Since the invention of DVDs, film buffs have had a love-hate relationship with the companies that put them out. You finally getting than amazing copy of that lost Von Stroheim film? Well it might come out on a bare bones release that looks worse on video than it would running a 35mm print. My worst horror story came from Netflix actually—Since DW Griffith’s Intolerance is not protected by any copyrights, anyone who is willing can make and sell prints of a DVD. Netflix owns some unfortunate copies instead of the ones released by silent film DVD giant Kino. The release I received was not only cut by 45 minutes, but the print was literally unreadable.
Classic Hollywood films aren’t as bad, but sometimes you just want a great DVD for your collection, full of commentaries, behind the scenes analysis, and every little tidbit you can get on your favorite films. Two of my favorite forgotten classics of the end of the Hollywood studio though, are finally getting the DVDs they deserve: Charles Laughton’s 1955 noir-horror Night of the Hunter and Alexander McKendrick’s 1957 New York noir Sweet Smell of Success.
If you don’t know either of these films, run to your local art house rental place immediately. Night of the Hunter is the only film directed by actor Laughton and is written by film critic James Agee (if you haven’t read his criticism collection Agee on Film, it is a must-read). The film stars Robert Mitchum as a priest who marries a wealthy widow in order to steal her money and terrorize her kids. The film is a mixture of noir, German expressionism, gothic horror, and surprising warmth. A huge flop when originally released, it is now considered one of the most sublime films ever made.
Even better than Laughton’s film is one that is one of the most quotable films ever made. Directed by Makendrick, and written originally by Earnet Lehman and then re-written by Clifford Oddets, the film stars Tony Curtis as a hungry New York press agent who has to do the most dirty of work for gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker, played with brutal coldness by Burt Lancaster, in what must be considered one of the greatest performances of all time. I recently wrote a good deal of words on why you need to see this classic that also flopped when originally released.
The new DVDs have been announced from the Criterion Collection, who have been restoring classic and contemporary films that have been deemed important. They’ve done extraordinary jobs on making pristine DVDs of films by Godard, Bergman, Fellini, Kuorsawa (including a 25-film set), and many more.
No release date has been set, but hopefully they can stuff your Christmas stockings by the end of the year. Check out a clip from each below: