Today, The Criterion Collection released a new DVD and Blu-ray edition of John Hughes’ 1985 feature “The Breakfast Club.” While many fans of this film were happy to see its inclusion in The Criterion Collection’s line-up, there were also many movie lovers who were displeased that this film was selected for re-release, especially since it has been widely available for home entertainment viewing for years and it saw a 30th anniversary release in 2015.
I hate to be negative, but I fall in the category of those who are wondering why The Criterion Collection is going out of its way to acquire and distribute films that have been staples of the VHS, DVD and Blu-ray channels for decades. At the risk of being pushy, I would like to offer my two-cent deposit on films that are truly deserving of The Criterion Collection’s prestige and which have been unavailable in home entertainment channels for too many years.
Here, in alphabetical order, are 10 films that I feel would benefit from The Criterion Collection’s release.
“All This and World War II” (1976). The most brilliantly reckless film ever made, this production grafts World War II newsreel and feature film footage to cover versions of Beatles tunes performed by 1970s artists. The result is a surreal, zany and often baffling swirl of audio and visual that should never have been united. But it is also the most invigorating cult movie in search of a cult – although a staple of bootleg videos for years (thanks, in a small way, to the writer of this article), it has yet to have a proper commercial release. If The Criterion Collection could clear the onerous music rights and allow the Disney folks to unleash this 20th Century Fox oddity, the results could be magical.
“Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne” (1969). The Criterion Collection has done a peerless job in presenting works of the great Indian director Satyajit Ray, but missing from its mix is one of Ray’s most delightful and least characteristic works: a playful musical-comedy about two bumbling performers who become unlikely heroes in a battle between rival kings. The film’s musical sequences, especially the surreal “Ghost Dance” numbers, are among the most charming of that era, and Ray’s deft blending of cinematic fantasy and traditional Indian musical traditions is a joy to behold.
“The Grey Fox” (1983). One of the most charming films of the 1980s was this Canadian Western starring Richard Farnsworth as a stagecoach robber who emerges into the early 20th century after spending many years in prison and resumes his miscreant ways as a train robber. With a music score performed by The Chieftains and an extraordinary performance by Farnsworth in a Golden Globe-nominated role, it is one of the most wonderfully entertaining entries in the 1980s Western genre. There was a VHS release, but no DVD or Blu-ray presentation (yet).
“Hands Up!” (1926). Silent comedy star Raymond Griffith is mostly forgotten today, but this Civil War comedy – one of his few surviving works – is an inventive romp that many critics back in the day hailed as being better than Buster Keaton’s “The General.” While few people today would share that opinion, Griffith’s work is fast, funny and unpredictable, especially its hilarious final gag. Paramount Pictures still owns the rights to “Hands Up!” but has never made it available for home entertainment viewing. Perhaps The Criterion Collection could snag it?
“Ingagi” (1930). Notable as the most elaborate film hoax of all time, “Ingagi” was a faux-documentary following an alleged “Sir Hubert Winstead” of London on an expedition to the Belgian Congo, where a tribe of women supposedly engage in sex with gorillas. This Pre-Code charade was actually filmed in Los Anglees, with white women in greasepaint make-up pretending to be African natives while a man in a gorilla suit was the lascivious primate of their carnal desire. An orphan film, “Ingagi” is in the collection of the Library of Congress but has never been released in home entertainment channels.
“King Lear” (1987). Jean-Luc Godard’s riff on Shakespeare had one of the weirdest talent line-ups of all time: schlockmeister Menahem Golan as producer, Norman Mailer and his actress daughter Kate Mailer as the original “Don Learo” and Cordelia, Burgess Meredith and Molly Ringwald as the replacements after the Mailers quit the film, and Woody Allen (pictured above) as the film editor “Mr. Alien,” who ties together pieces of celluloid with needle and thread. Allen claimed that he never saw the finished film, and he was not alone – barely released in theaters, it had the briefest of VHS releases in 1992 and never made it to DVD or Blu-ray. There are enough Godard addicts to embrace a home entertainment upgrade if The Criterion Collection decides to make it available.
“Le Roi des Champs-Élysées” (1934). After being dropped by MGM and deemed unemployable by Hollywood due to his alcoholism, Buster Keaton went to Paris to star in this frothy comedy as a bumbler who is mistaken for an American gangster (also played by Keaton). Keaton’s French-language performance was dubbed by an uncredited actor, but most of his performance is rich with dialogue-free action that enables him to engage in invigorating slapstick sequences. Paramount Pictures released the film in Europe, but there was never any U.S. theatrical presentation. Incredibly, at this very late date, the film is missing from U.S. home entertainment.
“Malaga” (1960). Also known as “Moment of Danger,” this British production offered the final starring feature film performance by Dorothy Dandridge, who plays a woman involved in a double-cross related to a jewel robbery. Playing a character of undetermined ethnicity named Gianna, Dandridge breaks the era’s interracial taboos as the love interest of white British actor Edmund Purdom and as a take-charge heroine teaming with a white man (Trevor Howard) to settle scores. While not a great film, it is an entertaining melodrama and Dandridge’s performance was her finest work since “Carmen Jones.” There is clearly commercial potential in DVD and Blu-ray sales if The Criterion Collection could fish this out of obscurity.
“Othello” (1956). While The Criterion Collection released Orson Welles’ 1952 version of the Shakespeare tragedy, an infinitely superior version of the same source was helmed by Soviet filmmaker Sergei Yutkevich, whose opulent color version won the Best Director Award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival and the film was nominated for the Palme d’Or. (Welles’ “Othello” tied for Cannes’ Grand Prize four years earlier.) The original Russian-language version was never released in the U.S. – a badly dubbed version played here in 1960 – and the film is mostly unknown to all but a few Shakespeare film scholars.
“3 Ring Circus” (1954). The partnership between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis was beginning to show signs of fraying when this circus romp was made. The team play discharged soldiers who wind up working at a financially troubled circus, and the film offers the usual Martin and Lewis formula: Dean gets to woo the pretty gals (in this case, Joanne Dru as the circus manager and Zsa Zsa Gabor as an aerialist) and sing a couple of tunes, while Jerry gets himself into all sorts of crazy shenanigans while dipping into pathos as a clown who tries (and succeeds) to make a crippled child laugh. Music rights issues have kept Paramount Pictures from releasing this on DVD and Blu-ray, but The Criterion Collection might have more luck on this front. And until The Criterion Collection can get “The Day the Clown Cried” under its banner, this might be the next best thing to keep Jerry addicts happy.