Warner Archive a treasure chest for movie fans

Doug Nye
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

Still can't find that particular title you've always wanted on DVD? The Warner Archive just might be the place.

The new online service offers hundreds of movies and short subjects not available at your local video store. It is a gold mine for the avid movie buff and devotees of movie history. The titles range from the silent era to the current decade.

What will you find in the archive?

There's "Sunrise at Campobello" (1960) chronicling FDR's initial bout with polio starring Ralph Bellamy and Greer Garson; the Glenn Ford Western "The Fastest Gun Alive" (1956), the Tarzan films starring Lex Barker and Gordon Scott; the Our Gang collection, which includes the 52 films produced by MGM after it took over from Hal Roach, and the Robert Benchley shorts.

There are also the likes of "Beau Brummel" (1924) with John Barrymore, "God is My Co-Pilot" (1945) with Dennis Morgan, "The D.I." (1957) with Jack Webb, "Rage" (1972) with George C. Scott and "Wrestling Ernest Hemingway" (1993) with Robert Duvall and Richard Harris. A number of TV movies and miniseries are included.

One of the many appealing aspects of the archive is the ability to see and study the early sound films from the 1929-1931 period, when "All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing!" movies were the rage. Many of those such as "The Show of Shows" (1929) and "Hollywood Revue of 1929" are amazing showcases for that era's stars of radio, stage and screen.

The latest addition to that group is "Mammy" (1930) starring Al Jolson, who was still riding a new wave of stardom that began with his role in Warner Brothers' "The Jazz Singer" (1927), the first Hollywood feature with talking and singing sequences. It was also the movie that sounded the death knell for the silent period. "Mammy," which cashed in on Jolson's popularity, originally included a couple of two-strip Technicolor sequences which were thought lost forever.

"All we had was a 22-year-old black-and-white master," said George Feltenstein, senior vice president in charge of the Warner classics catalog. "Then in 2002, the Neatherlands Film, Academy contacted UCLA and said they had a print of the film with the color sequences included.

"It was a welcome piece of news. 'Mammy,' with the color scenes, was restored using digital technology."

Feltenstein, whose enthusiasm for film history is infectious, experienced a magical moment while he and others were working on "Mammy."

"In the opening of the film, Jolson and his group have a parade down Main Street while it's pouring rain. It's the same Main Street set we used for the 'Gilmore Girls' and 'The Music Man.' It was raining the day we started on 'Mammy' and I told everyone that there outside was the Main Street where it was filmed 80 years ago. It gives you a special feeling when something like that happens."

The finished "Mammy" was seen by audiences at special screenings and a couple of festivals but Feltenstein knew there were many others around the country who would be interested in the film. That's where the Warner Archive came in.

It makes films that probably won't appeal to a mass audience available to those who truly want to see them.

"When we started we had over 2,000 films that weren't on DVD, many of them were the more obscure films," Feltenstein said. "At the same time, the video landscape was changing. Many video retailers went out of business.

"With the archive we can serve so many niches by customizing our product. Because these films are not mass produced, we don't have to worry about dozens of returns. Fans, of course, can order from our website but we also plan to make them available through Amazon and Movies Unlimited."

New titles are being constantly added to the archive.

"Our goal is to make practically every film in our library available. I was up until 4 in the morning the other day working on some releases with Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak."

To check out this movie treasure trove, go to and browse through the catalog. Films are listed by genre and by decade. You can read a full synopsis of each film as well as sample clips before you decide to purchase. Each is priced at $19.95 but there are also numerous special buys. Order a film and Warner will press you a copy and send it to you (in about five days) housed in an attractive case. Films also can be downloaded for $14.95 each.





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