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The hunt for classic cinema continues!

The hunt for classic cinema continues! debw.jpg
By G. Michael Dobbs Managing Editor Part of being a film buff is the thrill of the hunt. I love finding sources for films that I ve never seen, but have heard are worthwhile. And now the big media corporations are figuring out there are a whole bunch of film buffs out there eager to see films that either seldom turn up on television or are only popped on VHS and never made their way to DVD. Turner Classic Movies (www.tcm.com) has long sold DVDs on its Web site, but now the cable channel is offering exclusives available only through their site. This is like blood to a vampire and honey to a bear. My debit card is already trembling. One of my favorite periods of American film is the Pre-Code era -- the time from the death of the silent cinema, from about 1929 to 1934, when the Production Code was firmly in place establishing internal censorship in the Hollywood studios. TCM is now offering a group of films from RKO Studios titles the Lost and Found RKO Collection. The six films are largely from the Pre-Code era and I ve not heard of a single one of them -- that much more honey. If the thrill of the hunt is a rush, finding a film worth re-discovery is even better. I want to see Double Harness, for example as it stars William Powell, one of my favorite actors from the 1930s and '40s. This romantic comedy was never released to television and it sounds great. The price? $19.99. Also in the collection is One Man s Journey from 1933, a film I saw several years ago at Cinefest in Syracuse, N.Y. It s the life story a small town doctor played with sincerity by Lionel Barrymore. While the film could have been a smarmy exercise in pathos, it has a hard edge that makes for compelling viewing. These DVDs come with a variety of extras as well. Turner Classics is part of the huge Time Warner media company and over at the Warner Brothers Web site at www.wbshop.com/WarnerArchive/ARCHIVE,default,sc.html, that company is also offering Web-only releases of 150 films on DVD. These also sell for under $20, but apparently come without extras. Although the TCM releases seem to have selected with some reason in mind, this collection seems awfully random. That s not to say there aren t some interesting films offered. "Doc Savage Man of Bronze" was the last movie produced by George Pal, the great animator who made a number of highly successful fantasy films. Pal adapted the highly popular pulp magazine character, which had been successfully revived in the 1970s, into this campy, but fun movie starring Ron Ely. The film didn t fare well in theaters and Pal told me in an interview a change in studio executives doomed the film s marketing. While it was released on VHS it never made it to DVD until now. I was surprised to see a number of silent films in the group including "The Red Mill" starring Marion Davies. Davies, despite her reputation as the mistress of William Randolph Hearst, was a talented comedian and the greatly wronged Fatty Arbuckle as William Goodrich directed this film. I want to it see it. My favorite place to explore -- and buy -- movies new to me is Alpha Cinema, which can be found on the Web at www.oldies.com. Alpha specializes in public domain films, so there can be an issue with whether or not they have the finest prints. I ve had no problems, although friends of mine have. The neat thing about Alpha is the company offers these films at $5.95 or at five for $25, which making taking risks affordable. Among their new releases is Rogue of the Rio Grande, Myrna Loy s first talkie and a double feature in which the dog stars, Lightning the Wonder Dog and Rex, King of Dogs, get top billing over the human stars! This is intriguing material to me. If my wife reads this, she ll probably understand what it is those boxes arriving in our mail was.

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