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Classic Hollywood: Notable films that aren't on DVD

'Wings,' 'Hold Back the Dawn,' 'My Cousin Rachel,' 'The Iron Petticoat' and 'The Hanging Tree' have not yet been released.

June 20, 2011|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • "Wings," the first best picture Oscar winner, is the only recipient of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' top prize not out on DVD.
"Wings," the first best picture Oscar winner, is the only recipient… (Mark Wanamaker / Bison Archives )

For lovers of vintage films, there's been a lot to be thankful for lately as more of them are making their way onto DVD due to the efforts of such companies as Warner Archive, Criterion, Kino, TCM, MGM and Fox's Twilight Time. But there are still wonderful titles that have yet to see the light of day for various reasons including legal and restoration issues. (Some of those missing-in-action titles are available in bootlegged copies online, but generally the quality is poor).

Serious film fans no doubt have their own list of movies they'd like to see in prime condition on DVD. Here are five prime candidates:

'Wings'

The first best picture Oscar winner, this silent 1927 World War I drama is the only recipient of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' top prize not out on DVD. The plot is hackneyed — Charles "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen play small-town friends who enlist as combat pilots in the Air Service. Sexy vamp Clara Bow is the girl next door who joins the war effort in Europe as an ambulance driver. But the film really soars in the incredible aerial battle sequences — no computer images here. Director William Wellman brought a lot of authenticity to these scenes because he was a pilot during the war. Gary Cooper became an overnight sensation in the film in his brief role as a doomed flyer.

'Hold Back the Dawn'

Olivia de Havilland received an Oscar nomination for her role in this top-notch romantic drama from 1941 (she lost out to her sister Joan Fontaine, who won for "Suspicion"). One of the big hits of the year, it was nominated for several other Oscars including best picture and adapted screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett; De Havilland plays a shy American schoolteacher who weds a gigolo (Charles Boyer) in a Mexican border town.

'My Cousin Rachel'

This 1952 romantic thriller based on Daphne Du Maurier's bestselling novel marked the first American film for Welsh-born actor Richard Burton. He earned a supporting actor Oscar nomination playing Philip Ashley, a young man who believes his cousin's death was caused by the man's new wife Rachel (De Havilland) so she could inherit his wealth. But when Philip meets Rachel he also falls under her spell. Adapted by Nunnally Johnson and directed by Henry Koster, the film also earned Oscar nods for art direction, cinematography and costume design.

'The Iron Petticoat'

Adding this misguided comedy to the list falls into the guilty pleasure category. This 1956 Cold War comedy starring Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn was roundly trounced by critics and was a box-office flop, but it's something to see. In this hybrid of 1939's "Ninotchka" and the Howard Hughes-produced "Jet Pilot," which was filmed in 1950 but not released until 1957, Hepburn plays a Russian jet pilot who lands in West Germany and is taken prisoner by the U.S. Hope attempts to be a romantic leading man — Cary Grant was first offered the part and wisely declined.

'The Hanging Tree'

One of Cooper's last films is also considered one of his finest. Though it received mixed reviews and did mediocre business upon release in 1959, this Delmer Daves romantic western has grown in reputation. The 57-year-old Cooper plays a doctor who arrives in a small town and sets up business. Maria Schell plays the survivor of a stagecoach accident whom he nurses back to health. The movie also marked the film debut of George C. Scott; costar Karl Malden took over directing reins when Daves took ill. The theme song performed by Marty Robbins earned an Oscar nomination.

susan.king@latimes.com

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