With apologies to Mama Gump, home video is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get, particularly when it comes to the classics. It's a surprise each year to see what treasures the studios will unearth from the vaults for video release.
Among the diverse offerings film buffs can look forward to early this year are new-to-video titles starring Buster Keaton, Claudette Colbert and even Ma and Pa Kettle. But what about "Annie Get Your Gun," one of the last of the great Hollywood musicals yet to be released on video? Will this finally be the year? That could be arranged. Memo to Ted Turner: Call the Irving Berlin Music Co.
"We are in a negotiated gridlock," said Bert Fink, a Berlin company spokesman. "We're awaiting a bona fide offer from Ted Turner" (who owns the rights to the MGM film library).
The karma seems good to break the stalemate. A clip from the musical was recently used in "That's Entertainment! III," the song "Anything You Can Do" is featured in "Speechless," and 1996 is the 50th anniversary of the musical's Broadway debut. "There is a misconception that the Berlins disapprove of the movie," Fink said. "Quite a lot of people would like to see it on home video, and the Berlins are among them."
Quite a lot of people also want to see on video the original 170-minute version of "The Diary of Anne Frank," which was cut to 156 minutes for general release after the lukewarm reception that followed its premiere in 1959.
The unedited version was voted by a consumer fan club to be designated one of FoxVideo's "Studio Classics," which are released the first Wednesday of each month. "Anne Frank" is due Wednesday; the next three releases in the series are "The Razor's Edge," "Leave Her to Heaven" and "Titanic," starring Barbara Stanwyck.
MCA/Universal Home Video starts the new year with four musicals starring Deanna Durbin: "Three Smart Girls," "Three Smart Girls Grow Up," "100 Men and a Girl" and "It Started With Eve."
The studio has also rounded up for release this month four Maureen O'Hara Westerns, including "The Redhead From Wyoming" and "Comanche Territory."
In February, you can join "Ma and Pa Kettle at Home" and "Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation," thanks to MCA/Universal. A Claudette Colbert collection, scheduled for a March release, will include "Cleopatra," "Midnight," "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" and "So Proudly We Hail." MCA will also launch a Cecil B. DeMille collection with "The Crusades," "Sign of the Cross" and "Union Pacific."
New York-based Kino on Video commemorates the 100th anniversary of Buster Keaton's birth with "The Art of Buster Keaton," three box sets comprising 19 shorts and 11 features, including the previously unavailable masterpiece "Sherlock Jr."
Coming this summer from Kino will be a five-film series devoted to the First American Studio, including Thomas Ince's 1916 epic "Civilization."
While the release of Disney's "The Lion King" is this spring's mane event, watch for the pending re-release or premiere of another Disney animated classic. It's probably easier to get the Colonel's secret recipe or the formula for Coca-Cola than to find out Disney's plans before the studio wants to tell.
But industry speculation ranges from "The Little Mermaid" and "Cinderella" to "The Aristocats," which has never been released. One thing for sure: It won't be "The Black Cauldron" (but you never know).
Except for "Annie Get Your Gun," MGM/UA has released its most sought-after films.
"We're redirecting our efforts into reissuing titles when we are able to make a difference with restoration," said George Feltenstein, senior vice president and general manager. The studio is planning "something very special" for a restored 30th-anniversary edition of "Doctor Zhivago." A 50th-anniversary edition of "National Velvet" is also in the works.
Fast-forwarding to September, "The High and the Mighty," starring John Wayne, makes its long-awaited video debut on MPI Home Video, which has already released "McLintock!" and "Hondo."
MPI also has exclusive rights to the Beatles films and will release "Let It Be"--which has long been on moratorium and unavailable for purchase--this summer.
It takes on average five to seven months for a movie to go from theaters to video. The exceptions are usually independent, foreign or art-house films that need time to build audience awareness.
For example, "Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould," which played in theaters last spring, will be available on video Feb.28.
Wednesday: "Airheads," "Renaissance Man" and "North."
Jan. 11: "True Lies."
Jan. 17: "Wolf" and "The Shadow."
Jan. 19: "The Mask."
Jan. 24: "Natural Born Killers."
Jan. 31: "Clear and Present Danger."
Feb. 7: "Corrina, Corrina."
March 3: "The Lion King."
April 28: "Forrest Gump."