Sales receipts for Walt Disney's videocassette release of "Fantasia" multiplied faster over the holidays than the horde of pail-toting brooms conjured up by the Sorcerer's Apprentice. Unavailable on videocassette until November, "Fantasia" has already sold 13 million units to distributors, forcing Disney at one point to stop taking orders because copies couldn't be made fast enough.
The success of the Disney classic, however, raises questions for film lovers about other vintage movies that have never been released on videocassette:
*"Annie Get Your Gun," the 1950 film version of the Irving Berlin Wild West musical with Betty Hutton and Howard Keel.
*"Cavalcade," the 1933 best-picture Oscar winner.
*"For Whom the Bell Tolls," the 1943 version of the Hemingway classic starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman.
*"Ma and Pa Kettle," starring Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride (1949).
*"The Wings of Eagles," the 1957 film directed by John Ford starring John Wayne as a World War I aviator.
"When home video began a dozen years ago, there were people painting rosy pictures of the fact that someday old-movie buffs would have this wonderful world of videos and stores where you could go and get anything you wanted and every movie would be out and wouldn't that be great," said film historian and critic Leonard Maltin, who edits an annual TV movie and video guide of 19,000 titles.
"It hasn't happened. And it's not going to happen, because many of the big distributors just don't want to be bothered by old movies."
Studio archives are stocked with thousands upon thousands of unreleased movie titles. MGM-UA Home Video controls the world's largest film library, with 4,000 MGM-UA and pre-1949 Warner Bros. movie titles. Of those, 3,000 have not been released on video. Of Republic Pictures Home Video's 1,400 movies and serials, 900 are not on video. Of Turner Home Entertainment's 757 RKO films, 500 are not on video.
And those video companies are considered far and away the leaders in releasing old titles. RCA-Columbia Pictures Home Video, MCA-Universal Home Video and CBS-Fox Video have all been accused of sitting on their vast film assets.
"Certainly there's a reason for that rap," said CBS-Fox marketing director Mindy Pickard. "We've got new titles at CBS-Fox that are so incredible [that] we do a lot of business on them. There's only so much you can work on, only so many titles the market can bear."
"Fantasia," one of the titles most requested by consumers before its video release, was finally put out on video because the Disney studio is planning to bring "Fantasia" back to theaters with new animated segments -- Walt Disney's original concept for the film, before its poor initial showing at the box office. "Fantasia" will be available to video distributors only through January before being pulled off the market, never to be released in its current form again, the studio says.
Many classic movie titles are regularly aired on television because the financial rewards are higher. Those same films, however, are often kept off the video market because studios believe there isn't a big enough audience interested in owning those movies to justify the expense of transferring, packaging and marketing them.