It looks like Universal Pictures has decided to follow Warner Brother’s lead and release some of their older films on demand (in DVD-R format) in association with Some of the current films available in Universal’s new “Vault Series” that will be of special interest to’ 60s & ’70s film fans include (listed in alphabetical order) 40 Pounds of Trouble (Norman Jewison; 1963), Blue Collar (Paul Schrader; 1978), The Brass Bottle (Harry Keller; 1964), The Chalk Garden (Ronald Neame; 1964), Gambit (Ronald Neame; 1966), Kitten With a Whip (Douglas Heyes; 1964), The Last Remake of Beau Geste (Marty Feldman; 1977), The List of Adrian Messenger (John Huston; 1963) and Tell Them Willie Boy is Here (Abraham Polonsky; 1969).

I wish I could get more excited about this news but I can’t. The lackluster quality of the Warner’s DVDs that I’ve purchased has soured me a little on the concept and at almost $20 per film I think buyers deserve more. I haven’t purchased any of the Universal DVD-R films but I’m sure the quality isn’t much better. To make matters worse, Netflix isn’t carrying these DVDs so unless you’re willing and able to purchase them you won’t be able to see these movies.

Obviously the studios are not all that interested in releasing quality DVD additions of the classic films in their vaults anymore. Considering the apparent success of companies like Criterion I can’t understand why big studios like Universal and Warner won’t invest in producing more quality products. I wouldn’t mind if these films were released as part of a collection or in sets similar to Criterion’s Eclipse series or Universal’s “Screen Legend Collections.” For example, 40 Pounds of Trouble and The List of Adrian Messenger both feature Tony Curtis and director’s Norman Jewison and John Huston deserve better than having their films stuck on DVD-R and subject to such limited availability. Why couldn’t Universal just release these films as part of a Tony Curtis DVD box set? Kitten With a Whip and The Last Remake of Beau Geste both feature Ann-Margret and I can’t be the only person who would like to see Universal release a DVD collection of Ann-Margret’s films? I’m not expecting any worthwhile bonus materials. I’d just like to have easier access to decent copies of these movies.

But I digress… In a few years studios will probably stop producing DVDs altogether and we’ll all be forced to stream films online or download them if we want to watch them. I’m not looking forward to that but hopefully the technology will improve by the time watching movies via our computers becomes mandatory.

13 thoughts on “The Universal Vault Series

  1. One thing in Warner Brothers favor is that every once in a while, you can get the archive titles on sale. What makes me concerned about the Universal titles through Amazon is the quality of the discs. From what I have read, the MGM/UA Amazon DVDs have some problems both in the playing, as well as questions regarding the reproduction of the appropriate screen ratio. I agree that Universal should be doing a full Tony Curtis DVD set, considering the many films he did.

  2. Yes, I agree with Peter that in late November, Warner Archive had many DVDs for just $10 each when you bought 10 titles else they were $14.95 each. Thus be patient for a good sale at their website. I recently bought 2 MGM DVDs exclusively thru Amazon (Trapeze starring Burt Lancaster & Tony Curtis, The Group starring Candice Bergen). Both were in full screen format and not widescreen but they played fine for me. Having these movies out on DVD-R format is still better than not having them out at all.

  3. Even on “sale” $14 is still too much for a lackluster DVD-R in my opinion. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I’ve cut WAY back on my DVD spending in the last year. I’d like to have the option to rent and I’m sure I’m not alone. As much as I’d like to see The List of Adrian Messenger again, it’s not really a film I need to own. Besides the cost of buying it vs. renting it, I’m not all that interested in having more clutter in my life. After I watched the film once it would probably end up gathering dust.

    Many of these films play on TV regularly (I just recorded The Group off of TV recently for example) so unless I’m REALLY itchin to see a film and I know I’ll watch it more than once or twice, it’s hard for me to spend $14-20 on a DVD-R that looks no better than the film does when it runs on TV. Especially when a monthly Netflix subscription costs me $13.99

    I really hope they work out some kind of deal that allows Netflix and other retailers and film rent services such as Greencine to carry these films but as of now, Universal’s deal is an “ Exclusive” and I don’t think limiting the options to see these classic films is in anyone’s best interest.

  4. I recently watched Blue Collar for the first time. I’m amazed that this film hasn’t been released before now. It stars Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto – all of whom turn in fantastic performances. Pryor is surprisingly good for such a dramatic role. It was written by Paul Schrader and it was also his directorial debut. It’s a very effective film and I think it’s still relevant today. Hell, there’s even a brief but memorable dildo duel between Pryor and Keitel. How can this film not be considered worthy of a full DVD release?

  5. I agree with you Mike C. I Can’t understand why a Paul Schrader film or a John Huston film for that matter isn’t worthy of a better quality DVD release or at least made more easily available through DVD rental outlets.

  6. What I have found unfortunate about streaming films (besides the fact that my ancient computer is located in the coldest area of my home) is that they don’t come with extras, namely, commentary. For instance, what I truly enjoyed about the Venom DVD was Piers Haggard’s hilarious commentary track. Ditto for Android: the first hand experience of being part of Roger Corman’s stable was priceless. I will miss these things…

  7. BLUE COLLAR actually was available in Region 1 via Anchor Bay with Paul Schrader commentary, but that disc is now OOP. As with previous home video editions, some soundtrack cues were “rescored for home video.” I wonder if this issue has been corrected for the “Vault” release. If so, it might be worth picking up. Some of the other Uni titles are available as pressed disc in other regions; a little Internet research will turn up the titles in question. Also, many of the MGM titles have been aired on MGM-HD. Disappointingly, some of these titles are being released through this program in non-anamorphic discs.

  8. To your comment of DVD’s demise. We are collectors; the tactile feel of a tape, LD or DVD is a part of the appeal. My DVR is full of movies, but something is missing. Yes, years ago, record album and (now CD) enthusiasts lamented the same thing. Look at some of the special editions of DVD’s today with lobby cards, books, screenplays, photos; How do you stream a collector’s item?

  9. Firstly, I cant get these titles at all in Australia, either through WB Archive, Amazon or iTunes. I’m saddened to read that these films are being churned out without care (pan and scan? really?). Films I’m trying to get hold of (Freebie and the Bean, Rabbit Run, etc) are hardly marginal titles. I’ll probably have to wait until they crop up on Ebay or iOffer at inflated prices and buy them that way, but the point is I will get them, and surely WB and Universal should get their heads out of the sand and make these films available worldwide. As for 40 Pounds of Trouble, I’m sure its pretty poor, but I actually need to see it for a book I’m writing!

  10. My real beef is with the limited availability of these films. Why would any company want to limit who can see them? They’re just shooting themselves in the foot and loosing money and publicity in the process.

  11. Someone has already pointed that out but it’s been out-of-print for years and used copies often sell for ridiculous prices at Amazon and Ebay. As I keep repeating, Blue Collar should be more easily accessible. As should all of these movies.

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