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It always bothers me to see a business shut down. Even if I didn't shop at the business I wonder about the owner, the employees, the excitement of opening up the doors for the first time, the rush of customers, the dollar bill framed behind the counter. The meeting with the bank, the suppliers, the shop-lifters, the long hours, the re-sorting, re-stocking, etc. And now the business is reduced to one lone employee (usually the owner) and one last shot of "clearance price glory" in hopes of squeezing the last drop of blood from the stone until the owner locks the door for the last time and shuffles away.

For some reason, I feel the same way about Public Domain films. Yes, I've talked many times about my love for something cheap. If I can get it on sale all the better and if I can get it on sale for even less - even MORE the better. Public Domain films allow me that moment of glory. That: "HA! I'm getting this film for CHEAP! Hahahahahahaha!" And, okay, I'll admit it. Some of it is crap on a shingle - barely watchable - but then I think of that business.

Over the past year I have watched over 100 Public Domain Films. I have forced myself to wade through crap to find that gem and, occasionally I DO find that gem. I convince myself I'm not wasting my time watching films like "Gandhi" or "Casablanca" or "Schindler's List." I'm watching films like: "Uranium Conspiracy" and "Border Cop" and "Mr. Scarface."

But what I'm finding is that I have a stronger affinity towards these films. First, they're like old friends. You would be amazed at who you see pop up in some of these pictures. Jimmy Stewart's Mom from "It's a Wonderful Life" (Beula Bondi) in the costume epic: "The Black Book" or William Frawley from "I Love Lucy" in the film "The Wild Cat" - a great little potboiler about oil hungry men. You recognize character actors from one film to the next, it's the studio system being played out in front of you. Attractive actresses you've never seen before (and will probably never see again). Yeah, the plots come and go, but soon those actors seem to rise above the fray.

I think what solidifies the affinity to these films, though, is something different. It's back to the first paragraph when I talked about the closing down of the business. When I look at the film: "Sword of Lancelot" (aka "Lancelot and Guinevere") directed and starring and produced by Cornell Wilde you see the blood, sweat and tears that went into this production.

Yeah, sure, some of these were the "B" movie half of a double-feature (when those used to be popular) but still - time, energy, money, skill, passion, went in to make these films. "Sword of Lancelot" in particular. It was obvious that Cornell Wilde (who cast his wife as Guinevere) loved this story and invested his own money into the picture. He put his life on the line, probably literally (as least figuratively), to get this picture made. I think about the opening night, the Oscar buzz, the pats on the back and the champagne corks. I even think of the audience. Not only for this film, but for all the others. The kids looking for an escapist Western. The husband and wife out on a date. The teenager hoping to be blown away by the latest special effects in "Robot Monster." I think of all of them.

I realize that 90% of the people in these Public Domain films are probably dead. Telly Savales, Yul Brynner, William Frawley, George Raft, Steve McQueen, Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore, Boris Karloff - the list can go on forever. And who knew when they signed that lucrative contract, the first day they were on the set, the first time the director yelled "Action," the last shot of the picture, the anticipation of the premiere, the money coming in, etc. that the film they so lovingly shot was now reduced to the equivalent of .25.

Back in 1949 when Anthony Mann directed "The Black Book" - was it already set for him to direct other films like, "The Glenn Miller Story" or "Winchester '73" or "El Cid?" Back in 1949 the .25 cents it cost me to buy this film now probably got you in the door for the double feature AND a popcorn.

I can't help but feel sorry for the brain trust, the actors, the producers, the directors, the editors and the writers. The extras, the grips, the sound guys and the composers. Some of these films may have been their first, their last or even their best. And, again, reduced to the equivalent of .25.

As much as many of these films look and feel like crap and probably should never had seen the light of day, there is still a truth in all these films that belie that paltry purchase price. That truth is in the story-telling and the hard work it took to get there.

Do yourself a favor. Go to your local Dollar Store. Go to the local store that sells DVDs and look for those that are the cheapest you can find. The "50 in one" packs from "Treeline Films." (www.treelinefilms.com) - I don't care if you know what the movie is about - it may be ALL brand new. But sit down and watch one of these films. Think about what went behind the making of it and getting it on the silver screen, think about what a deal you're getting and enjoy.

There's treasure to be found there, for sure, if you just look for it.


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