In the 21st century, we're so spoiled by our multitude of
entertainment options - movies, music, and TV shows jump at us from
every direction, begging to be downloaded or DVRed or even just
glanced at - that when we actually go to the trouble of seeking out
a specific film for some specific reason, it's a genuine shock if
we find that it's not available to us. It seems almost an
It does happen, though, even in the year 2011: there are great
movies that still have yet to be released on DVD. Sometimes the
reason is a perceived (or real) lack of interest; sometimes
complicated legal issues are involved. If you have Netflix, you're
used to having access to whatever you want to watch, but Netflix
can't help you here. Occasionally you'll catch these films on TV
or, if you're in a big city, at moviehouse revivals, but you have
to be more vigilant than you'd probably like. Here are ten of my
favorite hard-to-find films, in alphabetical order:
1. "Abe Lincoln in Illinois" (1940) - A modest, intelligent
biopic covering Lincoln's early years, this is one of several good
1940s movies penned by the playwright and Algonquin Round Table
member Robert E. Sherwood (his "Rebecca" adaptation came out in the
same year), who won a Pulitzer for the stage version. It marked the
first of several times that Raymond Massey would portray our 16th
president on camera.
2. "Airborne" (1993) - Transparently designed to capitalize on
early-'90s enthusiasm for extreme/alternative sports, "Airborne"
tells the story of a teenage California surfer transplanted to
Cincinatti, where he joins a pack of local hockey goons in a
rollerblading race down the most fearsome hill in southern Ohio.
I'm pretty sure this movie isn't any good, but it used to appear on
TV all the time when I was a kid, and the thought that I may never
be able to see it again frightens me. Seth Green and Jack Black
have early-career roles.
3. "The Blue Dahlia" (1946) - A sort of hard-boiled version of
"The Best Years of Our Lives," Raymond Chandler's only original
screenplay made for a compelling film noir and a memorable picture
of Los Angeles in the 1940s. Veronica Lake was born for this genre.
The title served as inspiration for the real-life murder victim
Elizabeth Short's nickname "The Black Dahlia," which in turn became
the name of a James Ellroy novel and its ensuing film.
4. "Dragons Forever" (1987) - My favorite from Jackie Chan, this
was the final film in which he appeared alongside both Sammo Hung
and Yuen Biao, his old classmates from the China Drama Academy.
Chan's Hong Kong movies had silly, disposable plots that existed
only to string together masterful sequences of comic action (more
entertaining, for me, than anything by Buster Keaton), and the
kung-fu set pieces in this one are among his very best. Acrobatic
co-star Yuen is as much fun here as Chan is. It used to air
constantly on TBS.
5. "The Gunfighter" (1950) - This complex, character-based
Western stars Gregory Peck as a notorious gunslinger haunted by his
own legend. A cowboy movie for adults, Henry King's slightly
didactic, slow-moving tragedy has a rare resonance.
6. "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942) - RKO infamously tampered
with Orson Welles's follow-up to "Citizen Kane," and you can sense
the gaps where the studio excised portions of his film. (The
characters don't fully take shape, and it ends too abruptly.)
Because producer George Schaefer petulantly destroyed the scenes
that he, working with editor Robert Wise, had deleted, we'll never
see what Welles wanted us to, but the existing product still
features remarkable set design, a literate script, an elegant
performance by Joseph Cotton, and a charming voiceover by Welles
himself. Intended to be an epic chronicle of the birth of the 20th
century, it remains a showcase for Welles's technical brilliance;
his fluid camerawork and complex sound design bring the Amberson
mansion vividly to life. Supposedly it will at last be coming to
DVD this year.
7. "Period of Adjustment" (1962) - This Tennessee Williams
adaptation is a curiosity for the simple fact that it's a comedy. A
weird mixture of light-hearted, 1960s-ish marital humor and deep
sexual neuroses, it has great moments, as most of Williams's
creations do. Taking place at Christmastime, it would make for a
nice (if rather eccentric) alternative to standard holiday
8. "Rad" - Predecessor to "Airborne," "Rad" is another cheesy
extreme-sports flick, this time with BMX as the focus. It's a
better movie, though, and for all its corniness, it's a real '80s
classic, as much for its earnest John Farnham soundtrack as for its
bicycle stunts. It's one of those accidental gems that, somehow,
serves as a perfect time capsule - not because it represents
anything close to the reality of its decade but because it's so
wonderfully emblematic of the particular lame moment in American
pop culture that produced it. Watch for Lori Loughlin's very
obviously male stunt double in her riding scenes.
9. "Wheels on Meals" (1984) - Another of Jackie Chan's Hong Kong
classics, this one is famous for Chan's showdown with Benny "The
Jet" Urquidez and for taking place, surprisingly, in Barcelona.
Because the protagonist works in a food truck, the title was
supposed to be "Meals on Wheels," but the studio believed that
titles starting with the letter "M" were bad luck and changed it to
the version we know today, which makes absolutely no sense.
10. "Wuthering Heights" (1939) - William Wyler's adaptation is a
tried-and-true classic, and it comes as a shock to me to find that
it's still not on DVD. It leaves out huge chunks of the novel,
including the entire second half, and it tries harder than Brontë's
novel did to make Heathcliff sympathetic, diminishing the character
in the process, but Olivier's performance and Gregg Toland's
photography assure its place in cinematic history. Amazingly, it
gets the author's name wrong (she's Brontë, not Bronté) in the
opening credits. You can probably find it on TCM.
At this point, they may as well skip DVD and go straight to