Andrews and Melvyn Douglas; Barbarians at the Gate, set in an aggressive Wall Street jungle; How Sweet It Is, co-starring Debbie Reynolds; the hard-boiled detective noir Marlowe, which co-stars Jackie Coogan, Rita Moreno, Carroll O’Connor, and, in one of his rare non-martial arts roles, Bruce Lee; Victor/Victoria, co-starring Andrews, Robert Preston, and Lesley Ann Warren; and The Girl He Left Behind, in which Garner co-stars with Tab Hunter and Natalie Wood.
Fans of the ground-breaking medical dramas Dr. Kildare/ Richard Chamberlain (1961-1966) [co-starring screen legend Raymond Massey] and Medical Center/Chad Everett (1969-1976) will find a feast of three and five seasons, respectively.
Both boast a guest star roster of Hollywood legends. Dr. Kildare: Fred Astaire, Lauren Bacall, Ralph Bellamy, Joan Blondell, Charles Bronson, Angie Dickinson, Glenda Farrell, Celeste Holm, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Margaret Leighton, Jack Lord, James Mason, Sal Mineo, Yvette Mimieux, silent screen legend Ramon Novaro, Jack Nicholson, Leslie Nielsen, Claude Rains, and Gena Rowlands. Medical Center: Bellamy, Ruth Buzzi, Stockard Channing, Steve Forest, Julie Harris, Ms. Holm, Carol Lawrence, Ida Lupino, Mary McCarthy [Mama Morton in the original Chicago], George Maharis, Kay Medford, Geraldine Page, Ms.Rowlands, Kim Stanley, Forest Tucker, and Jo Van Fleet.
While the M-O-D customer service rates pretty high, one complaint is that not enough site information is given.
For in-stock Warner and other studio product, including series and deluxe package sets, visit www.wbshop.com, where there’s a huge variety to chose from. It’s a movie lovers’ dream, and at affordable prices. In fact, there seems to be a new sales campaign, with up to 75% off SRP, every two weeks.
Recent finds: The four-disc Blu-ray "Combo Pack" of brilliant Oscar-winning director William Wyler’s epic masterpiece Ben-Hur, winner of 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, starring Charlton Heston [Best Actor] as a rebellious Israelite prince who reluctantly takes on the Roman Empire during the time of Christ, Stephen Boyd as the vengeful and jealous Messala , Hugh Griffith [Supporting Actor], Haya Harareet, Martha Scott, Sam Jaffee, and one of the most spectacular sequences ever filmed: the chariot race.
One of the greatest films ever made, Oscar-winner Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, winner of seven Oscars, including Best Picture, the poignant story of returning WWII veterans and the effect wartime had on them – starring Frederic March [Best Actor], Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, Kathy O’Donnell, Hoagy Carmichael, and Harold Russell [Supporting Actor and Honorary Award] [the airplane graveyard sequence is one of the most masterful allegories in film history] – adapted from MacKinlay Kantor’s novel by playwright Robert Sherwood [Oscar].