There, right beside the 20 Items Or Less checkout line, buried in the back of a deep discount $4.88 display, sat a lonely copy of one of the finest American films ever made.
I figured it had to be some sort of mistake.
Back in the home entertainment department of this particular Big Box Store, they were selling all sorts of freshly minted garbage for upwards of 20 bucks.
Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, two legends of cinema in their most influential film together, one of the most electrifying movies of the Civil Rights era...
... Reduced to the bargain bin.
In The Heat of the Night, winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, 1967. Five Oscars total that year, three Golden Globes, and scores of other, lesser known awards.
All for a whopping four dollars and change.
They no longer call you MISTER Tibbs, Mr. Poitier.
They call you an impulse buy.
* * * *So what?
If Jessica Alba's tits (which is used as an example not to knock the actress's knockers - they are indeed some very fine breasts) sell better than your powerful, ancient performance, well, you belong in that cardboard display, next to the overstock copies of Dodgeball, Mr. Poitier.
Hell, the movie business has never been about actual actors or awards or screen-writing. No business subsists as art. And the studios? They control the ebb and flow of cinematic art, its mass production, distribution, and subsequent sale.
But so what?
Big box stores are experts at moving mass-produced, distributed things, even if it means sticking cinematic masterpieces next to the bags of potato chips, in the hope that some schmuck with a debit card will come along, recognize the DVD, and gobble it up like any other product.
Who wants to watch some old movie anyway? A 40 year-old movie?
Even at $4.88, it'll still make somebody a profit, even if it's marked down further, to ten percent of cost.
And some of that will go to the owner of the original master print, some of that will go to the distributor, and a good chunk of that will go to the Big Box Store. And then there's the manufacturing costs, the scant money paid to those Southeast Asian factory workers who actually create the disc, the plastic cover, and the cardboard inserts...
But that's Hollywood for ya. Glitzy and oh so glamorous. After all, nothing screams Show Business quite like a cardboard box full of marked down, forgotten DVDs.
* * * *
And the score goes to me, the debit card wielding schmuck of the day.
I just couldn't leave a classic piece of American cinema to rot in that cardboard display, especially for $4.88.
Some folks are suckers for fashion. Some for trends. And some, like me, are suckers for good films.
And some folks are just suckers.
- # # #-
* NOTE - Warren Oates (1928-1982) remains one of the most widely-recognized American character actors of all time, with roles in such films as In The Heat of the Night, The Wild Bunch, and, yes, even as the mean ol' Sarge in the Bill Murray vehicle, Stripes.
He guest-starred on just about every classic American television show from that period, from Gunsmoke to Rawhide to Bonanza, from The Twilight Zone to The Fugitive. I have yet to meet a single person born before 1980 who doesn't recognize the guy's face from some Western, horror flick, or TV show.
And for the record, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, one of Oates's few leading roles, is a thousand times more badass than anything most Film Studies profs will ever show in class.