Opening up the Warners archive


Ramon Novarro and Enid Bennett in The Red Lily (1924), from

As some will certainly have heard by now (the Bioscope has been taking a bit of a nap of late, partly induced by faulty Internet connection), Warner Bros. has announced a made-to-order DVD service for 150 films from its archives. These are titles not currently available on DVD and which would not, in the normal course of events, have made it onto commercial DVD. Strictly speaking, they are DVD-Rs (i.e. burned rather than fully authored), produced to order, though reports are that they are of high quality.

The films are priced at $19.95 for DVD copies in the post, $14.95 for downloads, and they can be ordered from Our interest,of course, is in the silents, and those being made available are:

  • Scaramouche (US 1923 d. Rex Ingram) with Ramon Novarro, Alice Terry
  • Souls for Sale (US 1923 d. Rupert Hughes) with Barbara La Marr, Eleanor Boardman
  • The Red Lily (US 1924 d. Fred Niblo) with Ramon Novarro, Enid Bennett
  • Exit Smiling (US 1926 d. Sam Taylor) with Beatrice Lillie, Jack Pickford
  • The Temptress (US 1926 d. Fred Niblo) with Greta Garbo, Antonio Moreno
  • Love (US 1927 d. Edmund Goulding) with Greta Garbo, John Gilbert
  • The Red Mill (US 1927 d. William Goodrich) with Marion Davies, Owen Moore
  • Spring Fever (US 1927 d. Edward Sedgwick) with Joan Crawford, William Haines
  • The Smart Set (US 1928 d. Jack Conway) with Alice Day, Jack Holt
  • The Trail of ‘98 (US 1928 d. Clarence Brown) with Dolores del Rio, Harry Carey
  • The Kiss (US 1929 d. Jacques Feyder) with Greta Garbo, Conrad Nagel
  • The Single Standard (US 1929 d. John S. Robertson) with Greta Garbo, Nils Asther
  • Wild Orchids (US 1929 d. Sidney Franklin) with Greta Garbo, Lewis Stone

So, a rich collection of the obscure and the famous, and in case you are wondering why MGM titles are there, that’s because Warners now represents a large chunk of the MGM library, such are the mysteries of collection deals. Information on the films on the site is a bit scanty, but you do get a brief video clip for each one, and the quality seems excellent.

But before those outside the USA get out the banker’s card, please note that the DVDs are – for the moment – only available for purchase in the USA. Word is that this will change in the not too distant future. Also promised are many more titles, at a rate of twenty a month (not all silents, of course), with Warners suggesting that eventually its entire archive of 5,000 titles could be made available – that is, where titles aren’t given a conventional DVD release (around 1,200 titles have been issued conventionally by Warner Home Video). Priority has been given to titles where there is satisfactory transfer materials from broadcasts (and all the silents come with scores, as all have been shown on TCM), but more will follow, particularly as the project has reportedly been highly successful already (the DVDs were first offered on Monday).

This sort of initiative has long been suggested by film enthusiasts, arguing that low-cost, basic production quality releases would be better than no DVDs at all. Apparently it is the downturn in the economy which has led Warner Bros. to go down this path, though that may just be the timing, because it is reported that they have been planning this move for two years. It has also been argued as an alternative strategy in the face of market saturation – we’ve all got too many DVDs on our shelves – but this is an initiative aimed at the specialist, with sales expected to be just a few thousand per title. It’ll be interesting to see what happens if the scheme proves more successful than Warners have been expecting. Might they re-think their strategy and issue more standard DVDs of supposedly uncommercial titles?

Information on further releases, and when they become available beyond the USA, will get published here as and when we hear of it.

7 responses

  1. A very exciting commercial innovation. I hope it will prove sufficiently successful to prompt other archive holders to follow suit.

    My only complaint is with the Warners website: difficult to navigate and short on information about the films. With luck the venture will also be successful enough to prompt some improvements to the site.

  2. I think that a few thousand sold items per title is too optimistic. For the more obscure titles I would expect something in the hundreds not thousands.

    Nevertheless it is an interesting opportunity to get rare movies.

  3. Agreed about the unattractiveness of the Warners site, and that there is such perfunctory information about the titles. If they’ve had two years to think about this, they might have put in a little more effort.

    My DVD player is calling out for EXIT SMILING – a touching delight, and one of the very few films that Beatrice Lillie ever made.

    It seems their hopes are pinned on 2,000 units, which is lower than the minimum figure needed to justify a proper DVD release (which I think is something like 5,000 units – correct me, somebody). Some titles clearly will be more of a struggle than others, but I’m optimistic that the innovation is going to be rewarded. It’s established a new sort of bond between archive and enthusiast.

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