The major studios are still quite slow to offer DVD releases of older movies, which these days can mean anything pre-1980. Instead, their vast film libraries gather dust as the fans most interested in such titles grow older themselves and eventually pass on.

I understand the economic reasons for releasing and rereleasing A-list titles on DVD, but to a film buff like me, it seems criminal to have so many titles out of circulation decade after decade.

At the moment, Fox and Warner are earnestly getting older titles out there. Last week Fox issued "The Carmen Miranda Collection," and Warner came out with several Frank Sinatra box sets last month — all bringing many titles to DVD for the first time, and several that marked their debut on any home-video format.

And every once in awhile, an independent label negotiates to pick up a studio film that has been neglected, as with the Leslie Caron musical "Fanny," a Warner Bros. film released last week by Image Entertainment, and the Barbara Stanwyck Western "The Furies," a Paramount Pictures production that the Criterion Collection also issued last week.

But here's an idea I wish more independents would aggressively pursue. Legend Films — which up to now has been primarily involved in colorizing classic black-and-white pictures — recently licensed more than 30 films from Paramount for DVD release. Half are out now and the rest arrive next month.

None of these titles has been on DVD before, and some have never been on home video. The prints are uniformly excellent transfers (widescreen where applicable), although the only extras are chapters and trailers. Not that fans will care. We're just happy to see these movies being made available.

Among the best are the Peter Sellers comedy-drama "The Optimists" (1973); the family comedy "Rhubarb" (1951), about a baseball team inherited by a cat; the John Sayles teen picture "Baby, It's You" (1983); Jackie Gleason's dramatic turn in "Papa's Delicate Condition" (1962); a pair of very good but largely forgotten Shirley MacLaine films, "Desperate Characters" and "The Possession of Joel Delaney"; and a pair of British horror pictures, "The Skull" (1965), with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, and Hammer Films' "The Man Who Could Cheat Death" (1959).

Of course, some of Legend's choices are far from classics — the unfunny gay farce "Partners" (1982), with Ryan O'Neal and John Hurt; the dull disaster-flick remake, "Hurricane" (1979), with Mia Farrow and Jason Robards.

But many more are gems.

"Paramount was open to the idea," said Legend's PR rep Maria Mason, providing Legend with a list of titles to choose from. A few are being sold exclusively at Best Buy, but most can be found at the usual outlets, including such online stores as Amazon.com.

Mason said two titles a lot of critics are asking to review are "Houdini" (1953), the Hollywoodized biography starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, and "Mandingo" (1975), the controversial, overheated tale of slave treatment prior to the Civil War.

Also among the many titles is the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis film "Money From Home" (1953) — which begs the question, why was it noticeably absent from the Martin & Lewis collection released by Paramount last year? (Now the only M&L film missing from DVD is "Three Ring Circus.")

For a complete list, go to www.legendfilms.net.

Let's hope these sell well. Then maybe we'll get more.

And perhaps other studios will sit up and take notice.


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