Ken Jennings


July 7, 2006

Speaking of DVDs, a few months ago, my father-in-law was going nuts trying to find the Kevin Kline Pirates of Penzance on DVD. He had visited store after store, and was about to make a run to the Best Buy near our house when I suggested that he take a second to look on Amazon first, to make sure the movie was even available on DVD.

Available on DVD? It hadn’t even occurred to him that popular, successful movies might not be available in the world’s most popular, successful home video format. But they aren’t. Some studios, like Warner, are very good about leveraging their catalog titles on DVD. Other studios, like Paramount, apparently just don’t want your money. (Universal are the ones who have orphaned Pirates. It is an orphan boy.)

So here are my top ten of the many movies I would kill to have on DVD. I left out the blindingly obvious stuff (The Magnificent Ambersons, The African Queen, King Vidor’s movies) that every good-hearted American wants on DVD, in favor of a few you might not have thought of.

10. The Prisoner of Zenda (1937). Easily one of the most rousing swashbucklers ever–plus, at no extra cost, a young David Niven! Speaking of rousing, does it make me gay to say how much I love Ronald Colman in this movie? Yes. Yes it probably does.

9. The Sundowners (1960). Warm, underrated epic about Aussie sheep farmers, from the chameleonic Fred Zinnemann. Possibly a better sheep-farming movie than even Brokeback Mountain, since Robert Mitchum mumbles less than Heath Ledger.

8. The Butcher Boy (1997). Why is it that I can never remember which Irish movies are by Neil Jordan and which are by Jim Sheridan? This one’s by Neil Jordan. I think. If you saw The End of the Affair and thought, “Neil Jordan should make more movies about religion, but also they should be hilariously funny and Sinead O’Connor should play the Virgin Mary,” this one’s for you.

7. Prince of the City (1981). Despite the release date, the last film of the 1970s. Warner, release this gritty, brilliant police-corruption drama while the 82-year-old Sidney Lumet is still spry enough to record a commentary! The late Jerry Orbach plays a proto-Briscoe here. Protoe-Briscoe?

6. Mystery Science Theater: The Movie (1996). This was briefly available when Universal farmed it out to Image Entertainment, but is now out of print and goes for as much as $100 on eBay. Alternately, just buy This Island Earth on DVD and talk over it. “Give Uncle Scrotor a hug!”

5. Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). If you’re a Preston Sturges fan, this is an only-slightly-less funny variation on The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, with much of the same cast. Come to think of it, Christmas in July isn’t out on DVD yet either.

4. Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948). Is it heresy to say that this is better than any of Max Ophuls’ European movies? The most romantic anti-romance movie ever.

3. Housekeeping (1987). Christine Lahti is brilliant in this delicate, perceptive story of an eccentric aunt raising two orphaned girls in 1950s Idaho. If Lahti’s “Aunt Silvie” doesn’t remind you of the “free spirit”/total wackjob relations in your own family, you are probably suppressing memories.

2. The Dead (1987). Many of John Huston’s best late films are scandalously MIA on DVD, including Wise Blood and Under the Volcano. But none are better than this Joyce adaptation, so gentle and Gaelic throughout (and real-Irish, not John Ford Quiet Man “Oirish”) that the ending packs a real wallop. The snow was general all over Ireland.

1. A Matter of Life and Death (1946). This is the Powell-Pressburger afterlife fantasy that was retitled Stairway to Heaven for American audiences. I can’t even start to tell you all the things I love about this movie–Roger Livesey’s camera oscura, the goat boy, the frozen ping-pong ball, the matte paintings of black-and-white “heaven”–but I can guarantee you’ll be hooked from the start, since it has probably the best first scene in cinema history.

That’s already ten, and it kills me that I couldn’t get to Chimes at Midnight, Becket, A Foreign Affair, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Ruggles of Red Gap, Peter’s Friends, The Big Sky, Enchanted April…not to mention any foreign-language movies. Maybe I’ll do a follow-up tomorrow on Missing In Action foreign films. But keep an eye out for the above movies…they’re so good that they even hold up on VHS.

Posted by Ken at 11:35 am