Over the last 12 years, Warner Home Video has released about 1,200 vintage films from its vast library on DVD. But that still leaves about 3,800 feature titles that have yet to make their digital debuts. At the studio’s current release rate of 100 per year, they wouldn’t all be available until midcentury.
So in an industry first, the company today is, in a manner of speaking, inviting the public into the vaults to order what it wants. And like the neighborhood pizzeria, it won’t make it till you order it.
Among the titles available are several early Clark Gable films, including “Possessed” and “Men in White”; “Love,” Greta Garbo’s silent version of “Anna Karenina”; “This Woman Is Dangerous,” with Joan Crawford; “Abe Lincoln in Illinois,” with Raymond Massey; and “Wisdom,” with Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore.
The only catch: Not everything in the vault is on the menu yet.
The consumer who visits www.warnerarchive.com initially will find 150 classic titles from Warner Bros. Pictures, MGM and RKO that each can be ordered either as a computer download ($14.95) or as a DVD ($19.95) that arrives in the mailbox approximately five days after purchase.
The studio says it intends to bolster that list at the rate of 20 new titles a month -- including TV series and TV movies. Many of the movies and shows were once available on video cassette, but none has been on DVD, and many others have never been available for purchase at all.
“My dream has always been to find a way to get everything to everybody who wants it,” says George Feltenstein, senior vice president of theatrical catalog marketing for Warner Home Video. “No matter how obscure or arcane, there is something in the library that somebody wants. But yet you have to hit a certain threshold of sales potential to justifying making a DVD the old-fashioned way.”
That’s because it’s expensive to release and market a DVD -- even if the movie has no extras.
“Just the cost of authoring, compression and menus, all of that kind of thing, can run into a great deal of money,” Feltenstein says, “and with shelf space at retail being diminished -- there is no more Tower Records, Music Plus. . . .”
But now there is a system that permits manufacturing on demand -- not only creating the DVD but also placing it into a hard plastic case featuring custom art, wrapping it and shipping it.
“We can make two DVDs or we can make 2,000 [of a title],” says Feltenstein. (Sorry, Blu-ray fans: It doesn’t work for you.)
What the DVDs don’t come with are any extras -- no commentary tracks, no deleted scenes, no “making-of” features. You get the film and, if it’s available, the original trailer.
As for picture quality, the website allows customers to preview each title to see how it looks.
“We have digital masters of all of these films that have been created by the company as part of preservation and restoration [of films],” Feltenstein says. “Some of them are in better condition than others. Most of them are pretty good. All of the films will be released in their original aspect radio.”
Warner Home Video will continue to release titles from its library in the traditional manner -- including some of those being offered now in the manufacture-on-demand series. This simply speeds up their availability for fans who don’t want to wait any longer.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Five candidates for your list
Here are five films in Warner Home Video’s new manufacture-on-demand collection worth checking out:
“The Actress”: George Cukor directed this delightful 1953 comedy based on the early life of actress Ruth Gordon. It stars Spencer Tracy, Jean Simmons, Teresa Wright and Anthony Perkins.
“Wild Orchids”: A sultry 1929 silent melodrama with Greta Garbo, Nils Asther and Lewis Stone.
“The Rain People”: Francis Ford Coppola directed this underrated 1969 drama starring Shirley Knight as a pregnant housewife yearning for freedom who takes the family station wagon to search for it. James Caan and Robert Duvall, who would team with Coppola again three years later in “The Godfather,” are also featured in this delicately wrought film.
“The Red Lily”: Ramon Novarro and Enid Bennett star in this 1924 melodrama directed by Fred Niblo about the ill-fated affair between the son of a wealthy mayor and a peasant girl.
“Three Comrades”: The great novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald was one of the screenwriters of this enthralling 1938 adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel about three German World War I vets (Robert Taylor, Franchot Tone and Robert Young) working as auto mechanics and the vivacious woman (Margaret Sullavan, in an Oscar-nominated performance) who changes their lives.
-- Susan King