Sunday, November 11, 2007

10 Movies That Need DVD Releases

Not much on Earth annoys me more than finding out about a movie and not being able to get my hands on it. I wanted to put together a list of films that deserve a DVD release (a lot of them deserve Criterion releases, some of them not so much). This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. As soon as you see it, you'll say, "Jeez, how could he have forgotten X?!"

Let us know in the comments. So, without further ado and in no particular order:

1. Our Man in Havana is Carol Reed and Graham Greene's third and final collaboration. The first two, The Fallen Idol and The Third Man are widely regarded as classics and rightly so. I would assume that this film is no different, but I can't get my bloody hands on it. Alec Guinness heads up the cast which includes Burl Ives, Maureen O'Hara and Ernie Kovacs. It was also filmed in Havana during that narrow window prior to the complete closure of the country. Guinness plays Wormold, an expatriate vacuum salesman living in Havana with his young daughter. As his daughter gets older she's gotten more expensive, so when the offer comes from the British secret service comes in for him to become a spy he jumps at the chance. He begins to file fanciful and false reports but things get hairy for Wormold when his preposterous reports (vacuum blueprints) turn out to be true (military blueprints) and other foreign agents and local military descend on poor Wormold.

The book was fantastic and you'd be hard pressed to find a better cast for the film. The writer/director team produced to classics, I can't imagine how this film could be a misfire and I can't find any reason whatsoever why it isn't available on DVD. Criterion should get on top of this one ASAP.

2. Freud - John Huston directed this bio-pic that covers five years in the life of Sigmund Freud played wonderfully, I imagine, by Montgomery Clift. It was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1962 (score and screenplay) and has been largely unavailable on DVD or VHS. The film compresses most of Freuds major breakthroughs into one patient and is hailed as the best film about Freud. Turner Classic Movies plays it from time to time, but there doesn't seem to be any plans for a DVD release that I can find. I can't imagine a more compelling reason to release it than the pairing of Montgomery Clift and John Huston. (For brilliant examples of their other work, check out I Confess and The Man Who Would be King, respectively.)

3. Brighton Rock (AKA Young Scarface) is yet another Graham Greene adaptation that wallows without a release in the United States, but our friends in the UK have one. Again, the book is a nail-biter that you can't put down about a seventeen-year old kid named Pinkie who's taken over a gang in Brighton and murders a man and has to murder more and more people to cover it up. He even marries a young waitress who could blow his lid so that she can't give evidence against him. This film is notable because of the actor who plays the furious Pinkie: it's a twenty-something Sir Richard Attenborough. It's been called one of the great British thrillers but I'd never know because no one has put out a DVD in the US.

4. Drunken Angel. I'm a giant Kurosawa nerd. Not one of those pretentious film-school Kurosawa snobs, but a genuine nerd, in love with Kurosawa on every level. I was able to catch a 16mm print of Drunken Angel a few years back and I swear, aside from Seven Samurai, it's easily my favorite Kurosawa film. The story is about Takashi Shimura, a drunken doctor in a clinic in post-war Japan. He's a drunk but he's still a doctor interested in helping people. (In fact, now that I think about it, it sounds a lot like a Graham Greene novel minus a love affair.) The two patients that he deals with in the film are a small girl with tuberculosis and Toshiro Mifune, a youthful, drunken gangster with tuberculosis and a death wish. The film is equally bitter and sweet and is truly one of the greatest films ever made. Mifune, Shimura and Kurosawa are as essential and influential a team in film as Scorsese, Pesci and DeNiro or Leone and Eastwood or Ford and Wayne. I would even argue that Mifune and Shimura belong in the hallowed halls of all the acting greats like Brando and Newman.

But why isn't this film on DVD? Criterion has put out most of Kurosawa's other films (sometimes twice). I know because I've bought them all, but why not this one? Is it a rights issue or something? Wake up Criterion, get this done and in my hands. I haven't even been able to land my hands on a quality bootleg of this one.

UPDATE: (It turns out, Criterion has a release date of 11/27/2007 for this one, but Criterion has repeatedly pulled DVDs on the date of their release, most notably Kurosawa's Dodesukaden.)

5. Erik the Viking was written and directed by Monty Python alum Terry Jones. It stars Tim Robbins, among others and is a truly hilarious film. When I was a kid, I would rent this film at least twice a month and it would never cease to entertain me. It was also my gateway drug into other Monty Python films. Tim Robbins plays Erik, a Viking who has a conscious. He's just downright sick of all the raping and pillaging. In one of the funniest scenes of the film, he tries to rape a girl but can't bring himself to do it because no love is involved, then his Viking buddies come in and try to do likewise to the poor girl, but he ends up rescuing her and she becomes the love interest in the rest of the film. I don't know about any of you, but a Viking questioning the inherent moral value of rape is hilarious.

This film got an extra special sweet DVD release in the UK and there is no sign of a release in the US. Well, there was a release set. And a date. But it got pulled. Why? I've no idea. All I know is that I want a copy of this film to show my kids. Also, I want to buy it as presents for a couple of people...

UPDATE: It seems as though there's a new US release date of this for next month, but it's had three other US release dates at least, so I'll believe it when I see it.

6. Happy Birthday, Wanda June was written by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and was filmed in 1971 starring Rod Steiger. I've had mostly bad experiences with Vonnegut adaptations (I recently wangled a copy of Slapstick on DVD and was pretty much ready to kill myself) but this seems fairly hard to screw up. The story is about a man who embodies everything about guys like Steinbeck and Hemingway that Vonnegut hated, the big-game hunting, macho, womanizing ass-hole side of them. This is Harold Ryan (played by Rod Steiger) and he's been lost in the woods for eight years and his wife and child have made an attempt to move on, his wife is dating other, more sensitive men. This is about when he comes back into their lives. The play, as written, is funny and poignant and if they filmed exactly what was on the page I can't imagine how they could deviate so far from Vonnegut to ruin it.

7. Dr. Fischer of Geneva was the first Graham Greene novel I ever read and it hit me right between the eyes. It's about greed and love and desperation and horrible families and it's all quite tragic, as Greene is apt to write. Alec Guinness tried for a few years to get the film done with himself in the title role, but it fell through for whatever reason. A short while later, it was made for television with James Mason in the Dr. Fischer role. This film is notable enough for a DVD release if for no better reason than this was James Mason's last film. Graham Greene's Dr. Fischer was the last part he ever played. Dr. Fischer is an old rich man whose hobby it is to expose human greed. He has a number of "friends" who he humiliates as far as they can take and then gives them money and gifts. Soon, his son-in-law gets involved and the prize is more money than anyone can imagine, but the final humiliation is death for one of the participants. The novel is tight and hard to put down, I can't imagine the film being any less so.

8. High School (1968). Frederick Wiseman's documentary film inside of life for teachers, administrators and students inside a Philadelphia high school is so important a film that it was selected in 1991 for inclusion in the National Film registry. So why can't I get a copy on DVD? This film looks to be the high school equivalent to the Maysles' stunning film Salesman. I'd pay money to see a verite film about life and interaction inside of a high school in 1968. This seems like a shoo in for a Criterion disc, so what's the hold up?

9. Beyond the Limit (AKA The Honorary Consul). I read Roger Ebert's review of this film and, to be honest, he said it wasn't that good. But he wrote his review when the film came out and there was a backlash of dislike for Richard Gere. I'm terribly interested to see the film now. This is another adaptation of a Graham Greene novel (big surprise, right?) that stars Michael Caine, Richard Gere and Bob Hoskins. The novel centers around a young, drunk doctor (see, Drunken Angel, but with a love affair) played by Richard Gere who is having an affair with the wife of the Honorary British Consul played by Michael Caine. She also happens to be a former prostitute. But the Consul is abducted by mistake and the only one who cares enough to try to deal with the well-meaning terrorists is the good Doctor.

The novel was intriguing and surprising and Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins could surely move enough units of this film with their names alone to warrant a release. So, if any one is paying attention, put out this film.

10. Remember the Night seems like the best Christmas-film that no one has ever heard of or seen. This film, written by Preston Sturges, pairs Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck (who melted the screen in the perfect Double Indemnity) during Christmas time. What sounds so great and interesting about that you ask? Well, Barbara Stanwyck plays a beautiful, young ne'er-do-well caught for shoplifting just before Christmas. Fred MacMurray plays the prosecutor assigned to her case and gets the trial postponed until after Christmas because it's impossible to get a good conviction during the holiday season. She'll have to spend her Christmas in jail so he feels sorry for her and arranges her bail. Well, he ends up taking her home for the holidays to meet his mother and slowly they fall in love. Now, all of a sudden that looming trial seems like a much larger problem now that he has to prosecute a loved one. This film sounds like it could be every bit as holiday classic as Capra's It's a Wonderful Life but I've only heard of it playing on TV once, last year for the first time in decades.

Granted, Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck have a much smaller amount of name recognition than Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, but that's no reason to leave this one in the vaults.

So, there you have it. Give me your complaints in the comments and I'll be sure to do a part II with all of your suggestions. And I hope that I've done you as much as a disservice as I've done myself insofar as I've made you want to watch all of these presumably wonderful films that you can't see as much as I want to see them.


Steven said...

Next time, a 1 through 10 list?

Bryan said...

Was this one not numbered well enough?

Steven said...

No, there were numbers. There was just a shit load of words between the numbers. ;-)

neal s said...

Let me add:

Cocksucker Blues, Robert Frank's notorious Stones documentary. It deserves a place next to Gimme Shelter. Not because it's that good, but because it's that interesting.

Let's Get Lost, Bruce Weber's amazing portrait of Chet Baker. There's been talk that it's coming, but I don't think anything is confirmed.

And yeah, let's talk soon about working on something. I've been busy putting some stuff together which I'll announce soon on Leftwich, but we should at least get the ball rolling.