It's a plot, I tell you. A plot. Oh, sure, twenty dollars a pop doesn't sound like a lot of money, considering. But that argument only works if you're not considering.
Here's the thing: the Warner Archive Collection, which markets scads of previously unavailable films from the vaults of Warner Home Video (a library that includes many titles originally produced and distributed by RKO and MGM) on well-made but bare bones DVD-Rs, is a dangerous place, not because the selection it offers is teeming with absolutely immortal classics whose absence from the DVD ranks should be considered a crime. No. That would be too obvious.
Now it is true that the Archive, which has 150 films currently available but may soon offer thousands, features key works by major directors—Borzage's striking, nuanced 1938 Three Comrades, Coppola's fascinating 1968 The Rain People (featuring near-definitive performances from Shirley Knight and James Caan, seen above), for instance.
But that isn't what the lion's share of the material consists of. No, most of the films offered here are marginal works—and for quite a few, cinephilia lives and dies in the margins. Let's face it, friends; what "normal" person is gonna care about a 1965 film directed by WIlliam Conrad and starring Jeffrey Hunter which may or may not be the final proper "film noir" ever produced in Hollywood? Not one, that's who. (The film is Brainstorm; it's in my shopping cart.) What "normal" person is gonna react with much more than a shrug at the prospect of owning the sole collaboration between director John Frankenheimer and actor Warren Beatty? (All Fall Down, 1962. Part of my first batch.) What "normal" person is crossing his or her fingers right now, hoping that this enterprise will be Warner's pretext to finally put out an at least semi-proper DVD of Youngblood Hawke? (Well, actually, that's not me, that's a friend of mine. I am curious, though.) Also note that above I have only cited films from the 1960s. The Archive itself covers, erm, several more decades worth of material.
You see what I'm getting at. These guys know where we live. And they also know the bare minimum we'll accept. The five fixes I've paid for so far all look Better-Than-Acceptable to Actually Good, a testament to the long-term care Warner has taken with its treasures. (I told you it was a plot.) We don't care about extras. We've got film books for that. We just want the stuff. Raw, if need be. And these guys have it.