Out of the blue, Ken Russell‘s controversial The Devils (1971), which Warner Home Video has remastered but refuses to issue on DVD for reasons no one can quite figure, has suddenly turned up on iTunes. This isn’t the full-boat, naked-nun, 111-minute version that played at the IFC Center on 1.25.10, and not the truncated 103-minute version either — it runs 108 minutes and 11 seconds.

And it looks awfully nice — crisp and painterly with that fresh-from-the-lab sheen. It hasn’t looked this spotless and vibrant since it first opened 39 years ago. And in 2.35 to 1, of course. It’s really quite amazing. It’s sitting on my iPhone as we speak. Not quite the format that I would have chosen — you can’t really savor some of the wide-angle compositions, which are quite detailed and contain information that is just too granular and microscopic when seen on such a small screen — but it’s better than nothing. Maybe a DVD will happen down the road.

It was probably remastered for that Warner Home Video DVD that was announced in early 2008 but reversed soon after. The Devils has always been a bit of a hot potato because of its blending of religious symbolism and iconography with scenes of sexual hysteria. It’s a highly intelligent, superbly acted, exquisitely designed historical drama but also one of the most vivid and super-creepy depictions of political evil and religious perversity ever released by a major studio.

So some WHV executive probably suggested in a meeting, “Hey, I know…let’s send it to iTunes! That way we don’t have to deal with packaging and duplication costs and…you know, we can sort of keep it under the counter so to speak as far as reactions from the religious right might be concerned.”

Here’s a 3.29.10 article I wrote about the confusing (or perplexing) Warner Home Video Devils DVD situation. And here’s a 5.26.10 article on the same subject by Adam Balz on Not Coming To A Theatre Near You.

An honorable guy named Sergio wrote about this today on his blog Shadow and Act.