5 Black & White Classics For Blu-Ray

5 Black & White Classics for Blu-rayIt is with a great sigh of relief that studios have realized the entertainment and preservation value of transferring many of the old black and white classics to Blu-ray.  The accomplishment is two-fold.  First, it keeps these movies from falling into obscurity.  They are now re-marketed, and quite often, these films gain a new following from new audiences.  Second, it cleans up an otherwise grainy picture littered with ‘visual noise.’  Now there are far more than five films that need to make their Blu-ray debut, however, below are five films that made an impression on Hollywood and viewers across the country.  In no particular order, let us take a look at these landmark films.

The Marx Bros.

The Marx Bros.

Okay, so I’m cheating right off the bat as this isn’t one movie, but these comedic classics still have me in stitches today, even after watching them numerous times.  Truth be told, it’s too difficult to narrow down to one Marx Brothers film.  There’s A Night in Casablanca, A Day at the Races, Duck Soup…the list just goes on.  I have yet to come across an actor or comedian today who can equal the lightning-quick wit of Groucho, the piano prowess of Chico or the actions-speak-louder-than-words delivery of Harpo (not to mention his talent on the angelic instrument bearing his namesake).  Heck, even Zeppo would join the fray on occasion and still these extremely talented siblings who got their start in vaudeville never disappointed.  Whether it was seeking treasure or trying to help a couple in love find their happiness, these guys always found themselves in a predicament where the resolution often involved mockery, ignorance, the occasional con, and unlimited laughability.  When someone asks me which film I recommend, that’s like showing me a dozen European sports cars and asking me to choose one.  I can’t do it!  A Night in Casablanca was the first Marx Brothers film I saw so that one holds a special place for me, but you really cannot go wrong with any of these. 


The Best Years of Our Lives

The Best Years of Our Lives

This film was an Oscar cache.  Nominated for nine of the golden statues, The Best Years of Our Lives walked away with eight; Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Writing, Best Supporting Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Music, and finally an honorary Oscar for Harold Russell’s work done in the film (Russell lost both of his hands while in the U.S. Army).  This 1946 film portrays lives of three World War II vets who return home after the conflict to resume their civilian lives in the States.  As we often see on the news today with Iraq and Afghan veterans, this is no easy task.  Families can grow apart, relationships divide, work is hard to come by and then there is the case of post traumatic stress syndrome.  Any one of these hurdles is a demon in and of itself, but try adjusting to normality after living through an experience where people shot at you and death and carnage was all around.  It becomes blatantly apparent why one would have trouble doing a one-eighty and putting all that behind them.  Starring Dana Andrews, Virginia Mayo, Frederic March, Teresa Wright and Harold Russell, this timeless piece is one that should be at the forefront of Blu-ray transfer to-do list. 


Sargeant York 

Sergeant York

Not many films contain subject matter of The Great War, or World War I as most know it.  Director Howard Hawks took a gamble on it which features the story of WWI veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, Sgt. Alvin C. York.  Starring Hollywood legend Gary Cooper, this movie begins with York’s troubled days as a drunken handyman/farmer with a crack shot living in the hills of Tennessee.  The rural simpleton eventually gets drafted by the United States Army but goes in as a conscientious objector due to his faith in God and disbelief in killing a fellow human being.  The doughboy eventually finds his footing in the military after some considerable soul searching.  York possessed dead-eye accuracy with his rifle and was armed with unparalleled patriotism and courage.  The summation of these attributes led to the killing of 28 German soldiers (all by York) and the capture of over 130 more.  His actions in France are still heralded to this day.  Though some of the scenes in the film are a little melodramatic and somewhat fake by today’s film standards, the movie is still a great production that can be appreciated by audiences.


 Citizen Kane

Citizen Kane

If you were to take a critics’ nationwide top ten list of the greatest American films of all time, Citizen Kane would be on there.  This movie was a visual masterpiece of its day, directed by Orson Welles who also starred in the picture as detached child turned industrialist, Charles Foster Kane.  Kane owns a newspaper that earns him millions in financial wealth.  Throughout the film, which is uniquely told through a series of flashbacks, we witness this rise to fortune but also Kane’s fall from grace.  He has the power to sway public opinion through the media outlet of his publication, yet his relationship struggles are an uphill battle.  Despite the mass amounts of money Kane accumulates in his life and the rich manor upon which he resides, his final days are of destitution in a seemingly unwanted solitude; proof of the old adage that money can’t buy you everything.  This dramatic tale is loosely based around Welles’ real life in addition to that of newspaper mogul, William Randolph Hearst.  


Pride of the Yankees

The Pride of the Yankees

Another Gary Cooper classic, you don’t have to be a Yankees fan to appreciate the real life story of this film.  Focused around the life of baseball hall of famer Lou Gehrig, director Sam Wood helped create this heart-warming and sometimes tear-jerking movie of baseball’s original Iron Horse.  Born to German immigrants, the story covers Gehrig’s rise through the unwritten ranks in the Yankees organization as well as his marriage and accomplishments off the field.  After 2,130 consecutive games on the field and a list of impressive stats to boot, Gehrig made his famous farewell speech, dubbing himself ‘the luckiest man on earth.’  Gary Cooper delivers the same speech, verbatim, with stubborn optimism while his physical likeness to Gehrig only added to the authenticity of the film.  The cast also features Walter Brennan, Teresa Wright and a rare glimpse of Babe Ruth as himself. 


So there you have it.  Are there more than just five great black and white oldies that need to make the transition to Blu-ray?  Of course.  The original King Kong with Fay Wray comes to mind, but these aforementioned films are classics that just cannot be overlooked and are certainly worthy of the lengthy, involved restoration process needed for films that aged to make it to today’s greatest movie-watching format.  If it worked for Casablanca, it will work for these titles too. 


3 Responses to “5 Black & White Classics For Blu-Ray”

  1. Loot

    Wow, you did some research. I’m sure there are many others people deem to be in the top 5, but these are fantastic and truly unforgettable films. While it’s not B&W,if they can only get Singing in the Rain on Blu-ray, I’ll be a happy camper. The Pride of the Yankees and Sargeant York really tug at your heart and stir emotion in you. If anyone hasn’t seen any of these, be sure to make time to view them.

  2. Bob Ignizio

    While the major studios have been slow to put their classic properties into high def formats, be it physical mediums like Blu Ray or downloadable/streamable HD files, there is at least one company making a valiant effort to get their back catalog out on Blu Ray. The Criterion Collection has put out Blu Ray versions of several black & white classics, including Polanski’s ‘Repulsion’, Fellini’s ‘8 1/2’, Carol Reed’s ‘The Third Man’, Kurosawa’s ‘Yojimbo’, Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’, Alain Resnais’ ‘Last Year At Marienbad’, and Truffaut’s ‘The 400 Blows’. All these are essential viewing for anyone who takes film seriously, and are generally considered to be among the best movies of all time. And I’d wager a lot of folks reading this still haven’t seen most of them. So while we wait for the admittedly worthy films listed above to get their high def releases, check these movies out. You can see the full Criterion blu-ray catalog and order titles at a discount here: http://www.criterion.com/library/bluray

  3. Gregg

    I found out an interesting fact today about the filming of “The Pride of the Yankees.” Gary Cooper is right-handed. He tried time and again but could not get a lefty swing down (Gehrig was left-handed). In an effort to retain authenticity and make it look like Cooper could swing left, they sewed the NY on the opposite side of the jersey for scenes at the plate. He kept his right-handed swing and would run to third after making contact with the ball. When the film was flipped, viola! It looked like he had Gehrig’s swing and was running to first. (thanks Fred!)

    As for “King Kong,” the director was a pilot in WWI. He eventually established the Polish Air Force and then came home to film “King Kong.” All in a day’s work, eh? (thanks to Mark on this one)