Find It On DVD? I Cant-or!

I tried to purchase an Eddie Cantor DVD recently so I could show my daughters the amazing high kick of comedienne Charlotte Greenwood. True story. But the search was in vain. The film has never been released in the format! If it wasn’t for my purchase several years ago of the Eddie Cantor Collection on VHS, I would be completely bereft of his Goldwyn filmography, and my daughters would have never seen the queen of contortion in action. Eddie Cantor out of print? No way.

And don’t even get me started on Danny Kaye’s Goldwyn catalog.

Granted, I’m a long-time fan and collector, and am certainly more interested in Cantor’s hey-day films than the average consumer. I get that. I also completely understand, for example, why there are no Joe Penner movies on DVD, because I may be the only person in the world who collects Joe Penner stuff.

But this is Eddie Cantor we’re talking about. Banjo Eyes…the diminutive perpetual motion machine who trod the boards of the Follies alongside W. C. Fields, Bert Williams and Will Rogers…with Flo Ziegfeld in the audience. Star of vaudeville, radio and television. Author. March of Dimes spokesman. None of that gives him any street cred today.

And yet, when the new theatrical version of “Nancy Drew” hit theaters last month, Warner Brothers was ready with a nice 2 DVD reissue of all four Bonita Granville Nancy Drew films from 1938-39. I have nothing against Ms. Granville, or the Disneyland Hotel tower named for her, but she couldn’t hold a flashlight to Cantor (or for that matter, the Goldwyn Girls).

Hmm. Maybe Will Farrell, Adam Sandler or Toby Maguire needs to star in a remake of “Roman Scandals” to force a Cantor DVD set out to the marketplace.

Maybe you’re not interested in Eddie Cantor. My mother-in-law isn’t, and that’s OK. But I’m pretty sure you’re waiting for something to come out on DVD. My friend Buddy has been waiting several years for “A Thousand Clowns” (1965) to appear. He’s still watching an old VHS he taped when he lived in Texas more than 20 years ago.

Disney fans are trained in the staggered release cycle, but the animated classics do eventually appear (with the notable exception of “Song of the South,” which I don’t need to address here). But fans of other films have nothing so systematic to hang their hats on. Just for the sake of discussion, here are ten random films currently MIA:

  • “Knock on Wood” (1954). OK, that wasn’t random. I’m on a mission.
  • Rod Taylor’s two “Dark” films:
    • “Dark of the Sun” (1968 )
    • “Darker Than Amber” (1970)
  • “The Grey Fox” (1982). Worthy of its own post for several reasons.
  • “The Horn Blows at Midnight” (1945). Jack Benny as an angel. ’nuff said.
  • “Lonely Are the Brave” (1962). A Dalton Trumbo script, from an Edward Abbey novel, starring Kirk Douglas. A classic.
  • “The Luck of the Irish” (1948). The Irish answer to Miracle on 34th Street
  • “No Time for Sergeants” (1958). Will Stockdale takes on the army, and wins.
  • “The Satan Bug” (1965). Government secrets and bacchilinus in the desert.
  • “Sing You Sinners” (1938). Crosby, MacMurray & O’Connor. C’mon!

Don’t forget that widescreen films released in the pan and scan format don’t count either. Yuck.

So what’s on your short list? Which film are YOU waiting for?

Here’s the final irony. Cantor’s first two (and, until now, rarest) films, “Kid Boots” (1926) and “Special Delivery” (1927) were released on DVD this past March. They are both SILENT films, and nice additions to any collection. But until the vaults open up on the really good stuff — the early and acclaimed MUSICALS of Cantor, Goldwyn and others — the only place we can get DVD copies of “Whoopie,” “Palmy Days,” “The Kid From Spain,” “Roman Scandals,” “Kid Millions” and “Strike Me Pink” is from the VHS to DVD duplicators on eBay.

And that ain’t right.

craig hodgkins

~ by Craig Hodgkins on July 17, 2007.

7 Responses to “Find It On DVD? I Cant-or!”

  1. I feel your pain. I badly want the Eddie Cantor precodes too. It is funny you mentioned Song of the South, because I think the noticeable absence of Cantor on DVD is due to “Song of the South Syndrome” AKA political correctness raising its very ugly head. Cantor performed in black face in about every film he did. God forbid that anybody put this on DVD and these images become available to the public! Chaos and rioting would automatically erupt! However, for some reason, 70’s blacksploitation films with all of their negative stereotypes seem to be perfectly OK and socially acceptable. As they said in Men in Black “A person is smart, but people are dumb panicky animals and you know it.” Warner Bros. is showing some courage in this department by releasing The Jazz Singer on DVD in October. Let’s hope that if this set sells well and no controversy results for the studio, that it will precipitate the overdue release of Cantor’s wonderful films. Here’s hoping.

  2. I think there are many reasons the Cantor DVDs are absent, but as in much of today’s DVD business, they are written in $$ signs. But it doesn’t make sense to have put out a boxed set of all five of his Goldwyn musicals on VHS (which I thankfully own) and not release any of them on DVD. They must have sold, because they never show up in the remainder racks. But who knows? Maybe Cantor’s grandson Brian Gari is working on getting them released in the same fashion he has done with some of Cantor’s audio stuff on CD. Here’s hoping!

  3. Do you know who exactly holds the rights to Cantor’s early 30’s films anymore? imdb says that HBO had the rights to the VHS tapes, but there is nothing listed for DVD. Have the films slipped into the public domain? Just wondering.

  4. Welcome back. I don’t know who has the rights, or if HBO retained them, but I’ve been meaning to look into it. RE: Public Domain, the Cantor films should be covered under the 1998 Copyright Term Extension Act (often called the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, since Disney supported it strongly). Under this Act, and I’m quoting now: “additional works made in 1923 or afterwards that were still copyrighted in 1998 will not enter the public domain until 2019 or afterwards (depending on the date of the product) unless the owner of the copyright releases them into the public domain prior to that or if the copyright gets extended again.” The Goldwyn/Cantor films were released 1932-1936, so they should be fine.

  5. Waiting and waiting for “The Horn Blows at Midnight”. Also “Down to the Sea in Ships” and “Life with Father”. The latter exists on some terrible quality public domain disks, but they are not worth even the few dollars they cost.

  6. TCM has a poll called “homevideovote” that’s on each movie title’s page that isn’t out on DVD. The idea is, you vote and after enough interest is shown, Turner’s influence can see to it that it is distributed on DVD.

    I highly recommend putting in your two cents. All it takes is one click (and your email for simple verification [no vote early and vote often this time]). Here’s one of Eddie’s titles as an example (the poll is on the right side): amp; amp;category=overview

    Check out and vote for all the other movies you want to see in print!

    Thanks!! Eddie Cantor’s work deserves to be in distribution!

  7. Here is a complete list of Eddie’s films on the TCM website. Go ahead and “click away” on all his titles some are available on DVD but in my opinion the better ones are not. Have fun and please vote for the titles you would like to see on DVD.

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