Founded by two Harvard students in 1956, Janus Films was one of the first distributors to bring what are now regarded as the masterpieces of world cinema to American audiences. The cultural mores and aesthetic presented in the films distributed by Janus provided a refreshing alternative to the rote epics and period pieces produced in Hollywood in the late fifties and early sixties. Films like Accattone (Pasolini, 1961), Zero For Conduct (Vigo, 1933), and Nights of Cabiria (Fellini, 1957) exposed American audiences to radically different, European ideas about sex and social politics. Thousands of young American cinephiles saw their first foreign films in theatres playing Janus releases. Such international classics as Kenji Mizoguchi’s Street of Shame (1956), Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (1951) and Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960) introduced American audiences to Japanese and European filmmaking and changed the course of American movie-going for decades to come. The films of Kurosawa, distributed by Janus, had a direct impact on American cinema, influencing directors such as Sam Peckinpah, John Sturges and George Lucas.
Shortly after actors Bryant Haliday and Cyrus Harvey Jr. converted the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the Fifty-fifth Street Playhouse in New York into art film movie houses, they widened their scope to include distribution. Haliday and Harvey screened and distributed Janus titles until 1966, when they sold the company to partners Saul Turell and William Becker. In 2006, Janus Films celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with the release of a DVD boxed set, Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films, and a year later Janus donated its film collection to the Harvard Film Archive.
The collection is comprised of over 2,500 prints and negatives. Researchers interested in the history of art house cinema in the United States will find this collection an essential resource. Some of the titles included in the Janus Film collection are classics such as Dino Risi’s Love and Larceny (1960) and A Director's Notebook (1953), Bergman’s Devil’s Wanton (1949), Andrej Wajda’s Siberian Lady Macbeth (1961), Andrej Tarkovsky’s My Name is Ivan (1963), Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr, (1932), and Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s Don Quixote (1933).