Celebrating our 100th time out with these Warner Archive favorites.
The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and Blu-ray discs (which, unlike the DVDs, are factory pressed rather than burned). Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!
This week, The Archivist here at Cinapse logs in its 100th edition. It’s been a long time since Jacob Knight first started this column back in the day and we are thrilled to still be keeping it going thanks to our friends over at Warner Archive. From its debut, the team and I have sought to always honor Warner Archive’s mission of spotlighting lesser-known titles and giving them the kind of tributes they deserve through pieces which showcase the many different areas of film the archive itself dares to venture.
Those of us here who contribute to The Archivist pride ourselves on the randomness and eclectic spirit with which the column is run. Pieces on film noirs are oftentimes followed by ones on vintage creature features while editions on slapstick comedies precede ones highlighting Westerns and/or action thrillers. In each edition, the team writes about a new-found treasure with a passion, enthusiasm and our unique Cinapse twist. Regardless of what title is being written about, The Archivist remains a champion of classics, both famous and unknown that the teams look forward to continuing. In honor of the 100th edition of The Archivist, the gang and I have gathered a group of Warner Archive titles which collectively show both the studio’s diverse nature and our appreciation for what they do.
Frank Calvillo — The Americanization of Emily (1964)
Screenwriting legend Paddy Chayefsky and directing legend Arthur Hiller’s forces combined for the adaptation of this sneakily soulful WWII novel. Lt. Commander Charlie Madison (James Garner) has one main job: to keep his superior (Melvyn Douglas) and fellow comrades supplied with plenty of food, drink and women while stationed in London. When he ends up head over heels in love with a young woman working for the motor pool named Emily (Julie Andrews), Charlie’s attitudes towards his position and the war start to change, as does those of the steadfast woman falling in love with him in return. But their newfound love is quickly put to the test as D-Day finds itself quickly approaching.
Besides being both Garner’s and Andrews’s favorite film experience (and for the latter, the only black and white film she ever appeared in), The Americanization of Emily is an interesting beast of a film. In so many ways, its premise is reminiscent of the kind of vehicle which might have starred Frank Sinatra and Olivia de Havilland back in the day and would have probably been a film which focused on the more romanticized aspects of WWII, like most titles of that era often did. But The Americanization of Emily is a product of 60s cinema and the future director of Love Story and the future screenwriter of Network never once waste the opportunity to journey into territory many WWII films never dared. There’s plenty of well-written wraps (all expertly
delivered by the uniformly strong cast) which tear apart the mythology of war and the sort of false optimism attached to it, dispelling the illusion many past movies so dreamily sold. But the film is a love story and a good one too, with both leads giving it their all and walking away with our hearts by the end of the film. The sheer strength of the movie’s final scene and the look on Andrews’s face makes it impossible not to get misty-eyed. It’s the love story which perhaps gives The Americanization of Emily it’s greatest strength. Without the intense romance between Charlie and Emily, this exploration into the effects of war on two people in love, and what it can do to them, would never ring as powerful otherwise.
Justin Harlan — The Ice Pirates (1984)
The Ice Pirates is a straight up masterpiece, in my humble opinion. It’s an odd blend of family friendly entertainment, exploitation filmmaking, and fantastical sci-fi elements. Writer/director Stewart Raffill is known for directing The Philadelphia Experiment, writing and directing Mac and Me, working with Disney on several projects, and writing Krull — so his credentials check out, as far as I’m concerned.
So, maybe masterpiece is strong. It’s really not exactly that. Simply put, The Ice Pirates is just good ole fun. Starring Robert Urich (SWAT, Spenser: For Hire, Magnum Force), Mary Crosby (Dallas, North and South, Tapeheads), and Michael D. Roberts (Baretta, Manhunter,Hostage), the film also features a ton of other notable Hollywood stalwarts: Anjelica Huston, Ron Perlman, Bruce Vilanch, and John Carradine. NFL defensive end John Matuszak also plays a prominent role. This veritable who’s who of great character actors and stars lead us through trials and tribulations of a distant future in space that is one part Star Wars rip-off and one part pirate movie. The band of mighty merry misfits in The Ice Pirates could easily have been an influence on James Gunn’s version of The Guardians of the Galaxy. All in all, the only thing I really need to say is that any film featuring Ron Perlman in this costume and “space herpes” is worth repeat watches.
Austin Vashaw — Wichita (1955)
One of my favorite Warner Archive movies — and an early entry, among the first I ever bought — is the western that shares the name of my hometown: Wichita, starring Joel McCrea as Wyatt Earp and directed by pulp master Jacques Tournier (Cat People, Out of the Past). While most Earp films focus on his later adventures with Doc Holliday and the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wichita is an origin tale of sorts, showing how an aspiring businessman became a legendary lawman instead, showing moral courage and grit, bringing his brothers alongside as his deputies, and finding romance along the way (with real-life Wichita native Vera Miles). It’s a nice prequel of sorts for those other Earp films, and the film’s villains include familiar western regulars Lloyd Bridges and Jack Elam.
Besides being a great movie, Wichita is a perfect representative of the sort of film that is best served by the Warner Archive program: a lesser-known gem that’s been obscured by time. It doesn’t have a lot of draw from name recognition alone, and might not pull in great sales in a mainstream retail situation, but at least it’s available in decent quality — and well worth picking up on MOD DVD or VOD. And if the wonderful folks at Warner Archive are reading this, maybe consider this one for a remastered Blu-ray, yeah?
Ed Travis — Night Moves (1975)
Writer Alan Sharp (Rob Roy) and 3-time Oscar nominated director Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man, The Missouri Breaks) tell a magnificent 1970s private eye yarn featuring the legendary Gene Hackman as Harry Moseby, a former NFL player turned private investigator. Beginning with a leisurely, mid-70s, post-hippy pace, we get to know Harry, his wife (whom he discovers is cheating on him), the client who hires him to track down her missing teenage daughter, and all the leads that Harry tracks down. But finding Delilah (Melanie Griffith in her big screen debut) is just the beginning of the mystery.
Deconstructing the heroic private eye archetype, Harry’s personal life is unraveling and he’s out of his element seemingly all the time. Night Moves explores the seedy Hollywood underbelly and pulls no punches exposing the depravity it finds there. Like all great 1970s cinema, Night Moves isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty, sully the good names of its characters, or expose our deepest held beliefs and secrets. It’s a bit of a tragedy, in the end, and offers a kind of nail in the coffin for the peace, love, and happiness vibe of the 1960s. Harry actually does uncover the mystery, but it comes at great cost and he’s often a step or two behind, his pride and desperation leading him on more than any sense of right and wrong. The result is a veritable pile of dead bodies left in the wake, and no real sense of any kind of victory or righting of wrongs. A true gem of the 1970s studio system. Night Moves is a damn fine film and it’s wonderful that the Warner Archive makes it available in glorious high definition Blu-ray for anyone who wants to discover it.