Boy is the Siren fashionably late on this one--about a month late, in fact--but it is still well worth trumpeting. Following the success of the Warner Archive Collection, Sony has inaugurated a manufacturing-on-demand service that at last turns up some devoutly hoped-for films. Lou Lumenick wrote about it here. They have started with 100 titles, and more are promised each month.
The site itself is fairly easy to navigate, and in a welcome bonus, includes clips from each film. The prices (around $20) are commensurate with Warner Archive.
What follows is a list of films the Siren recommends to her readers, and others she hasn't seen but wants to. She starts with the best.
No Greater Glory. A shimmering masterpiece from Frank Borzage's sound period, this story of the war games played by groups of boys in a warehouse lot comes with the Siren's highest possible endorsement. George Breakston plays Nemecsek, whose yearning for the friendship of a handsome leader in his gang leads him to reckless acts and, finally, martyrdom. A sequence in a lamplit park where Nemecsek tries to spy on the opposing "army" is as haunting as anything in Borzage's silents; Joseph H. August's cinematography is the equal of his work for John Ford. No Greater Glory was taken from a novel by Ferenc Molnar, The Paul Street Boys, published in 1906, and it carries all the intensity of childhood loves and griefs. It is also as wrenching a statement about war as Paths of Glory. Under Borzage's guidance the gifted young cast performs with sensitivity and restraint. In addition to Breakston, the Siren was particularly taken with Frankie Darro, as the leader of the opposition who comes to see the qualities in Nemecsek that his own friends do not. (The fate of Jimmy Butler, who plays the object of Nemecsek's adoration, adds a piercing coda: An artillery private, Butler died in action in France in 1945, aged 24.) The movie deserves a full-fledged restoration and all-out DVD packaging, but if this is the form we've got, we should still pounce. TCM has shown this at least once, to the Siren's knowledge, but it belongs in the collection of anyone with a serious interest in Borzage, black-and-white cinematography, 1930s cinema or indeed the art of film.
Address Unknown. Directed by William Cameron Menzies, a towering figure who needs a MOMA retrospective, a definitive biography and his own damn DVD box set. Until that day, MOD discs will have to do. It's a parable about the friendship between a Jewish art dealer and his German partner, who returns to the Fatherland just before World War II and is drawn, step by ominous step, into Nazism. Whether the German has adopted the full ideology, or is motivated by ambition and greed, is one of the film's central questions, as well as which ties demand loyalty, and which do not. The movie softens up Kathrine Kressman Taylor's memorably dark, bitter epistolary novel, and that's a pity. But the magnificent look of it (that screen grab is the merest taste) will give incredible pleasure. Cinematography by Rudolph Mate. Here's an excellent write-up by primo blogger David Cairns.
10 Rillington Place. Kim Morgan is a fan. That's good enough for the Siren.
Counter-Attack. Screened during the Shadows of Russia series that the Siren co-programmed with Comrade Lumenick, it includes one of Paul Muni's better performances and has wonderfully claustrophobic tension, as Muni, playing a Russian soldier, and a female resistance fighter battle a small group of Germans in a bombed building. But you don't need to know any of that. The only thing you need to know is that the cinematographer was James Wong Howe, as close to a sure thing as Hollywood can offer us in this cockamamie world.
Footsteps in the Fog. The Siren already has an under-the-counter version of this gaslight thriller, which stars her beloved Jean Simmons and Stewart Granger. She hasn't watched it yet, but the pedigree suggests it is well worth a flutter.
Hot Blood. Nicholas Ray, and the clip looks gorgeous, although even ardent auteurists often strain to say something nice about this Gypsy melodrama with Jane Russell and Cornel Wilde. The Siren isn't completely sure she wants to buy this movie, actually, even if she knows Glenn Kenny would say "Siren, it has mise en scène!" But the DVD cover is pretty goshdarned fabulous, isn't it?
Mickey One. The death of Arthur Penn has brought this film back into the blogosphere conversation. The Siren found it deeply odd, but in a good way, and Warren Beatty does great work in it.
The Guilt of Janet Ames. A Rosalind Russell vehicle the Siren has long wanted to see.
Song Without End. Once more, say it with the Siren: James. Wong. Howe.