For those unfamiliar, the Warner Archive discs have no extra features aside from the occasional theatrical trailer. This year saw their first titles that underwent remastering and restoration. The fact you can now get Robert Altman’s followup to MASH (that’s Brewster McCloud) and countless other must-haves is its own bonus feature.
Here I’ve collected not just the best of the best. Most of those have appeared on various sites’ lists. I’m also picking out the weird, the not-so-great-but-memorable, and a few on a theme. Most single releases are on sale for $14.95 at the moment, and they regularly run free shipping offers, so just bookmark this post and come back periodically, since we’re direct-linking to everything.
The Best Blind Buys
Brewster McCloud, 1970 (Buy at WBShop)
One of the most oft-requested Robert Altman films never to appear on DVD until now, it stars Bud Cort as a kid who lives under the Astrodome and dreams of flying inside said Astrodome. It’s weird, brilliant, and there were posters that used the title Bird Shit for a very good reason. The fact that he made MASH and then made something this weird is one of the many reasons Altman was and still is as revered as he has been.
Madam Satan, 1930 (Buy at WBShop)
You’ve probably never heard of this particular film of Cecil B. DeMille’s, but it’s one of the best movies he ever made. A husband with a wandering eye comes across a saucy temptress who wears a mask and calls herself Madam Satan. She just so happens to be the same mousy, reserved wife that he’s become bored of, so the joke’s on him, the philandering bastard! She’ll show him who can be the better slut! Wait, this Pre-Code plot feels decidedly non-P.C. now. The climax of the film takes place at a raucous party inside a zeppelin. While watching it, keep in mind that the actors all did their own stunts.
The Green Slime, 1968 (Buy at WBShop)
A crew of spacenauts go out into space to stop an errant asteroid, and they bring some Green Slime back with them that grows into nasty tentacled creatures. A battle to save Earth ensues. This, my friends, is what we call Real Entertainment. It’s directed by the same guy (Kinji Fukasaku) who made the Japanese parts of Tora! Tora! Tora! and both installments of Battle Royale, among many other excellent films.
The Phantom Tollbooth, 1970 (Buy at WBShop)
A terrific animated feature based on the book that I and countless others read in school. The VHS that I recall from my childhood never looked even half as clean or clear as this DVD. I’m not always a sucker for buying up childhood nostalgia, a sucker’s industry that makes money hand over fist. This is the kind of stuff that was made before home video or the merchandising mega-industries existed. This is the stuff I love seeing parents put in front of their kids rather than the “product” created these days.
Pretty Maids All in a Row, 1971 (Buy at WBShop)
Roger Vadim (Barbarella) directs a script by Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) that stars Rock Hudson as a high school teacher who counsels kids, coaches football, and fucks underage girls galore. Angie Dickinson (Big Bad Mama), Telly Savalas, Roddy McDowell, and even the original Scotty, James Doohan appear here. A serial killer rears his head, and a bunch of girls end up dead. Don’t expect any moralizing from this batshit nuts mishmash of dark comedy, sexcapade, and whodunnit. When you get to the end, after all the killing and sexual predation, you’ll be shocked that it opens with a song by The Osmonds.
Stranger on the Third Floor, 1940 (Buy at WBShop)
This isn’t just some movie, it’s one of the great movies. It’s largely credited for launching the film noir movement. Reporters, murders, and yes, strangers all get mixed together in this movie starring the great Peter Lorre. Honestly, it should eventually get a special edition Blu-ray release (it deserves one).
Saint Joan, 1957 (Buy at WBShop)
A long-missing entry in the too-short filmography of Breathless star Jean Seberg, who plays Joan of Arc here alongside none other than Richard Widmark and John Gielgud and under the direction of Otto Preminger. The aspect ratio is not perfect on this, but I’ll take what I can get.
The Boy With Green Hair, 1948 (Buy at WBShop)
An orphan is taken in and accepted…until his hair hulks out (it just turns green, that’s it). Then, all the townspeople turn against him. A great, socially-conscious drama. It’s one of those “don’t make em like that anymore” movies.
The Outfit, 1973 (Buy at WBShop)
Robert Duvall plays a thief whose brother is killed by the titular “outfit”. He goes for revenge with his girlfriend (Karen Black) and his partner (Joe Don Baker). In my opinion, the best Robert Duvall performance (and movie) not yet on DVD (until now).
Flesh, 1932 (Buy at WBShop)
John Ford (Stagecoach) directs Wallace Beery (The Champ) as a wrestler who marries an ex-con (Karen Morley, Scarface) who cheats on him, destroying his spirit.
Macabre, 1958 (Buy at WBShop)
A William Castle-directed gimmick movie from the same run as House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler! Theatrically, patrons were promised $1000 of life insurance should they die of fright while watching. The basic hook: a doctor frantically digs to find a coffin in which his daughter is buried alive!
Song of Love, 1947 (Buy at WBShop)
Katherine Hepburn, Paul Henreid (Casablanca), and Robert Walker (Bataan) co-star in a proto-jukebox musical romance as pianist Clara Wieck, and composers Schumann and Brahms respectively. Before Baz Luhrmann went meta with it fictionally in Moulin Rouge, popular music got mashed up into a true story of a love triangle. Hepburn and Henreid fans owe it to themselves to seek this out. Poor Bob Walker is best known for his wife Jennifer Jones cuckolding him with David O. Selznick.
Flap, 1970 (Buy at WBShop)
Carol Reed (The Third Man) directs Anthony Quinn and Shelley Winters in the adaptation of the novel Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian, and it’s great. It’s the archetypal modern-day story of Native Americans fighting further encroachment on their land. I’d love a remake with Adam Beach as the drunk Flapping Eagle.
Chandler, 1971 (Buy at WBShop)
Lost in the mix of other gritty crime dramas the same year, like Dirty Harry and The French Connection, Warren Oates kicks ass and doesn’t bother with names as a character named after the hardboiled crime writer Raymond Chandler.
Verboten!, 1959 (Buy at WBShop)
Sam Fuller’s 1959 film explored post-WWII Germany, where an ex-GI is married to a German woman. Can he trust her in a country full of insurgent resentment? A great film that it’s a shame more people aren’t aware of. I dare someone to remake this in Afghanistan, and well.
Tomorrow is Another Day, 1951 (Buy at WBShop)
A terrific movie from the days when “gritty” meant something. An ex-con blows town when a newspaper article pops up. He gets it going with a “dancehall hostess” (ahem) who’s got a cop for an ex-boyfriend. “on the lam” is part of the official synopsis, so you see where this is going. A great title, a crackerjack plot, and good old-fashioned grime.
A Night Full of Rain, 1978 (Buy at WBShop)
Lina Wertmuller’s first English language film stars a smoking hot Candice Bergen and Giancarlo Giannini as lovers in a world swept up by war. Largely improvised, the movie is the kind that tons of modern-day, microbudget filmmakers are acting like they invented as we speak.
The Canterville Ghost, 1944 (Buy at WBShop)
An Oscar Wilde story as directed by Jules Dassin (Rififi, Topkapi) is a concept that thrills me, and I’m so glad to finally have seen it. Charles Laughton stars as the titular ghost, who has haunted his family castle for 300 years.
Hit Man, 1972 (Buy at WBShop)
You can finally own a legitimate DVD of the Americanized remake of Get Carter (let’s forget that the Stallone remake doesn’t exist). Not only is this a great blaxploitation picture co-starring Pam Grier, but the poster art seen on the cover has been used as the image on Alamo Drafthouse business cards for years now (until our recent logo redesign).
TV Movies That You Forgot About
The Deadly Tower, 1976 (Buy at WBShop)
Kurt Russell plays Charles Whitman, the second most-famous 20th century Texas killer with a rifle, in this TV movie made ten years after the University of Texas Tower shootings of 1966. This was one way to play against type for The Computer [Who] Wore Tennis Shoes.
Dying Room Only, 1973 (Buy at WBShop)
The author of I Am Legend (Richard Matheson) wrote the script for this TV movie about a woman (Cloris Leachman) and her husband (Dabney “Motherfucking” Coleman) who stop at a diner. The husband disappears. She investigates, which may not be the best idea. Dana Elcar and Ned Beatty are in there too.
Mayday at 40,000 Feet!, 1976 (Buy at WBShop)
A snowstorm and a bad guy on the plane with a gun combine disaster plots better than has been done in decades, on a purely structural level. Even better? TV’s original Dr. Richard Kimble (David Janssen) plays the captain who has to save everyone.
A Killer in the Family, 1983 (Buy at WBShop)
Robert Mitchum plays a bad news dad just out of the pen. He and his boys (James Spader, Lance Kerwin, Eric Stoltz) start a bloody crime spree. The evil pater familias from Mitchum here is a late-career must-see for fans of Night of the Hunter.
The “I Almost Forgot That Existed For a Reason” Titles
There are a bunch of movies that haven’t seen DVD release due to an overwhelming lack of interest due to them representing the most formulaic, misguided, or irresponsible filmmaking of their respective times.
Class Act, 1992 (Buy at WBShop)
The only appropriate way to refer to this The Nerd and The Homeboy story is as House Party 2.5, since it came between the first and second sequels in that vaunted franchise (which is due for a reboot…kidding!). “Let’s make bacon!”
Steel, 1997 (Buy at WBShop)
Shaquille O’Neal faces off against his rival Judd Nelson in this terrible comic book adaptation. The real reason to watch? Richard Roundtree, playing the “old man mentor” for a paycheck.
If Looks Could Kill, 1991 (Buy at WBShop)
Richard Grieco could have been the dude of the decade, if only goofy “bro” spy spoofs like this one had hit instead of missed. The cover art speaks to the viewer. It says, “Blow me”.
Hot to Trot, 1988 (Buy at WBShop)
Before he turned into something of an indie auteur, Bobcat Goldthwait made his name as a gimmick comedian. Part of that life, which he openly regrets now, was making this movie where a wisecracking, talking horse named Don gave his hapless stock broker the best insider tips in town. This sounds terrible, but it’s so bad that it flips the good/bad scale like it’s opposite day and comes out entertaining and unintentionally hilarious.
The MoD process has brought much-requested childhood favorites from more than one generation of saturday morning cartoon-watching kids to DVD for the first time. Some are great, some are terrible, and which is which depends on when you grew up (if you did). These aren’t technically under the “Warner Archive” banner, but they’re done by the same people.
Thundarr the Barbarian, 1980-82 (Buy at WBShop)
The classic cartoon among the three listed, this series is set in a savage, post-post-apocalyptic future full of swords, magic, and barbarians.
The Pirates of Dark Water, 1991-93 (Buy at WBShop)
An alien world, pirates, and a magical compass guiding the heroes. It smelled like toy-selling gold, but the show kept running over-budget and missed deadlines, so it was cancelled abruptly after 21 episodes, with its story never completed. Am I the only one who likes interpreting this to mean that evil defeated the heroes in an animated show for once?
Swat Kats: The Radical Squadron (Buy at WBShop)
What a ridiculous premise: set in MegaKat City, auto mechanic cats by day are heroes as the Swat Kats! I remember seeing commercials for this on TV in the 90’s and always finding it hilarious. Who pitched this, and how? “We’re gonna take kitties…everybody loves kitties, right? And we’ll add assault weapons, baddies with magic powers, aliens, and a grafting boss cat. Biggest thing: we go rebellious and spell cat with a K!”
Also deserving mention are the plethora of series of titles highlighting specific artists like Debbie Reynolds (Susan Slept Here, Bundle of Joy, and I Love Melvin co-starring Donald O’Connor), Bette Davis, Lana Turner, and Edward G Robinson (The Man With Two Faces, The Last Gangster, Tiger Shark, Two Seconds, Manpower, Magic Bullet...all 6 are available in a bundle for $60 here).
The Joan Crawford stuff is particularly good, with the pre-Grand Hotel movie Paid (1930, a women in prison movie), This Modern Age (1931, where good girl goes bad girl goes better woman), and Above Suspicion (1943, a honeymooning couple espionage movie co-starring Fred MacMurray). There’s another bundle that collects those three as well as No More Ladies and Susan and God for $50 here. It’s actually their second Crawford bundle after this 6-pack.
There was a flood of old Tarzan films that hit this year in three separate bundles: one collecting the run of Gordon Scott (6 films including Tarzan the Magnificent), one for Lex Barker (5 films including Tarzan and the She-Devil), and one that includes the films that feature Jock Mahoney and Mike Henry (5 films including Tarzan Goes to India).
Long-unavailable Peter Sellars movies The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu and The Bobo finally came out this year as well. In the first, he plays a racially insensitive “immortal, magical chinaman”, and in the second, he plays a racially insensitive “minstrel matador” in blue face. Yes, blue.
None of these fit into one of the other categories I’ve got, but are worth mentioning for one reason or another.
Seven Minutes in Heaven, 1986 (Buy at WBShop)
Jennifer Connolly, Polly Draper, Lauren Holly, and Spalding Gray, among others, appear in this rather forgettable coming-of-age movie. It’s a must-have for me due to Gray’s presence.
Being Human, 1994 (Buy at WBShop)
I never understood why this Robin Williams movie never hit DVD. He plays five roles from different places in human history (Cro Magnon to the present). It’s not great, but it likewise isn’t some sort of major debacle.
In the Mood, 1987 (Buy at WBShop)
Patrick Dempsey and Beverly D’Angelo co-star in “the first teenage comedy for adults”. The true story of a 15-year-old who had affairs with much older women is actually pretty damn good. You know what makes the movie even better? Brilliant pothead comedian Doug Benson was Dempsey’s stand-in on the movie. Everyone is hereby required to force anyone in their life who’s made you watch an episode of Gray’s Anatomy sit through this.
Mammy, 1930 (Buy at WBShop)
They wisely didn’t put Jolson in blackface on the cover of this groundbreaking, blockbuster talkie (Donald O’Connor pokes fun at it in Singin in the Rain). The technicolor sequences have been fully restored, and the whole feature has been completely remastered.
The Irwin Allen Cavalcade of Disaster
The world has been without DVDs of far too many Irwin Allen disaster movies for too long. Warner Archive has the first five available in a discounted bundle here (44% off regular price at the moment).
Robert Culp plays a helicopter pilot. He and his son find a flaw in a dam. DISASTER ENSUES.
Ernest Borgnine owns a lumber company. He and others are trapped fighting a forest fire. DISASTER ENSUES.
A bunch of people, including Leslie Nielsen, are trapped in a cave-in! With a fugitive from the law! DISASTER ENSUES.
The Night the Bridge Fell Down, 1983
A bunch of people like Leslie Nielsen, Eve Plumb (The Brady Bunch), and Desi Arnaz Jr. are on their way to doing things come across a bridge…that falls down. DISASTER ENSUES.
Hanging by a Thread, 1979
A cable car is stalled 7000 feet up in the air with people like Patty Duke on board! DISASTER ENSUES.
Great Title, (Usually) Great Movie
Whatever happened to titling movies in a flashy way that makes people pay without seeing a trailer or a poster? These movies not only have hilarious, inappropriate, misogynistic, or just goofy titles, but most of them just so happen to be good, too.
Every Girl Should Be Married, 1948 (Buy at WBShop)
Cary Grant co-starred with the woman who would soon thereafter become his wife in this movie about a girl who decides that “every girl should be married” and sets her sights on a pediatrician whom she proceeds to entrap into wedded slavery—er, bliss.
I Dood It, 1943 (Buy at WBShop)
The title comes from a Red Skelton catchphrase. The movie involves a starlet fake marrying Skelton, a bunch of music featuring people like Lena Horne and Jimmy Dorsey, and a plot that was wholesale lifted from Buster Keaton (Spite Marriage). Vincente Minnelli directs. Oh yeah, there are Nazis too.
Under Eighteen, 1932 (Buy at WBShop)
This is a Pre-Code piece about a penniless working girl hitting up rich society dudes with her…partying skills…that is called Under Eighteen. They knew what they were implying. I love that I could theoretically have a Pre-Code bookcase of DVDs now.
She’s Working Her Way Through College, 1952 (Buy at WBShop)
One of my favorite posters on display in an Alamo Drafthouse (Lake Creek, to be exact), this one stars Virginia Mayo as Hot Garters Gertie, a burlesque dancer…working her way through college. Her co-star? Future President Ronald Reagan.
The Disembodied, 1957 (Buy at WBShop)
This one starred Allison Hayes, the future star of The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. She plays a voodoo priestess who paints the African jungle red with the blood of lost travelers.
Two on a Guillotine, 1965 (Buy at WBShop)
A master magician (Cesar Romero) accidentally guillotines his wife/assistant’s head off. Twenty years later, he dies, leaving his daughter (Connie Stevens) a sizable fortune if she’ll stay in his creepy-ass mansion for a week. She brings a journalist (The Love Bug‘s Dean Jones) along, and they wouldn’t put Romero in a role like that if he weren’t going to pop back up. Nor would they put guillotine in the title if it weren’t going to pop back up.
Under the Rainbow, 1981 (Buy at WBShop)
Dramatizing/satirizing the making of The Wizard of Oz from the perspective of the hard-partying little people who played the Munchkins, this thing “stars” Chevy Chase and Carrie Fisher (who appear in glorified cameos, really), along with Eve Arden, Adam Arkin, Billy Barty, and Mako (the last two as Axis spies, for crying out loud). You have not lived until you have seen Fletch and Princess Leia in this misunderstood entertainment, whose value lies in how jaw-droppingly terrible it is.
There were many, many more DVDs than what’s listed above that were released in 2010. We’ll be covering more Warner Archive titles throughout 2011. Feel free to let us know what you want to see us cover and how. Is there a particular title above you want to see receive a full Badass Digest writeup? Let us know in the comments.