Digitally MIA is a new Cinematical feature celebrating, remembering and drawing attention to all those orphan movies that are currently not available on DVD or Blu-Ray in the United States. Some of these movies may have once been available on VHS or Laserdisc, or available as an import or a bootleg, but an official U.S. release -- which would reach the widest audience -- remains elusive.
The movies I'm most jonesing to see this week are Fritz Lang's final two films in America, While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Both were produced at RKO Pictures, in black-and-white, in widescreen (SuperScope) and released just about four months apart. Even if you can get your hands on one of the old videotapes, you probably won't get a chance to see them letterboxed/widescreen. Dana Andrews stars in both, and I believe that both were produced with a "B" movie budget. After these movies, Lang went back Germany for the first time in over two decades; there he made his wonderful "Indian Epic," The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb (both 1959), and then The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) before packing it in and calling it a career.
While the City Sleeps may be one of the great newspaper movies. The story begins when a media mogul dies, and his son (Vincent Price) establishes a new job of "executive director," promising to promote the most qualified person for the job, preferably the person who can solve the mystery of the "Lipstick Killings." Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Mobley (Andrews) looks like the one most qualified to catch the killer, but the heads of the newspaper, wire service and photo department are each in line for the top job, and each will do anything to get it. The terrific cast also includes Rhonda Fleming, Ida Lupino, Mae Marsh, George Sanders, Thomas Mitchell, and John Drew Barrymore (Drew's dad).
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt suffered a terrible remake in 2009, starring Michael Douglas, Amber Tamblyn and Jesse Metcalfe, and directed by Peter Hyams; it currently has a 4% on Rotten Tomatoes. This might have been a good opportunity to release the original, but it did not happen. It's a good Langian plotline, with a writer (Andrews) who sets himself up for a murder rap in order to expose the fallacies of circumstantial evidence. Unfortunately, his only link to his true innocence becomes lost, and he finds himself in trouble for real. Joan Fontaine co-stars in one of her last great theatrical roles, before descending into TV and "B" movies.
Currently Warner Home Video owns the RKO library, and so we're waiting on them for a DVD release. It seems pretty obvious that the two movies belong together, in a box set or as a double feature; perhaps we can hope for their inclusion on one of the upcoming film noir sets. Or, and perhaps more likely, we can watch for them as one of the Warner Archive releases. (Lang's great 1952 Western Rancho Notorious was recently released on that label.)
Have you seen either of these movies, readers? Please weigh in!