Some terrific vintage movies have made their way to DVD, including a pair of stunning black-and-white foreign films, and new titles from the manufacture-on-demand Warner Archives website.
"Araya" (Milestone, 1959, b/w, $29.95). Here's a little documentary that practically defines the term "art film," a deceptively simple tone poem that quietly follows a day in the life of peasants working in a small, arid Venezuelan peninsula devoted to salt mining.
Day in and day out, they travel to the salt marsh, where they cut and clean the salt, then crush and mold it into huge pyramids before it is sold for a pittance by the basketful. The grueling work is done entirely by hand, with shovels and wheelbarrows — no machinery — for several hours at a time, sometimes damaging their skin. At the end of the film, however, mechanized means of gathering the salt arrive and a way of life is obviously on the verge of extinction.
Araya's complicated and engrossing history is also chronicled in the film's narration, wrapping up a package that makes for fascinating viewing during an all-too-short 82 minutes.
This is the only feature by Venezuelan filmmaker Margot Benacerraf, who also made two shorts (her first, a documentary on Venezuelan painter "Reveron," is also here). And among the bonus features are three featurettes on Benacerraf, including a 2007 update of Araya, as she revisits the area she filmed in 1957 and observes the mechanization that is now in place.
Extras: widescreen, in Spanish with English subtitles, audio commentary (with Benacerraf), short 1953 film: "Reveron" (which also has a Benacerraf commentary), featurettes, trailer; DVD-Rom applications
"Shoeshine" (eOne, 1946, b/w, $29.98). An early example of European neo-realism, this stark drama is about two young boys in post-war Rome, struggling to earn money so they can buy a horse. On the streets, they shine shoes of American soldiers, until, anxious to build up their savings, they fall in with crooks and are framed for a burglary they did not commit.
Once in juvenile detention, the boys are separated and warned to keep silent by the real thieves. But a deception by their captors leads one of the boys to rat out his comrades, setting up a series of escalating incidents that lead to tragedy.
Vividly and artfully directed by Vittorio De Sica two years before his most significant triumph, "The Bicycle Thief" (considered one of the best foreign films ever), "Shoeshine" is powerfully moving and was so admired when it played in America that it won a special Oscar before the foreign-language Academy Award was created.
Extras: full frame, in Italian with English subtitles, audio commentary, trailer
"So Goes My Love" (Warner Archive, 1946, b/w, $19.95).
"The Squall" (Warner Archive, 1929, b/w, $19.95).
"New Morals for Old" (Warner Archive, 1932, b/w, $19.95). This trio of Myrna Loy films has been added to the www.wbshop.com website (click on "Warner Archive") — one made when she was a top-billed star in her early 40s and two when she was a struggling 20-something in exotic supporting roles. (And if you're a Loy fan, there are a great number of her films on the site.)
"So Goes My Love" boasts Loy at the top of her game as a Boston farm girl in the 1860s who travels to Brooklyn, N.Y., to find a rich husband. Instead, she falls for eccentric inventor Don Ameche. Obvious but cute and amusing comedy of manners based on the true-life inventor of the machine gun, the mousetrap, the curling iron and many other useful gizmos. Great fun.
"The Squall" features 24-year-old Loy at her sexiest as Nubi, a man-eating Gypsy who worms her way into the home of a prominent family as a servant, then seduces all the men just for the fun of it. Stilted early sound picture gives Loretta Young and Loy billing after Alice Joyce (who?). Fun to watch two big stars so early in their careers.
"New Morals for Old" gives Loy fifth billing but she's only onscreen about two minutes in a cameo as a neighbor in a French hotel with whom aspiring artist Robert Young has a fling. The film follows Young's character and his sister as they strive to be bohemians as different from their parents as possible, but, of course, in the end wind up just like them.
Extras: full frame