Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films

Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 11:40 am

Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films is the perfect gift for the cinema lover in your life. We’re talking 50 movies on 50 discs from Janus Films, one of the elite names when it comes to distributing art house and foreign titles on DVD. From Hitchcock to Bergman, all your favorites are included, and many customers may find a number of previously undiscovered gems. Originally released in 2006 in honor of Janus Films’ 50th anniversary, this collection will immediately add an air of class to your film library. So throw away those Van Damme DVDs and make room for this collectable box set.

In addition to the 50 films, you’ll also get a 240-page, full-color, hardcover book that includes notes on all 50 films, as well as the history of Janus Films as told by film historian Peter Cowie. The book includes posters and photographs from each movie, as well as providing information about their importance on the world of film. To top things off, master director and total film geek Martin Scorsese provides a written tribute of his own (including his memories of seeing the Janus logo pop up on the art house screens of his youth).

You can purchase Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films at Amazon. The cost may fluctuate, but you can always count on Amazon to offer the lowest price around. We do get a small commission if you buy something, but it goes right back into paying for this site.

If you’re still sitting the fence on whether or not to purchase Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films, let me deliver some cold, hard facts for your perusal:

Order Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films at Amazon.


If you’re wondering who or what Janus Films is, then allow me to enlighten you. Founded in 1956 by Cyrus Harvey Jr. and Bryant Haliday, they were one of the first distributors to expose viewers to cinematic masterpieces from around the globe. At one point, they even owned their own movie theatre in New York City, enabling them to bring visionary works of art and devoted fans together under one roof.

In the age of the Internet and Netflix, we often take for granted how easy it is to own or view foreign and art house films. That wasn’t always the case. Viewers had to scrape and scrounge for every work by Fellini or Bergman, and the sight of the two-headed Janus Films logo–named for the Roman god of gates, doorways, beginnings and endings–was always a welcome sight. From theaters to VHS to DVD, Janus Films has been leading the way for over 50 years. Now owned by the folks behind the Criterion Collection, they continue to expand their library of titles, recently acquiring the home video and domestic theatrical rights to the entire Charlie Chaplin catalogue.


Now here’s the part you’ve really been waiting for: a complete rundown of all the films included in Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films.

The 39 Steps (1935) – Before he came to America, Alfred Hitchcock directed this spy thriller about a Canadian (Robert Donat) who journeys to London, gets mixed up with a woman (Lucie Mannheim) who claims to be a spy shortly before being murdered, and then sets off for Scotland to try and solve the mystery of the thirty-nine steps. Four major film versions have adapted John Buchan’s novel, but this remains the best.

The 400 Blows (1959) – Francois Truffaut helped usher in the French New Wave movement with this tale of a troubled teen growing up in Paris.

Ballad of a Soldier (1959) – On the way home to see his mother on a 6-day pass, a heroic young Russian soldier inspires the masses, helps his fellow soldiers, and falls in love with a girl on a train. Dealing with various forms of love, the landmark Soviet film was directed by Grigori Chukhrai.

Beauty and the Beast (1946) – Based on the popular fairy tale and serving as a major inspiration for the 1991 animated version, Beauty and the Beast tells of the romance between the virtuous Belle and the fearsome Beast, a man cursed to inhabit the body of a hideous creature. Jean Cocteau directs, turning out what’s still regarded as one of the greatest fantasy films ever made.

Black Orpheus (1959) – Set during the pageantry and chaos of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, this Marcel Camus film updates the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Winner of the highest honor at Cannes, it would later be awarded the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Brief Encounter (1945) – Director David Lean explores a scandalous romance in this adaptation of the Noel Coward play, Still Life.

The Fallen Idol (1948) – Also known as The Lost Illusion, this film from Carol Reed (written by Graham Greene) details the relationship between a diplomat’s son and the butler he idolizes. When he thinks he witnesses his hero commit murder, the boy does everything in his power to protect him.

Fires on the Plain (1959) – Dealing with the consequences of war, Kon Ichikawa’s film tells the story of a delirious Japanese soldier wandering through the jungle of the Philippines during the final days of World War II. A powerful look at the human psyche.

Fists in the Pocket (1965) – A young man plague by seizures decides to assist his dysfunctional family by murdering them. Directed by Marco Bellocchio in his feature film debut.

Forbidden Games (1952) – After losing her entire family to Nazi bombing runs, a young French girl befriends a boy, and the duo play a bizarre game to cope with the horrors of war. A compelling tale about the loss of innocence and the toll war takes on civilians. Directed by Rene Clement.

Grand Illusion (1937) – Jean Renoir makes a bold anti-war statement in his film about a group of French soldiers held captive in a German prison camp during World War I.

Häxan (1922) – Combining dark humor with the macabre, this silent film from Benjamin Christensen draws parallels between psychiatric patients of the early 20th century and the so-called “witches” of the Middle Ages.

Ikiru (1952) – Akira Kurosawa delivers one of his many cinematic masterpieces in this story of an aging Japanese bureaucrat dying of stomach cancer and trying to find meaning in his previously empty life.

Il Posto (1961) – A young man travels to Milan and takes a job with a soulless corporation in this satire from Ermanno Olmi. Apparently, people in 1961 didn’t like sitting in a cubicle all day any more than modern-day employees.

The Importance of Being Earnest (1952) – Based on the comedic play from Oscar Wilde, two women think they’re engaged to the same man, but the lucky fellow doesn’t even exist. Presented in Technicolor.

Le Jour se lève (1939) – Two men become involved with the same pair of women, and the result is heartache and murder. Directed by Marcel Carne, the film was later remade as The Long Night with Henry Fonda.

Jules and Jim (1962) – From director Francois Truffaut comes this captivating tale of two friends and their obsession with a woman over a 25-year period. A prime example of the French New Wave, Truffaut uses every directorial trick in the book to dazzle the senses.

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) – A delicious black comedy about a young man’s quest to ascend the social ladder by bumping off those ahead of him. Robert Hamer directs.

Knife in the Water (1962) – Roman Polanski makes his directorial debut with this story about a married couple out for a day of sailing. When they pick up a hitchhiker and invite him along, passions begin to build and tempers flare. Only three characters are present in the entire film, but that only serves to make this psychological thriller even more powerful.

The Lady Vanishes (1938) – A favorite among Hitchcock fans, The Lady Vanishes stars Margaret Lockwood as an independent young woman who takes a train across Europe and gets pulled into a web of lies, intrigue, and danger.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) – Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger co-direct this often comical look at the life of a British officer (Roger Livesey) through three wars. Controversial for its time, especially due to the sympathetic depiction of a German officer. Cinematographer Georges Perinal really outdoes himself.

Loves of a Blonde (1965) – Milos Forman led the Czech New Wave movement with his tale of a young woman’s romance from beginning to end. Nominated for an Academy Award, the first of many for the legendary director.

L’avventura (1960) – When a young woman disappears during a yachting trip, her best friend and lover join forces to find her. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni.

M (1931) – Fritz Lang pioneered the psychological thriller with his story of a pedophile serial killer (Peter Lorre) being pursued by both cops and criminals.

M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) – Jacques Tati directs and stars in this slapstick tale of a pipe-smoking buffoon’s vacation at a resort by the sea. Monsieur Hulot proved a popular character, and he would return to delight audiences in several sequels.

Miss Julie (1951) – Winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes, this Alf Sjoberg masterpiece adapts the 1888 August Strindberg play about the daughter of a Count in the 19th century who begins a relationship with one of the servants on her family’s estate.

Pandora’s Box (1929) – An independent showgirl causes nothing but trouble in this steamy look at the effects of sensuality run rampant. Directed by Georg Wilhelm Pabst.

Pépé le Moko (1937) – An example of poetic realism, this Julien Duvivier film follows the title character as he’s pursued by women, the law, and rivals with ill intent.

Pygmalion (1938) – Based on the George Bernard Shaw comedic play about Professor Henry Higgins and his efforts to turn a Cockney commoner into someone who can pass for a lady of society. Co-directed by Leslie Howard and Anthony Asquith.

Rashomon (1950) – Told from four different perspective, Akira Kurosawa’s groundbreaking film deals with a dead samurai, his raped wife, and the bandit who’s blamed for both crimes. The narrative structure would prove highly influential on later movies.

Richard III (1955) – Laurence Olivier directed, produced, and starred in this legendary adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tale of villainy.

The Rules of the Game (1939) – Set amidst the French upper class prior to World War II, Jean Renoir expands on the comedy of manners and creates a biting social satire. Initially banned by the French government, it has since come to be viewed as one of the greatest films of all time.

Seven Samurai (1954) – Plagued by bandits, a small 16th-century Japanese village hires of group of wandering samurai (ronin) to protect them. Another classic from director Akira Kurosawa, the film has been remade countless times and set in all kinds of genres.

The Seventh Seal (1957) – A knight (Max von Sydow) searches for meaning as Death closes in. Directed by Ingmar Bergman and emulated constantly over the years.

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) – Victor Erice made his directorial debut in this film about a young girl, her nonexistent family life, and a bizarre obsession with Frankenstein’s Monster. Highly critical of post-civil war Spain.

La Strada (1954) – Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, Federico Fellini’s masterpiece tells of a young girl who finds herself sold into the service of a cruel circus strongman.

Summertime (1955) – Katharine Hepburn stars as a lonely American woman who vacations in Venice and finally finds the love of her life. Too bad he’s married. Directed by David Lean.

The Third Man (1949) – Joseph Cotton is Holly Martins, a novelist who travels to postwar Vienna and gets tangled up in the web of his old friend, a seedy and presumably dead individual by the name of Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Directed by Carol Reed.

Three Documentaries (1962) – Saul J. Turrell pays tribute to chase sequences from the silent film era, the female sex symbols of Hollywood, and actor/lawyer/scholar/singer/athlete Paul Robeson. The latter tribute won an Oscar.

Ugetsu (1953) – Directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, this Japanese ghost story is considered one of the greatest achievements of Asian cinema, and its influence on future Japanese filmmakers can’t be stressed enough.

Umberto D. (1952) – Vittoria De Sica’s heartbreaking tale of an elderly man trying seeking food, shelter, and friendship during Italy’s postwar years. Filmed with a cast of nonprofessional actors.

The Virgin Spring (1960) – When his daughter is raped and murdered, a father in medieval Sweden plans his revenge. Winner of the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Viridiana (1961) – Luis Bunuel presents this tale of a young nun whose faith is tested by an endless succession of paupers and her lecherous uncle.

The Wages of Fear (1953) – Four men are offered a new life and a way out of a South American hellhole. All they have to do is participate in a suicide mission involving driving two trucks loaded with unstable dynamite through mountains and jungle. Henri-Georges Clouzot directs this tension-filled classic.

The White Sheik (1952) – Federico Fellini’s first solo effort as a director, this charming comedy follows a small town couple on their honeymoon to Rome. When the wife sneaks off to try and meet a soap opera sex symbol, the flustered husband must try and conceal her disappearance from his relatives.

Wild Strawberries (1957) – Ingmar Bergman burst to the forefront of international cinema with the reflective tale of an elderly physician facing the last days of his life. Emotionally complex and beautifully shot.

Click here to order Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films from Amazon.


When this DVD collection was released, a great deal of praise was heaped on it from critics. Here’s a sampling:

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 24th, 2010 at 11:40 am and is filed under Amazon Deals, Good Movies, New DVD Releases, Thoughts on Film. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films”

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July 20, 2010

Chris Durham

Wow, it wasn’t till I read this list that I realized how many great films Janus Films was behind. I knew that they were tied to Kurosawa, but I had forgotten all of the other great films. What a great set.


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