one peruses the studio classic releases of 2004, it becomes quite
obvious that two things are occurring concurrently.
First, the vault doors are swinging open even more than in previous
years, and second, all studios are not equal when it comes to
tapping into the fruits of their Asset Protection Programs.
Ninth Place - MGM/UA
The studio with the least number of actual classic releases seems
to be MGM/UA. Besides Merchant - Ivory's Wild
Party and John Huston's Moulin
Rouge, the schedule of high-end titles has been rather
sparse. A number of Selznick productions, picked up from Disney,
inclusive of Ruby Gentry, Made
for Each Other, Intermezzo
and Since You Went Away have
been offered. While these are good quality, they are also sometimes
imperfect for either the quality of the available transfer elements
or a lack of follow-through toward getting things correct.
Another major title, Stanley Kramer's Judgment
at Nuremberg didn't seem to rate an anamorphic transfer,
leaving those with 16:9 monitors with two options for viewing,
neither of which takes advantage of the quality of the film
And with the James Bond films about to make their umpteenth
appearance, now cleaned of detritus, the only question, as the rays
of high definition begin to appear on the horizon is...
Eighth Place - Columbia
Sony's Columbia had a small offering of classics or
pseudo-classics. Dr. Strangelove*
was finally released from pre-print elements that had been properly
restored and preserved, and as a quality anamorphic release.
Castle Keep, released earlier
in the year in pan & scan, was quickly supplanted by a corrected
disc. Certainly an oddball film, Castle
Keep will not be to everyone's liking, but is worth a
look, especially for the wide-screen cinematography of Henri Decae,
who was responsible for Les Enfants
Terribles and The 400 Blows.
They Came to Cordura* with
Gary Cooper, an early CinemaScope production, was released at about
the same time as Richard Brooks' 70mm Lord
Jim* which was photographed by Freddie Young. Both
warrant your attention.
Roman Polanski's Tess,
photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth and Ghislain Cloquet is a
beautiful film, which oddly has scratches running through its first
Paul Mazursky's Bob and Carol and Ted
and Alice* probably looks its age because of fashion and
make-up and hair styles, but holds up nonetheless as an interesting
look back at the late '60s.
The Asset Protection Program at Columbia has been extremely busy,
even if the output of classics does not appropriately reflect the
fact. Beyond the cutting of original negatives for Seinfeld, and the
overseeing of high definition transfers, a great deal has been going
on behind the scenes which will begin to show up early in 2005.
Bitter Victory has been
restored and returned to its original length; Major
Dundee has been restored and will hit theatres April 8th,
before hitting DVD sometime in May or June; Bunny
Lake is Missing has been restored and is also coming to
DVD; My Sister Eileen has been
restored and will be released in 2.55:1 and in original 3 track
stereo; The Violent Men in
2.55:1 and original stereo; American
Madness; The Stranger Wore a
Gun, The Prisoner
(1955), and last but not least, Frank Capra's The
Bitter Tea of General Yen.
It should also be mentioned that Sony's Digital Authoring Center
played a major role, as they did with the first release, of The
National Film Preservation Foundations' More
Treasures from American Film Archives. Anyone with an
interest in early American cinema needs a copy of More
Treasures, all profits of which go to support film
Seventh Place - Universal
Universal released a limited group of classic DVDs. The earlier
horror classics were re-packaged into handy, space-saving boxed
sets, and several titles were added. For those who did not already
own the Universal horrors classics, The
Legacy Collections provided instant libraries and come
highly recommended. The series was released in two waves. The
initial titles included the Dracula*,
Frankenstein* and Wolf
Man* series, followed by The
Creature from the Black Lagoon*, Mummy*
and Invisible Man* series.
Van Helsing, one of the big
amusement park ride films of the year was released in an odd way. If
one enjoyed the film, and wanted additional information about
effects and other elements, one was forced to purchase the Ultimate
Edition... a three disc set, which also included the original Frankenstein,
Dracula and Wolf
Man. There was no two disc set offered - an odd marketing
decision. Not so great for those who had already invested in the
horror classics or Legacy sets, but a windfall for those who had
For me, the most interesting, and potentially important classic
release of the year was Howard Hughes' 1930 Hell's
One of the most expensive and technically intricate films to be
produced in the late silent and early sound era, Hell's
Angels was released as an "also ran." With
little publicity and even less interest or apparent care, the film
was simply dumped into the marketplace as a quickie ten-dollar disc.
With potential tie-ins to Martin Scorsese's Aviator,
and the ability to make Hell's Angels
something special, it simply seems that Universal's mind was in
NBC's Universal has such an extraordinary library, especially when
considering the Paramount productions that I can't believe that they
seem unable or uninterested in tapping the source. Mention should be
made that two early Mamoulian films, Applause*
and Love Me Tonight* were
released late last year via Kino Video under license from Universal.
Sixth Place - 20th Century Fox
The news from 20th Century Fox has been positive. While there is no
doubt that the major release of the year, in what many feel is
within the "classic" category, are the Star
Wars films, the real classic news was elsewhere.
Besides a package of WWII products, inclusive of Guadalcanal
Diary, Halls of Montezuma,
A Wing and a Prayer and
others, we received a beautifully rendered Grapes
of Wrath* as part of the Studio Classics collection. In
addition to John Ford's Grapes,
the collection added his My Darling
Clementine* (in two versions), George Stevens' Diary
of Anne Frank*, The Prime of
Miss Jean Brodie (less the lyrics for the title song),
Desk Set*, Alexander's
Ragtime Band*, Zorba the Greek*,
The Day the Earth Stood Still*
and Three Faces of Eve*.
Fifth Place - Disney
Disney has the distinction of high quality releases, based upon a
relatively small library from which they can draw; producing
animated shorts until 1937's Snow White,
and with only a handful of animated feature length films in the two
decades thereafter, interspersed with the likes of 20,000
Leagues*, Song of the South
and Treasure Island*.
And yet, Disney has made a superb representation for 2004. Not
based upon quantity, but for the overall quality of their releases.
Although not actual "classics," the Disney organization
considers all of its animated features just that. And although with
very little bottle age, Aladdin*
and Mulan* have been offered
as beautiful packages, necessary for the library of anyone with
Alice in Wonderland*, Disney's
1951 release is a gorgeous DVD. Like the other true Disney classics,
it has been cleaned and polished and is now a new product, looking
not a bit as it did in 1951, but beautiful nonetheless.
Similarly, Mary Poppins* has
just be upgraded, making the older release superfluous.
In the area of short films and documentaries, Disney also shines.
My personal favorite is Walt Disney on
the Front Lines*, a cornucopia of Disney's work toward
the war effort during the 1940s. When I initially heard about this
release, I feared that it might be sanitized. Fortunately, this was
not the case, and our WWII enemies are still historically as they
were sixty years ago.
Continuing with their Treasures
releases, Disney held the quality of those that came earlier. One of
the more frustrating points in the past has been the ability to view
a series of films in any semblance of order. The folks at Disney
Home Video have methodically brought together, in chronological
order, more Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and most recently Pluto
animated shorts in quality befitting their importance.
My one tiny gripe about Disney still continues. Apparently
concerned about placing a proper copyright notice on their DVD
packaging, they also continue to confuse the issue by annotating new
DVD releases of older titles as "2004 Release." There is
nothing inherently bad about making it known that you actually own
classic films which were created before the release of the DVD.
Fourth Place - Criterion/Home
The Fourth position doesn't go to a studio.
Since it created the first laserdiscs with additional content over
two decades ago, the very independent Criterion Collection, along
with its occasional partner Home Vision, has served up home video
product against which all others have been judged.
It took the studios several years to realize that there was a
market for high-end transfers in something called "wide screen,"
as well as a desire among the home video buying public to do more
than simply view a film at home on their monitor.
A cursory look at the 2004 catalog releases from Criterion show
that they have lost neither their quality nor their ability to
compete in what is now a hugely competitive marketplace.
Almost the entire production output of Merchant - Ivory, which
began in 2003, moved into 2004.
Luchino Visconti's The Leopard*,
with a transfer supervised by cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno,
derived directly from the original large format Technirama (TLA)
Sam Fuller's A Pickup on South Street*...
A special boxed set of the work of John Cassavetes, inclusive of
A Woman Under the Influence*,
Killing of a Chinese Bookie*
and Opening Night*, along with
a superb documentary...
A new two-disc set of Fritz Lang's M*,
newly restored and magnificently presented...
Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander*,
offered in both a two disc as well as a five disc set, the latter
inclusive of the original five hour television version... The
five-disc set is streeting for about $45.
Two versions, roadshow and general release of Cecil B. DeMille's
silent King of Kings* with
two-strip Technicolor footage included...
Robert Altman's Short Cuts*
in a two disc special edition at a street price of under $30...
Ozu's Early Summer*...
Renoir's The Golden Coach,
French Cancan and Elena
and Her Men*...
Two versions of The Lower Depths*...
Renoir and Kurosawa...
Jean-Luc Godard's A Woman is a Woman*
Which is no where near their total annual release schedule...
Third Place - Paramount
Paramount is in a similar situation as Disney. With the exception
of their silent library, the majority of their pre-1949 productions
are owned by Universal, which seems to be doing little with them in
So while Paramount has a superb library going back over half a
century, they do not have the depth of other studios. While one
might feel that their home video abilities may be limited by their
lack of earlier sound product, one would not know it from their 2004
catalog of classics.
While somewhat off the beaten track, mention must be made of the
high quality of Paramount's entire I Love
Lucy series, based upon a massive archival restoration
and preservation project that should get proper kudos. The Lucy
series looks as good as it did over half a century ago and is highly
When it comes to feature films, Paramount shines.
There are only a handful of films that have been re-made by the
Frank Capra's 1934 Broadway Bill,
originally a Columbia production, is the earliest title to come from
Paramount this year. Re-made in 1950 as Riding
High by Mr. Capra, the rights ended up with Paramount,
which released both films concurrently, adding two additional films
to the Capra DVD legacy.
As an aside, I'll give a short list of films re-made in this
manner, to which the HTF
readers can provide additions.
The Ten Commandments - 1923 &
1956 - Cecil B. DeMille
The Man Who Knew Too Much -
1934 & 1956 - Alfred Hitchcock
The Marriage Circle & One
Hour with You - 1924 & 1932 - Ernst Lubitsch
The Vanishing - 1988 &
1993 - George Sluizier
J'Accuse - 1919 & 1938 -
One of Brian DePalmas's best works is The
Untouchables*, for which Paramount has created a special
edition. Likewise, we now have beautiful anamorphic versions of Top
Gun* a new special edition of Footloose*
and a second special edition of DeMille's 1956 Ten
Mr. DeMille's Best Picture of 1952, The
Greatest Show on Earth* received equally high-end
treatment from the studio.
2004 was also the year of Jerry Lewis, and while many DVDs of his
films were "bare bones" product, The
Nutty Professor* stands out as a superb SE, with nine of
his other films also released, spanning a period from 1951 through
1965. For the Jerry Lewis fan, Paramount has released a gift of a
Other Paramount productions include a creation of what Orson
Welles' It's All True might
have been like had it been completed, as well as a wonderful library
of VistaVision productions inclusive of Desire
Under the Elms*, The Black
Orchid*, Come Back, Little
Sheba*, Last Train from Gun
Hill* and The Rose Tattoo*.
In addition, from the pre-Vista era, we have the three-strip
Technicolor Arrowhead*, Naked
Jungle* and the beautiful black & white The
Moving up several decades we have Day of
the Locust*, The Spy Who Came
in from the Cold*, White Dawn*,
Heaven Can Wait*, and a film
which I tend to use as a reference disc to exhibit the differences
between older mono and '80s stereo audio - Rustler's
There is no Second Place.
First Place - Warner Bros.
There is not a doubt in my mind, or in that of a number of people
with whom I discussed this column, that the top studio in the home
video world for 2004 must be Warner Brothers.
In addition, there is so much of a spread between Warner and the
next best, that there can not be a second place position.
Just look at the product that Warner Home Video has brought to the
market place in 2004!
The Tarzan Collection*,
comprised of all six MGM Tarzan
The Alfred Hitchcock: The Signature
Collection*. A veritable master's course in Hitchcock
with re-packaging of two films (North by
Northwest* and Strangers on a
Train*) and brand new beautiful DVDs of six others: Dial
"M" for Murder*, Stage
Fright*, I Confess*,
Foreign Correspondent*, Mr.
and Mrs. Smith*, Suspicion*
and The Wrong Man*.
Luchino Visconti's The Damned*
and A Death in Venice*.
The Noir Collection*,
comprised of beautiful new transfers of The
Asphalt Jungle*, Gun Crazy*,
Murder, My Sweet*, Out
of the Past, and The Set-Up*.
The Martin Scorsese Collection*
inclusive of a new transfer of Goodfellas*,
Mean Streets*, After
Hours*, Alice Doesn't Live
Here Anymore* and Who's
Knocking at My Door.
The Marx Brothers Collection*:
Seven films - A Night at the Opera*,
A Day at the Races*, A
Night in Casablanca, Room
Service, At the Circus,
Go West and The
The Cary Grant Collection*:
Beautiful new transfers of My Favorite
Wife*, Mr. Blandings Builds
His Dreamhouse*, The Bachelor
and the Bobby-Soxer* as well as Destination
Tokyo and Night and Day.
The second collection of Looney Tunes
- 60 of the greatest animated shorts ever made! (Thank you Warner
Brothers, Turner and George Feltenstein)
Two excellent documentaries chronicling the career of George
Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey* and D-Day
to Berlin*. More on Mr. Stevens in a future piece.
The Buster Keaton Collection:
Three of Mr. Keaton's films from the MGM Archives - The
Cameraman*, Spite Marriage*
and his first talkie, Free and Easy*,
packaged along with a documentary of the UK's Photoplay
(that would be the Brownlow chap).
The That's Entertainment Trilogy*
Musicals, inclusive of Damn Yankees*,
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers*
(in both flat and CinemaScope versions), as well as...
in my opinion, the second most important restoration of the year on
DVD - Vincente Minnelli's three-strip Technicolor opus, Meet
Me in St. Louis* as a very special Special Edition...
And to top this all off, in case no one noticed... a beautifully
digitally restored DVD of the Academy Award winning Best Picture of
1939 - Gone with the Wind*.
Need I say more?
Warner Home Video has proven, more than any other studio, that they
want to provide the public with important films in high quality
transfers with a myriad of extras, and all at a price that makes
these purchases easy on the budget. They have also advanced the
technology of film restoration, especially when oriented towards
home video. In this regard, appreciation must be offered to Chris
Cookson, Rob Hummel and Ned Price, without whom...
Warner Home Video has shown that they have a love not just for
marketing and sales, but more importantly, for the cinema. There is
no question that these people love film.
Warner Home Video is the king of the classic DVD world by a
landslide. And with an extraordinary library behind them, and hints
of what's coming our way in 2005, they may well continue to hold the
* Designates a film worthy of purchase on DVD.
RAH Designates a film worth
of "blind" purchase on DVD.
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