Despite the fact that we have grown accustomed as consumers to have the option of buying films for home entertainment in a number of different mediums, the ability to watch a film on demand is a relatively new concept in the history of cinema. As such, there are decades of films which were created before VHS, DVD, Laserdisc, Blu-ray and digital copies. These films have been lost in the clutter of the constant influx of new movies, but 20th Century Fox regularly dips into its archives in order to make these forgotten films available once again.
The reason they are able to do this is by making the discs to order, realizing that the production of any discs would most likely result in a lost profit. There are certainly downsides to having the films on DVD-R rather than DVD, and there are formatting flubs which treat even the widescreen films as though they are being screened on old box-shaped televisions. At the same time, it is better than not having these films available at all.
Most of these movies are forgotten because they weren’t the main billing. At the time, movies were released in bunches. You got a newsreel, cartoon, an opening feature and the main picture. The main movie might be longer, but the first ones were usually simpler genre pictures. Here are three examples from the latest batch of releases:
There is at least one spectacular reason to see this forgotten espionage thriller, and that reason is named Peter Lorre. The entire film is actually quite entertaining, albeit somewhat frivolous in the handling of the material. At times it is unclear whether this is meant to be suspenseful or comedic because of the airiness of the material. It is never boring, however, and much of the credit for that is due to Lorre’s ability to steal every scene. The plot involves a stolen set of blueprints and a new aircraft on its maiden voyage. My biggest issue with this film is the blurb included on the back of the DVD, which not only tells the entire film, but the ending is inaccurate.
The Escape (1939)
The gangster picture is a perfect example of a B-film from the 1930s that took off in popularity, and The Escape is an easily forgettable addition to the genre. With a running time of less than an hour, the storyline doesn’t have time to get complicated. A former gangster returns home from a stint in prison to find his sister engaged to a policeman. He returns to a life of crime, which leads to the only inevitable result for a gangster film during those times, due to the Hays Code. Kane Richmond, Amanda Duff, Henry Armetta, Edward Norris and June Gale star.
Blood and Steel (1959)
Cynicism is beginning to seep into the narratives of this World War II film, hinting at what would eventually become of the war genre. When four U.S. Army Seabees are given the task of infiltrating a Japanese-occupied island in the Asian Pacific to see if it is suitable for an airfield, they are given a near impossible task. They are outnumbered and stranded in the jungles, forced to take any opportunity they can to even the odds. Although this is a clear B-picture which could have easily been filmed on a preexisting set, the narrative is much heavier than you might expect to find in this type of movie.
Entertainment Value: /10
Quality of Filmmaking: /10
Historical Significance: /10