The DVD Report #1

As a child I dreamed of one day becoming a movie mogul with a vast collection of films in my personal library. I never became a mogul, but I do have the library. Anyone can build one thanks to the wealth of films available on DVD.

As this is an Oscar site, I plan to comment mostly on releases of Oscar and other award winning films. Whether a casual renter or serious collector, home video gives us the ability to view the entire history of the Academy Awards at our leisure and no home video format yet invented is better than DVD for clarity of sound, picture and ease of storage.

Generally speaking, it’s better to see a film on the large screen, but many, including last year’s The Last King of Scotland and The Queen featuring Oscar winning performances from Forest Whitaker and Helen Mirren, seem more at home on the small screen. After all, isn’t that where we’re used to seeing Idi Amin and Elizabeth II, the real life characters they play? That’s especially true of The Queen whose events swirl around the death of Princess Diana, which we all saw played out on TV.

It may be difficult for us to make a day of seeing films in theaters, but less difficult to set aside a day of just watching films at home on DVD that look just as good, sometimes better, than they did on our increasingly smaller local theater screens. Lucky for those of us interested in seeing every film ever nominated for any award, there is a wealth of availability out there.

Every best picture winner has been released on DVD except for 1933’s Cavalcade, which was previously released on VHS, and will hopefully make its way to DVD before the format becomes extinct. The first winner, Wings, is available only as a Korean import.

Finding films on DVD that won Oscars for acting, writing and other endeavors is a bit trickier. For example, Janet Gaynor’s performance in Sunrise, one of three films for which she won the first best actress Oscar, is available on DVD, but the other two, Seventh Heaven and Street Angel, are not. Why not? Sunrise, which also won the award for “best unique and artistic picture”, is a revered masterpiece, the other two aren’t. Those films and others featuring early Oscar winning performances were previously available on VHS. Is it the expense the studios must go through to produce the kind of pristine prints we’re now used to seeing on DVD, or is it that the market for these films just isn’t there?

Studios will go to great expense to re-master old films for DVD that they think will sell. Fox, which owns all three of Gaynor’s winners, for example, has lovingly restored the early Charlie Chan films as well as the more obscure and greatly inferior Mr. Moto and Michael Shayne detective series, and practically all their film noir catalogue because there is a market for them. Last week they released a set of Tyrone Power swashbucklers. Again, the market is there. The early Oscar winners, especially so-called “women’s films” are a tougher sell. Films aimed at children, adolescents and men tend to do well on DVD, films aimed at women do not. Is it that women don’t rent or buy DVDs in the same quantities men do, or is it because women who rent and buy DVDs do so more for the enjoyment of their male partners and children than themselves? Or is it simply because the films that get released on DVD are those that most reflect the interests of those making the decisions at the studios and DVD release companies, and most of those decision makers are men?

With 284 out of 305 Oscar winning performances either in release or coming shortly to DVD, we can’t complain too much. Still, it’s the men who outnumber the women when it comes to availability. Of the 21 missing performances, 9 are by men and 12 by women.

We are missing four winners from the 20s, seven each from the 30s and 40s, two from the 60s and one from the 80s. In the meantime, the studios and DVD companies continue to re-issue new versions of previous releases with more extras to entice buyers to engage what is known in the industry as double-dipping, i.e. putting out guaranteed money makers instead of spending money restoring films that might not sell as well. It costs relatively nothing to add a commentary track to a previous release and re-issue it.

Today sees the re-issue of several of Oscar’s past nominees and winners in spiffed up new editions – The Caine Mutiny, To Catch a Thief, The Guns of Navarone and Dirty Dancing. The Caine Mutiny and The Guns of Navarone were each nominated for seven Oscars including best picture, the latter winning for best special effects of 1961. To Catch a Thief won for best color cinematography of 1955 and Dirty Dancing won for best song of 1987 – “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”.

All but To Catch a Thief looked perfectly fine in previous releases. That film, which is not one of Hitchcock’s best, is nevertheless known for its breathtaking views of Monte Carlo where you can see Grace Kelly the year before she became that country’s princess and 27 years before she died in a fall from one of its treacherous narrow winding mountain roads featured in the film.

The pick of the litter is The Caine Mutiny, a childhood discovery that remains one of my favorite films after all these years. Sure, the tacked on romance and the opening and closing scenes that were added to the play are fluff, but they don’t detract from the central morality play and dilemma. Humphrey Bogart arguably delivers the best performance of his storied career as the mad Captain Queeg, and the underrated Fred MacMurray is almost as good in a pivotal supporting role.

These films and all available Oscar winners, some of which are available only as imports, can be purchased through OscarGuy’s links.

Peter J. Patrick (May 8, 2007)

Oscar Winning Performances Missing on DVD

  • Emil Jannings in The Way of All Flesh (a lost film)
  • Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven
  • Janet Gaynor in Street Angel
  • Mary Pickford in Coquette
  • George Arliss in Disraeli
  • Norma Shearer in The Divorcee
  • Lionel Barrymore in A Free Soul
  • Marie Dressler in Min and Bill
  • Helen Hayes in The Sin of Madelon Claudet
  • Bette Davis in Dangerous
  • Gale Sondergaard in Anthony Adverse
  • Walter Brennan in Kentucky
  • Mary Astor in The Great Lie
  • Van Heflin in Johnny Eager
  • Paul Lukas in Watch on the Rhine
  • Ethel Barrymore in None But the Lonely Heart
  • Olivia de Havilland in To Each His Own
  • Loretta Young in The Farmer’s Daughter
  • Martin Balsam in A Thousand Clowns
  • Jack Albertson in The Subject Was Roses
  • William Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman

Buy on DVD!
Use Each Title’s Link

Top 10 Rentals of the Week

(April 29, 2007)

  1. Night at the Museum
  2. Deja Vu
  3. The Queen
  4. Smokin’ Aces
  5. The Last King of Scotland
  6. Freedom Writers
  7. The Good Shepherd
  8. The Pursuit of Happyness
  9. Notes on a Scandal
  10. Code Name: The Cleaner

Top 10 Sales of the Week

(April 22, 2007)

  1. Smokin’ Aces
  2. The Last King of Scotland
  3. Happy Feet
  4. Freedom Writers
  5. Charlotte’s Web
  6. The Pursuit of Happyness
  7. Casino Royale
  8. The Good Shepherd
  9. Notes on a Scandal
  10. Spider-Man 2 (Special Edition)

New Releases

(May 8)

Coming Soon

(May 15)

(May 22)

(May 29)

(June 5)

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