Sean’s Thoughts On The Latest Wave Of Criterion Titles Going Out Of Print

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Sometimes Criterion titles quietly fall out of print only to wind up going for insane amounts of money on the Internet, but other times the nice folks at Criterion offer a thoughtful tip to us fans that some of their masterpieces will soon be off their shelves to (maybe) never be back again.

Last week they posted an announcement in the Current alerting us to some titles going out of print effective March 31st. One was the lesser known Mafioso, directed by Alberto Lattuada from 1962, and another was Alain Resnais’ perennially confounding 1961 masterpiece Last Year at Marienbad, but the rest of the soon-to-be OOP titles were from the French master of the slow-burn crime drama, and noted cowboy hat aficionado, Jean-Pierre Melville including Army of Shadows; Le cercle rouge; Le doulos; and Leon Morin, Priest.

At the time of this post none of them are still available through Criterion’s website though Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sites still seem to have stock left and will obviously continue to sell them until they run out. This leaves Les enfants terribles, Le deuxième soufflé, and Le Samouraï as the only Melville titles still in print through Criterion as one other Melville film, Bob le flambeur, has been out of print for some time now.

Personally it’s a little disconcerting that their future status in the collection is being left up in the air. Though Criterion’s post assures that they “hope to relicense the films so that they can rejoin the collection sometime in the future” it’s sad to see these absolute treasures fall into relative unavailability. Perhaps they will be snatched up by another distributor like StudioCanal did once the Criterion editions of Ran, Contempt, and The Third Man went out of print, but there’s nothing like the real thing.

In terms of what’s the most bang for your buck if you can find it, I’d say it’s Le cercle rouge. The slow meticulous build up to the end heist is masterful, and the film is rounded out by an amazing cast with an appropriately steely performance by Alain Delon as a master thief freshly sprung from prison, Gian Maria Volonté as a resilient escapee, and Yves Montand as a lowly alcoholic ex-cop that all join forces for one final payday.

If it’s a shear, heartbreaking masterpiece you want, find yourself a copy of Army of Shadows. Originally released in 1969 but not in the States until 2006, the semi-autobiographical film is an arresting look at the volatile state of the French Resistance during World War II. Not to overdo it here, but it might just be one of my favorite Criterion releases ever – the commentary by film historian Ginette Vincendeau is worth the price alone, not to mention the absolutely towering performance by Simone Signoret.

What might this mean for a film like Le Samouraï falling out of print as well? It’s a title that has been long speculated to be given a Blu-ray upgrade, but the fact that these other Melville films are going away may put it in jeopardy. On the other hand it could push Criterion to bump it to the forefront in an effort to put out an edition of a Melville film with the highest technical quality possible to make up for the lack of films still available.

We’ll keep you posted, and get them while you still can folks, they’re all worth it!

UPDATE: It looks like StudioCanal did get their hands on a few of the Melville titles…in the UK. Their edition of Le cercle rouge has been out for awhile, and Army of Shadows is being released on April 8th. They’ve even got Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad too. It remains to be seen whether any of the same releases will come out stateside, but we’ll definitely keep you posted.

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