Columbia films missing from the vaults

Top film critics choose what should be on DVD

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment prexy David Bishop recently told Variety that he welcomed hearing about important Columbia pics not yet on DVD. We polled some of the country’s top film critics for their choices, which follow.

John Anderson
Newsday, Variety

  • “Theodora Goes Wild” (1936): Everything with Irene Dunne should be on DVD, including this howler from a Mary McCarthy story about the author of a sexy bestseller who is really a small-town girl. That may be a stretch, since Dunne is a goddess, but the fact that someone like (gulp) Norma Shearer may be better known today is a crime.

  • “My Sister Eileen” (1942): The portrait of bohemian Greenwich Village is positively quaint, and the “madcap” qualities seem a bit creaky now, but this comedy by Alexander Hall (“Here Comes Mr. Jordan”) got Rosalind Russell the first of her four best actress nominations. For that alone, it should be available.

Manohla Dargis
New York Times

  • Phil Karlson’s “Gunman’s Walk” (1958), Paul Wendkos’ “Face of a Fugitive” (1959), George Sherman’s “Reprisal!” (1956) and last, but by no means least, Budd Boetticher’s brilliant “The Tall T” (1957).

Molly Haskell
Critic and author

  • “Craig’s Wife” (1936): The misogyny of the George Kelly play, preserved under Dorothy Arzner’s direction, has Rosalind Russell in an unusual role, as Harriet Craig, an obsessive wife whose perfect house becomes more important than anything else. Russell plays her with a severe realism that, unlike Joan Crawford’s later version, is never over the top.

  • “Housekeeping” (1987): A marvelously faithful adaptation by director Bill Forsyth of Marilynne Robinson’s somber and unforgettable story of an eccentric aunt (Christine Lahti) who becomes responsible, in her own fashion, for two motherless girls.

Joe Morgenstern
Wall Street Journal

  • “The Member of the Wedding” (1952): Though I’d like to see several Columbia films again for the pleasure of specific performances, including Kim Stanley in “The Goddess” (1958) and William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck and Lee J. Cobb in “Golden Boy” (1939), what I’d really like to see on DVD is Fred Zinnemann’s lyrical movie of this Carson McCullers play, with singular performances by Julie Harris, Ethel Waters and Brandon de Wilde, all members of the original Broadway cast.

Peter Rainer
Christian Science Monitor, Bloomberg News

  • “Crime and Punishment” (1935): This was director Josef von Sternberg’s second stab, after “An American Tragedy,” at adapting a literary behemoth centering on a murder. He packs Dostoyevsky’s novel into a compact 88 minutes, which effectively jettisons most of its complexity. (A French version of the novel, also from 1935, is better.) But there is greatness in Peter Lorre’s performance as Raskolnikov, his best except for his role as the child murderer in Fritz Lang’s “M.”

Henry Sheehan
NPR affiliate KPCC’s “Film Week,”

  • “Shockproof” (1949): It has a terrible ending thanks to a last-minute, studio-enforced rewrite, but this noir, co-written by Sam Fuller and directed by Douglas Sirk, is a terrifically tough depiction of sexual obsession and panic. Cornel Wilde is a tough parole officer entrusted with the care of alluring Patricia Knight.

  • “Whistle at Eaton Falls” (1951): Director Robert Siodmak is justly celebrated for his Expressionist-inflected horror films and noirs. But back in Germany he had started out as a realist, an approach he returns to for this Louis de Rochemont-produced depiction of troubles between factory owners and workers. Lloyd Bridges gives one of his best performances, and Dorothy Gish makes a rare late appearance.

Kenneth Turan
Los Angeles Times

  • “The Bitter Tea of General Yen” (1933): It’s hard to imagine the director of “It’s a Wonderful Life” making this Oriental fantasy, with a great performance by Barbara Stanwyck, and Nils Asther, a Swede, playing the title role. It’s sort of Frank Capra meets Josef von Sternberg, full of delirious moments and unusual ideas about race.

  • “The Goddess” (1958): A very powerful film about a woman’s rise and fall, this movie features one of the great unremembered performances of the 1950s, with Kim Stanley basically playing Marilyn Monroe. This inside-Hollywood story, written by the distinguished Paddy Chayefsky, takes a familiar tale and makes you feel it’s reality.

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