Tony Bennett on the phone to archives worldwide begging curators to destroy every existing print of The Oscar.
What has four Renoir’s, two Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s, a quartet by Max Ophüls, Tony Bennett’s one and only acting performance (watch and learn), an ace high Diamond straight flush from Preston Sturges, Buñuel leading Brontë to new Heights (plus Don Luis at his perverse best), and over 1400 titles, none available on Region 1 DVD, all yours for the asking?
You’re bound to find something you like at Rarefilmm: The Cave of Forgotten Films, a one-of-a-kind website dedicated to criminally obscure anomalies and curiosities of cinema.
Most of the transfers were derived from VHS tapes, foreign imports not available stateside on DVD, and the hard work of fervid collectors with burners set to record at all hours of the day and night.
A word about quality: you get what you pay for. Print condition runs from bathtub dupes with motor boat soundtracks to surprisingly clean copies. Part of me misses the occasional scratches and splices, those unique-to-celluloid byproducts of careless projectionists that reminded you you’re watching a physical print.
It would be impossible to put in a nutshell the breadth of the vault after having spent but a few days perusing its treasures. Off the top, here are ten titles, in no particular order, worth your time. Reap the harvest!
1) A. Edward Sutherland’s Diamond Jim (1935). Edward Arnold — as legendary American businessman, philanthropist, and gourmand, James Brady — eats himself to death in this otherwise amusing biopic scripted by Preston Sturges. Someone needs to put out a box set of the films Sturges penned prior to reaching his pinnacle, the Paramount Golden 8 he wrote and directed between 1940-44.
A common error from Max Ophul’s American Period.
2) Max Ophuls’s (do you say “Opuls”?) The Exile (1947). It’s been over three decades since my one and only viewing. If memory serves, a finer swashbuckler has not been made.
3) John Francis Larkin’s Quiet, Please. Murder! (1942). George Sanders sells forged Shakespeare to the Nazis. Propaganda in the guise of a noir thriller, and to the best of my knowledge it’s the only film set entirely in a library.
4) Douglas Sirk’s Pillars of Society (1935) and Final Accord (1936). A pair of impossible-to-see films from the master stylist’s German period.
5) Jean Renoir’s Toni (1935). Turns out Renoir discovered neorealism a full decade before the Italians.
Él de Luis Buñuel
6) Luis Buñuel’s El: This Strange Passion (1953). Again, decades have passed since last we met, but I remember this being my go-to masterpiece by one of cinema’s half-dozen greatest practitioners. Needless to say, this will be the first to be watched.
7) Howard Hawk’s Ceiling Zero (1936). This airport-bound drama was Hawks’s rehearsal for Only Angels Have Wings. With the director and James Cagney at the controls, one would think the folks at Warner Archives would have long ago made this available.
8) Russell Rouse’s The Oscar (1966). Hollywood takes a butter knife to the Academy and in turn slices off more unexpected laughs than there are in 95% of so-called intentional comedies. What can be said of an all-star assemblage in which Milton Berle is the only one to escape unscathed? Stephen Boyd’s fractured enunciation will leave you howling, but the show’s biggest guffaws belong to Tony Bennett’s thrombo-inducing performance as “Hymie Kelly.” I’ve seen this film more times than I can count. I’m seriously considering recording an audio commentary track.
9) Josef Von Sternberg’s Anathahan (1953). A tale of 12 shipwrecked sailors, photographed (by the director) entirely on a Japanese soundstage, with voice-over narration spoken in English (by the director) and deliberately unsubtitled Japanese dialogue.
Not even Jonathan Winters could salvage this drive-in double-bill from hell: Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad and Doctor You’ve Got to Be Kidding!. The Chicago Tribune, May 12, 1967.
10) Richard Quine’s Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad (1967). Jonathan Winters’s name was in the ad was incentive enough. All the begging and promises to clean my room it took to get me to the Sunset Drive-In, crashed and burned after 25 minutes. It was the only film Dad ever drove out on. The noxious Sandra Dee pregnancy comedy Doctor, You’ve Got to Be Kidding was a tough act to follow. A little over a reel into Oh, Dad — and much to my vocal displeasure — Larry cranked the engine and headed home leaving a black hole waiting to be plastered. Closure at last!
Punch line: Polly Adler’s A House Is Not a Home, the biography of the famed Jewish madame, was one of the few books in my parent’s library. A Google search on the movie adaptation, starring Shelly Winters, was what brought me to Rarefilmm. It’s the only copy I’ve quality checked that has no sound. Here’s hoping the webmaster will see this and correct the slight oversight. Happy viewing!