It’s always fun to discover movies that have been forgotten. Going back through the nearly 100 years of moviemaking, there are thousands of movies that have all but vanished from the public eye. These aren’t lost films like “London After Midnight,” rather these are films that just don’t have a wide appeal anymore. Oh they may show up on Turner Classic Movies from time to time, but other that you have almost no hope of seeing them. Until now…well sort of.
Several classic studios have begun releasing many of these movies as DVD’s on demand. In other words, they aren’t duplicating huge quantities of the discs, they’re simply running them as people order them. Warner Brother’s “Warner Archive Collection” seems to be the most active of these programs, though some MGM and Universal titles have been coming out as well.
There are some real finds. I was thrilled to notice (and subsequently receive for my birthday) the five disc set of the MGM era Our Gang shorts. They aren’t as strong as the Hal Roach years, but still a lot of fun. Also available are collections of the Ripley’s Believe it or Not and Dogville series of shorts. Not to mention all the feature films, spanning film history from the silent era up to just a few years ago. This week’s new releases include a few Jerry Lewis comedies, “Which way to the Front” and “Cracking Up,” a few Peter Sellers films, “The Bobo” and “The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu,” not to mention “The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh.”
On the one hand, I think this is a smart move. With the way technology is now, there is no reason for the studios not to release all these properties. I mean, something has to be said for trying to preserve, and expose newer generations to, our film heritage. That’s not going to happen by renting movies at the Red Box in the Mickey D’s parking lot. On the other hand, so far Warner Brothers and the other studios are being rather foolish by not releasing these movies for rental through Netflix. These DVD’s on demand run $19.95 a pop ($14.95 for the downloads). Not a bad price, but too much for a movie that I’m curious about but have never seen. Recently, several studios imposed a 4 week delay on Netflix, not allowing them to rent movies to customers until a month after the DVD is released. They think they will sell more DVD’s that way. They are fools. People don’t buy movies they haven’t seen! If you want people to buy more of these archive collection discs, give them the chance to see the movies first.
Still, I applaud the studios for resurrecting these films.