Friday, December 28, 2007

Wanted - Film Advocates

This may not be the most original observation, but it's become increasingly apparent to me that something is askew at most of home entertainment divisions of the studios.

I mean, it doesn't make sense, for example, that Columbia/Sony managed to put on DVD everything that The Three Stooges ever did for the Poverty Row studio, but has inexplicably overlooked two affable comedies by one of its more reliable contract players, Jack Lemmon, for more than 30 years now. Neither "Operation Mad Ball" (1957) nor "The Notorious Landlady" (1962), both directed by Richard Quine, has ever been available on any format of home entertainment. Exacerbating matters, neither film has been televised in years.

Paramount, meanwhile, has been busy releasing boxed sets of mediocre TV series from the 1950s and '60s, while ignoring such once-popular titles as "The Rat Race" (Tony Curtis-Debbie Reynolds), "Love with the Proper Stranger" (Natalie Wood and Steven McQueen), "Come Blow Your Hort" (Sinatra) or any number of late Otto Preminger films ("Such Good Friends," "Hurry Sundown," "Tell Me that You Love Me, Junie Moon" and "Skidoo").

The problem? Well, I get the impression that the home divisions are peopled with "kids" (a relative term, I know) who think that film began with "Star Wars" and that anything made prior to 1970 is undeserving of attention. What's clearly missing are film advocates - people who know films, have had a long relationship with films and are keenly aware of titles worthy of attention, maybe even something made in the 1930s or '40s. Imagine that.

The studios need to bring film advocates into their home entertainment divisions who will fight for old Preminger or Lemmon films the way someone at Columbia went to bat for the Stooges - and the way that every other current DVD producer can't wait to get the latest Sandler or Apatow on discs.

(Art Work: Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen in "Love with the Proper Stranger," a superior version of "Knocked Up" from the 1960s)

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com


tuckova said...

Skiddoo was broadcast recently; perhaps that signals a potential move to DVD. Not to be too hopeful, just that this post seemed so sad.

Ed Howard said...

It's true and sad. Today's major studios seem to have little sense of how to market or release their "old" films. More evidence: the spotty representation of a major director like Anthony Mann on DVD, with several key works conspicuously missing or relegated to crap PD transfers.

On another note, I heard about the Skidoo broadcast too late -- this is the third time I've stumbled across a reference to it today, three days too late!! As a big Preminger fan, I've been dying to see the film for ages, too, so I don't suppose anybody taped it or burned it to DVD and would be willing to share?

jbryant said...

Well, this post hit home with me, considering:

1) "Operation Madball" is a fave film of mine (my VHS dub being a prized possession), and Quine is a fave director

2) I'm currently reading Foster Hirsch's biography of Otto Preminger (many of whose films I own on DVD or have recorded from TV)

I caught a large chunk of the recent "Skidoo" broadcast. I'm kicking myself for not recording it, because I was so dog tired that night, I kept dozing off -- this despite the jaw-droppingly bizarre and fascinating nature of the film. If it ever does rate a DVD release, I hope it will get the proper widescreen treatment. This was one of those very rare occasions that TCM dropped the ball, airing it Pan-and-Scan except for the end credits (set to music and sung by Harry Nilsson, right down to the copyright notice!).

joe baltake said...

I don't think Turner is responsible in the case of the "Skidoo" pan-&-scan. I've noticed that a lot of the Paramounts that it plays are presented that way. "Come Blow Your Horn" is another widescreen Paramount film presented in pan-and-scan version on Turner. The problem is Paramount. They haven't restored these titles since their VHS heyday. Turner plays what it gets. There are also a lot of Columbia titles that pop up on TCM in the same condition. The culprits: The studios.

jbryant said...

That's probably true, Joe. But I do recall TCM showing Quine's great "Strangers When We Meet" in Pan-and-Scan just a few short weeks after I had rented the letterboxed DVD. Wonder what that was about?

Daryl Chin said...

Yes, i also was appalled that SKIDOO was only pan-and-scan (even if it is a legendary stinker, it deserves to be seen in its Panavision glory, because some of the scenes, such as the attempted acid-trip visualization, are just too bizarre not to be seen in full), and i do know that the reason is not that TCM wants this, but this is what TCM gets from the source (in this case, MCA, which is sending the broadcast material used in the 1970s, when movies such as SKIDOO and COME BLOW YOUR HORN were shown on TV pan-and-scan, as was the practice of the day).

But there is the idea that the one true market for films (on DVD or on TV) is the "youth" market, so there has been a steady decline in terms of programming of more obscure titles. And (unfortunately) "obscure" now means people who are not known to today's audiences. In the case of LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER, unfortunately, you've got two dead stars, Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen. And the recent Warners McQueen boxset (which included THE CINCINNATI KID and BULLITT) did not do well: not enough people remember McQueen. (The boxset went very quickly into the online version of the remainder bin, selling for more than 60% off list price by Christmas.)

It's for this reason that there seems to be little hope for (say) DVDs of OPERATION MADBALL or THE NOTORIOUS LANDLADY (two films i love, especially LANDLADY, which is one of the most charming of Kim Novak's starring films).

jbryant said...

Just wait till I rule the world. I'll make sure there's a Richard Quine Criterion box set. Estimated release date: 4th quarter 2038.