- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Shadows, Lies, and Private Eyes — The Film Noir Collection (5-DVD $49.98), due next week via Warner Home Video, brings five fine films within easy reach. It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

First up is Robert Wise’s gritty, powerful 1949 fight fable The Set-Up, in which erstwhile screen tough guy Robert Ryan scores one of his greatest roles.

Based on Joseph Moncure March’s poem and placed in a stylized slice of urban hell fittingly called Paradise City, “The Set-Up” (like the later “High Noon”) plays out in “real” time, the same 72 minutes it takes for this brief but masterful film to unfold.

Director Wise takes us on an intimate tour of the seedy world of fading fighter Stoker Thompson (Ryan) and its beat-out denizens. When Stoker is told to take a dive by a local gangster, the tension mounts as he struggles to choose between marginally profitable humiliation and (literally) painful redemption.

A terrific ensemble cast, including Audrey Totter as Stoker’s long-suffering spouse; haunting noir lighting and set design; and a decidedly un-Hollywood candor contribute to the film’s artistic success.

According to Mr. Wise, who provides an audio commentary, the movie received greater attention in Europe than it did at home and served as an obvious influence on “Raging Bull” — a major reason why Martin Scorsese also contributes to the commentary. Unfortunately, the tracks were recorded separately, so there’s no interaction between the two auteurs, but both supply their fair share of insights.

With 1950’s The Asphalt Jungle, also included in the five-DVD set, John Huston crafts one of the best heist films ever made. “Jungle” stars a hard-boiled but fatally soft-centered Sterling Hayden, a scene-stealing Sam Jaffe as a fastidious criminal mastermind and Marilyn Monroe in a more modest but still memorable cameo. Warner’s disc includes an archival interview with Mr. Huston, plus a contemporary commentary by co-star James Whitmore and noir movie author Drew Casper.

Completing this essential set are Peggy Cummins and John Dall in Joseph H. Lewis’ edgy 1949 cult caper Gun Crazy; Dick Powell (as shamus Philip Marlowe) and Claire Trevor in Edward Dmytryk’s 1944 Raymond Chandler mystery Murder, My Sweet; and Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and a scheming Kirk Douglas in Jacques Tourneur’s 1947 Out of the Past.

All offer bonus commentaries by noir specialists. The tough-to-top titles are also available individually ($19.97 each).

Tele-video

In TV-to-DVD developments, Paramount Home Video presents two very different approaches to regional crime-solving: David Caruso heads an earnest investigative team in CSI: Miami — The Complete First Season ($89.99), a seven-disc set containing all 25 debut-season episodes, along with featurettes and select audio commentaries.

A decidedly more eccentric crew provokes more mayhem than it prevents in the frequently hilarious Comedy Central series Reno 911!: The Complete First Season ($26.99), careening into area vidstores in a double-disc edition with cast and director commentary, plus alternate and deleted scenes.

Tony Shalhoub strikes, as the eponymous neurotic sleuth, in the quirky crime series Monk: The Complete First Season (Universal Studios Home Video, $59.98), in a four-DVD set equipped with a quintet of Monk-oriented featurettes.

Animated antics

In the animation arena, 20th Century Fox unleashes The Simpsons: The Complete Fourth Season ($49.98), a four-disc collection serving up 22 episodes and a veritable feast of bonus materials, including audio commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes and multi-angle viewing options on select episodes.

Bad boy Bart receives stiff satiric competition from Eric Cartman and the gang in South Park: The Complete Fourth Season (Paramount, $49.99). The three-disc set includes clever mini-commentaries by the show’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

The ‘A’ list

On the live-action comedy front, Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer and friends return for more rude mirth in Barbershop 2: Back in Business (MGM Home Entertainment, $27.98) in a special edition lathered with deleted scenes, outtakes, music videos and audio commentary.

Erika Christensen leads a youthful cast on a comic quest to steal SAT exam answers in The Perfect Score (Paramount, $29.99); the disc incorporates filmmakers’ commentary, featurettes and theatrical trailer.

Reagan remembered

This week, MPI Home Video honors Ronald Reagan with Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator ($39.95, mpihomevideo.com). The double-disc, seven-hour set uses speeches, rare newsreels and candid clips to explore the 40th president’s administration, while offering two hours of bonus material.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Any chance that the old (1950s) Superman shows, with George Reeves, will come out on DVD?

B. Willis, via e-mail

No word yet, though they would be most welcome. A few episodes are still available on VHS via Movies Unlimited (www.moviesunlimited.com).

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002 or e-mail us at: phanmedia@aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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