There seems to be no end of ways to watch new and old movies at home — cable, DVDs, downloads — but one of the still-puzzling elements of this relatively new cinema world is the way that films can appear and then disappear from the home video market.
In a somewhat typical case, a hugely popular title like the 1974 Paramount version of “Murder on the Orient Express” will appear on DVD, then go out of print — pushing the price of the DVD version sky-high on eBay and other collectors’ sites — and then eventually reappear on DVD, making everyone who paid collectors’ prices look dumb (I waited for the reissue and bought a copy for less than $10).
Like many other people, I have recently joined the Amazon family via their Kindle Fire reader, and have been amazed to learn that the company has tons of movies available for downloading that can be found nowhere else (many of them have yet to be released on DVD and others are long out of print).
Over the weekend, when I realized that many of the rarest titles are only available with a subscription to the Amazon Prime service, I decided to fork over the annual $79 fee, and was delighted by some of the “lost” movies I found right away.
Few of these buried treasures qualify as great films — or even good ones, in some cases — but it was a kick to be able to see the 1969 “Gaily, Gaily” based on Ben Hecht’s newspaper memoirs, starring Beau Bridges and Brian Keith.
The movie was a complete financial flop but it is full of funny scenes and great period details (director Norman Jewison made the offbeat project on the strength of his success with “The Thomas Crown Affair” in 1968 and “In the Heat of the Night” in 1967).
“Gaily, Gaily” has a characteristically over-the-top performance by Melina Mercouri (above) — a personal favorite of mine — and Amazon Prime is packed with movies featuring the Greek star that are available from few other sources (including the rather ludicrously torrid “Phaedra” which pairs Mercouri with a woefully miscast Anthony Perkins).
Speaking of May-December soap operas, with Perkins again in the May role, another forgotten goodie I found on Amazon Prime is “Goodbye, Again” (below), the 1961 flop with Ingrid Bergman as December. (Not one of Bergman’s better vehicles, however.)
Fans of Glenda Jackson will be happy to know that the Amazon service also includes two of her hardest-to-find titles, the crazy 1970 Ken Russell Tchaikovsky bio-pic “The Music Lovers” and the 1967 Peter Brooks film “Marat/Sade” (adapted from the Broadway and London stage play that launched Jackson’s career).
Paramount has perhaps the most mysterious DVD policy of any of the majors, allowing very popular films like “Orient Express” to disappear for years. Two out-of-print titles from the studio that can be downloaded via Amazon are the great 1973 horror film “Don’t Look Now” and the very entertaining 1969 Philip Roth adaptation “Goodbye, Columbus.” Presumably, both of those titles will be brought back into print by Paramount one day, but for the moment Amazon is the only fresh source.
I assume that at some point in the digital future, all movies will be available at all times via the Internet, but until that happens Amazon Prime is worth checking out by buffs in search of obscure titles.