There are a lot of companies out there in the world of catalog Blu-ray releases. Eight years ago, one of my favorites of all of them was "born". I remember when I first heard that WAC (an affectionate nickname) was becoming a thing, I was immediately excited by not only their initial slate of DVDs, but also the possibilities of what might be in store from them. Since their inception, Warner Archive has become one of the coolest thing to happen to hardcore cinephiles and budding young film fans alike. They have helped me discover so much stuff from The Bowery Boys, to Wheeler and Woolsey as well as tons of other gems that were unknown to me. Below is a short list of my Top Three from WAC (at the moment - this could change tomorrow):
1. OUT OF THE PAST (1947; Jacques Tourneur) on Blu-ray
OUT OF THE PAST is the movie that really helped me understand what film noir is. Or what one school of thought (that I happen to agree with) thinks it is. That school of thought classifies noir not only by the visual aspects of light and shadow and the subject matter (detectives, criminals, femme fatales) but also by one key ingredient - fatalism. Fatalism is the thing that always hooked me most about the best noirs like this and say Edgar G. Ulmer's DETOUR. Those stories about a guy who just can't help but get fucked over. Maybe it's bad luck, maybe it's poor decision making but it doesn't matter because the bottom line is these guys lose the big game (metaphorically speaking) every time. I've heard a case made for something like THE MALTESE FALCON being a film noir and that's certainly a fair assumption, but it will never make my list for the lack of that fatalism. Bogart as Sam Spade is far too in control of his own destiny, too clever to be completely outwitted by the forces of badness. Sure he may get slipped a mickey or slightly duped, but overall he comes out on top. He's kind of a badass really. Not to take anything away from that film as it truly is one of my favorites of all time, but yeah it just doesn't quite exist in the same dirty, desperate universe as things like OUT OF THE PAST and DETOUR (at least not for me).
Robert Mitchum has that rare quality among movie stars in that he can be cool and yet can perfectly play the occasional sap when he wants to. Bogart has vulnerability too, but there's just something about Mitchum's particular brand of "cool" that makes it all the more impactful when the rug gets pulled out from under him. OUT OF THE PAST is of course based on the novel by Daniel Mainwaring (aka Geoffrey Homes) called BUILD MY GALLOWS HIGH. What a fitting title for the source material to a film like this. Like the title itself, the movie is filled with some of the greatest film noir dialogue ever written (James M. Cain is an uncredited writer which probably helped). I mean, it's the stuff that film noir parodies almost make fun of now, but not quite that. It's just so damned good.
2. THE HUDSUCKER PROXY (1994; Joel & Ethan Coen) on Blu-ray
This movie came to me at just the right time. I missed it upon its initial theatrical release, but discovered it on VHS a year or so later. I was in the midst of changing my college major to film studies and had just taken an intro to film class with a professor who loved Howard Hawks. We were shown HIS GIRL FRIDAY right off the bat and it was an eye opening experience to say the least. I had dabbled in classic films and liked a lot of them, but had yet to experience that machine gun fire dialogue that the folks in HGF spew. It was breathtaking and I was immediately smitten. So when HUDSUCKER arrived on VHS at the video store I was working in, already being a Coen Bros fan, I had to check it out. Loved it. Such a loving tribute to fast-talking 30s cinema as well as being a Coen film through and through. It remains one of my favorite films they've ever done and might be considered my favorite depending on the day you ask me. I do adore the Coens and the direction their filmmaking has taken, but I always want to see them come back to the comedies they do so well.
3. ONE WAY PASSAGE (1932; Tay Garnett) on DVD
One of my favorite romantic films and it's a pre-code movie and a tearjerker to boot. William Powell and Kay Francis are delightful together and the ending gets me every single time. Should be spoken of in the same sentence as CASABLANCA in terms of classic tales of love that still have a great deal of resonance even today, despite being from so long ago.