Warner Brothers recently announced that it's opening the vaults, releasing hundreds of long out-of-print titles that in some cases never even made it to video.
With their new DVD-On-Demand system, rather than commercially pressing thousands of copies of every disc, movies are recorded on DVD-R as they are ordered. So there are no extras, no booklets, no interviews with the second A.D.'s cousin. But to see a movie that's been out of print for decades, who cares?
They launched with 150 films and are adding more all the time. It's not cheap, with most titles at $19.95 for a DVD and $14.95 for On-Demand download (a permanent license lets you watch on up to three computers). Of course, sometimes there's a good reason these films aren't available in the normal fashion -- they might not be so good. And sure, there's some truth in that. (Captain Sinbad won't make most people's must-see list, and Doc Savage: Man of Bronze is a notorious turkey.)
But because the overhead is so low, it means movies with only limited appeal are finally going to be available. So if you happen to be a Jimmy Stewart completist, now you can find Carbine Wilson on DVD for the first time. (Too dated? How about Emilio Estevez, Charlie Sheen, and Demi Moore in Wisdom?)
Warner Home Video says the eventual goal is to make every Warner movie available, which would be a true boon for movie buffs. Here are just a few of the long-lost titles that are finally available outside of late-night Turner Classic Movies.
The Beast of the City (1932)
Jean Harlow and Walter Huston star in this pre-Hays Code story of cops who become violent vigilantes. With a story by the writer behind Little Caesar, High Sierra, and Asphalt Jungle, the snappy dialogue and vicious ending made it a huge box office hit, but it faded into obscurity.
Freebie and the Bean (1974)
James Caan, Alan Arkin, Loretta Switt, and Valerie Harper (who won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year) star in this comedy about San Francisco cops taking on the mob. Breathtakingly un-PC, the movie proved hard to love, though CBS did try to spin off a TV series in 1980. But Arkin and Caan's bantering chemistry and the raucous destruction of the car chases make it one worth remembering.
Bye Bye Braverman (1967)
Director Sidney Lumet (of Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, and Network) turned to comedy with a story about four middle-aged intellectuals heading to a friend's funeral. Starring George Segal, Jessica Walter (Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development), and Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg from The Dukes of Hazzard, playing a beret-wearing professor), the film bombed the first time around and never made it to VHS, but it's a favorite of New York cinephiles.
An Enemy of the People (1977)
Steve McQueen plays against type as a small-town doctor who discovers that the town's only tourist attraction, a supposedly medicinal hot spring, has been contaminated by toxic runoff from a tanning mill. Adapted from the Ibsen play using a script by Pulitzer-winner Arthur Miller, this forgotten film is a perfect candidate for the Warner Archive: Something hardcore fans have been waiting for, and no one else even remembers.
One-Trick Pony (1980)
Paul Simon plays a past-his-prime rock star reduced to an opening act and struggling to find life as a middle-aged rocker. Lou Reed, Rip Torn, and Harry Shearer costar, with appearance from acts like Sam & Dave, the B-52s, and Tiny Tim. (Yes, Tiny Tim.)
Oxford Blues (1984)
This remake of 1934's A Yank at Oxford stars Rob Lowe as a Las Vegas hustler trying to win over an aristocratic Brit. He follows her to Oxford and joins the rowing team to impress her, with some help from Ally Sheedy. "Classic" may not be the right word, but Brat Pack fans will be glad to see it's available again.
The Temptress (1926)
A silent-era classic starring Greta Garbo as a beautiful woman who ruins the lives of the people she comes across. An infamous bullwhip duel and impressive early special effects in the dynamiting of a dam add to the drama as Garbo goes from Paris to Argentina, leaving broken men behind her.