18 June 2015

And Now For a Brief Commercial Break:Warner Archive

Many, many years ago -- and it wasn't a galaxy far, far away, though sometimes it seems like it -- before the internet, or cable tv, or dvds, or even videotape -- there were only a few resources for someone who loved classic movies. One was the revival theater, which began in the late 1930s when the Museum of Modern Art established their film collection, and showings began in (I believe) the 1940s. (Whatever the exact date, my father, a graduate student at Columbia in New York, attended many screenings!)

When television came along "old movies" were a mainstay of many local channels programming. There were early morning cartoons -- which were not actually made for children, but were part of a regular night at the movies -- Saturday matinees, frequently with either a monster theme or a WW2 theme, or both; and the "Late, Late Show," which in the New York metropolitan area was usually a quality film (like Ninotchka) shown at about one a.m. I saw all of these. But believe it or not, children, in the Olden Days, nothing was "on demand" -- if you couldn't be there when Bride of Frankenstein was broadcast at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, you were going to miss it -- and there was no way of recording anything from the television.

Well, for the movie-lover, there has been a lot of progress since then!

This isn't a commercial blog, obviously, but I have to give a shout to Warner Archive. and I mean both the streaming channel and the DVD/BluRay store. Every month they release an assortment of high-quality films and TV shows for home viewing, and the selection is extremely thoughtful.

Dorothy Mackaill

I certainly never thought I would see, for example, a Dorothy Mackaill box set! This lovely and talented actress was in her heyday in the late 20s/early 30s. She was equally good in silent and sound movies, romance, drama, or comedy. She starred opposite Richard Barthelmess in one of his best silents, Shore Leave, and one of his best pre-code sound films, the banal-ly titled Central Airport. She worked frequently with director William Wellman; he directed her in a true pre-code classic, Safe In Hell, also available from the Warners store, which has scenes in it that are still shocking today (and icky). Now Warners is also offering a 2 dvd set of another couple of pre-code specials. If you're not familiar with this accomplished actress these would be a good place to start. And it's on sale!

Many of my personal favorites, most of them not as well known as they should be, are also available: 

Norma Shearer and Conrad Veidt in Escaope

Escape, with Norma Shearer, Robert Taylor, and Conrad Veidt, a very adult anti-Nazi thriller, one of my favorite films for the acting, the European ambiance, and the final moral stance.
Above Suspicion, with Joan Crawford an Fred MacMurray, in another European anti-nazi story, but more of a romantic adventure.
Between Two Worlds, with a stellar cast including John Garfield, Paul Henried, Eleanor Parker, Sara Allgood, and Sydney Greenstreet, a supernatural drama with a point.
Cry Havoc, about US Army nurses in the Pacific theater in WW2, with Margaret Sullivan,  Ann Southern,  Joan Blondell, Marsha Hunt, Ella Raines, and more.
Doctor Erlich's Magic Bullet, starring Edward G. Robinson and Ruth Gordon, in my opinion the best Warner Bros biopic, due to a script by John Huston.
The Last Hunt, with Stewart Granger and Robert Taylor, a non-western; it takes place in the old west, all right, but the plot is original -- and modern. Taylor very bravely plays a complete psychopath.

One of my favorite post-war defenses of liberalism: 
Goodbye, My Fancy, with Joan Crawford as a political journalist revisiting her alma mater, with Robert Young and Frank Lovejoy.

Part three of Richard Barthelmess' post WW1 trilogy, The Last Flight, also starring Helen Chandler, David Manners, and Elliot Nugent (parts one and two are The Dawn Patrol and Heroes for Sale).

Most of these are rare and weren't seen often as "old movies" on old-time TV (like the New York area's beloved Million Dollar Movie). In fact most of the pre-code films now being re-discovered were far too racy to be shown on television at all in the 1950s-60s. It's really wonderful for me and other long-time film aficionados to see them being appreciated and made available now. As individual dvds they are pretty pricey; but a monthly subscription to the streaming Warner Archive channel puts literally thousands of these gems at your fingertips. 

A look at what's available at the Warner Bros Shop