This week in the New York Times, I do a little rooting around in the mixed bag that is the Fox Cinema Archive Collection, the manufactured-on-demand program that Twentieth Century Fox started several months ago in response to the Warner Archive Collection. The selection includes over a hundred titles by now (perhaps the easiest way to search through them is this link to ClassixFlix, though the other major online movie retailers also carry them), and there are some marvelous things in there, including William K. Howard’s great 1933 “The Power and the Glory,” presented in the excellent restoration that UCLA did some years ago.
But much of the selection seems arbitrary — is there really more demand for minor Clifton Webb vehicles than major Raoul Walsh films? — and the quality of the releases varies quite a bit. It’s paradoxical, to say the least, that the studio that pioneered CinemaScope should also be the last to be releasing pan-and-scan transfers to DVD, as they’ve done with Walsh’s “A Private’s Affair,” George Sherman’s “Son of Robin Hood,” William Witney’s “Secret of the Purple Reef,” and several others. Gregory Ratoff’s 1937 “Lancer Spy” (not a great movie, but interesting as the American debut of Fox stalwart George Sanders) is offered in a chopped-up reissue version missing around ten minutes; Delmer Daves’s Technicolor “Treasure of the Golden Condor” looks like it came from a DeLuxe Color print left out in the sun too long — and so on and so forth. That’s a lot of compromise to accept for a list price of $19.95.
One fine discovery I’ve made among the Fox titles is William A. Seiter’s “The Daring Young Man,” a 1935 romantic comedy starring James Dunn and Mae Clarke as rival newspaper reporters, filmed with Seiter’s usual verve and affection for his actors. For the last few months, I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding with Jessica Niblo, the youngest daughter of the gifted Mr. Seiter and his wife, the radiant Marian Nixon, and now she’s published “Movietown Baby Grows Up,” a wonderfully warm account of growing up in the Hollywood of the 30s and 40s, copiously illustrated with stills and family photos. Jessica is making copies available through her Facebook page, here, and this little volume is a pure delight (at least up to the last chapter, which is a reprint of my Film Comment column on Seiter). It’s another step toward getting Seiter (“Willie” to his friends) the recognition he deserves.