- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Quite possibly the best film to emerge from the civil-rights era, if not the best-known, 1964’s Nothing But a Man makes its overdue digital debut this week in a pristine, full-screen edition via New Video ($26.95). It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

Filmed with a naturalistic intimacy that virtually places the viewer in the position of voyeur, the movie centers on Duff (Ivan Dixon), a rootless black American railroad worker who develops an unexpected romance with sensitive, educated teacher Josie (jazz singer Abbey Lincoln).

Duff’s sincere attempts to settle down in rural Alabama are soon undermined on all sides, not only by white racists’ constant slights and the institutionalized oppression at his new non-unionized sawmill job, but by Josie’s minister father (Stanley Green), who deems Duff a lower-class troublemaker.

Director Michael Roemer and co-writer Robert Young incorporate several unforgettable vignettes, most strikingly Duff’s ill-advised visit with his own estranged dad (Julius Harris), already, at age 48, an embittered old man mired in alcohol, anger and self-pity.

But at core is the film’s unblinking look at the entire Southern small-town canvas that separates “Nothing But a Man” from its more literally black-and-white issue-focused contemporaneous movie brethren.

The ace supporting cast includes such little-known, later-ascendant actors as Yaphet Kotto and Gloria Foster, who, like the leads, hit nary a false note. DVD extras include revealing “40 Years Later” interviews with filmmakers Roemer and Young, actors Dixon, Lincoln, and Harris (incredibly enough a non-professional at the time who had been goaded into auditioning for the role), the short film “Portrait of Abbey” and an informative, photo-illustrated booklet with extensive liner notes by journalist Jim Davidson.

At once of its time and timeless, “Nothing But a Man” still rings with stinging truths.

Tele-video

In fresh TV-to-DVD developments, sitcoms are represented by the two-disc Ellen DeGeneres showcase Ellen: The Complete Season One (A&E; Home Video, $39.95), In Living Color: Season Two (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, $49.98) — a four-disc Wayans brothers’ bonanza, with 26 episodes, writers’ audio commentary, featurettes and more — and Marla Gibbs and Jackee Harry in the triple-disc 1980s series 227 (Columbia/TriStar, $29.95), also arriving with bonus featurettes.

MPI Home Video debuts the TV comedy concert George Carlin: Complaints & Grievances ($19.98), while the double-disc Mr. Bean: The Animated Series (A&E;, $29.95) continues the cartoon misadventures of the bumbling antihero created by Rowan Atkinson.

Elsewhere, the four-disc The Inspector Lynley Mysteries (WGBH Boston Video, $39.98) contains four feature-length installments from that BBC “Mystery!” series starring Nathaniel Parker and Sharon Small; the same label issues the “Masterpiece Theatre” suspense drama Painted Lady ($19.95), with Helen Mirren.

In other Brit mystery news, MPI Home Video unveils the three-disc The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes DVD Collection ($39.98), toplining Jeremy Brett as the eponymous sleuth. The set includes director’s audio commentary, interviews and a bonus “Sherlock Museum” short.

Closer to home, MPI continues the spooky adventures of vampire Barnabas Collins and crew in the four-disc Dark Shadows DVD Collection 14 ($59.98), assembling 40 episodes plus extras, while the edgy police series Homicide: Life on the Street: The Complete Season 5 (A&E;, $99.95) arrives in a six-disc set bolstered by bonus interviews, writers’ commentary and more.

The ‘A’ list

Offbeat screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, of “Adaptation” and “Being John Malkovich” fame, strikes again with the surreal Jim Carrey/Kate Winslet romantic comedy Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Universal Studios Home Video, $29.98) in a deluxe edition with audio commentary by Mr. Kaufman and director Michel Gondry, behind-the scenes segments, deleted scenes and more.

Subtlety does not prove to be The Rock’s forte in Kevin Bray’s skull-busting remake Walking Tall (MGM Home Entertainment, $27.98), muscling into area vidstores in a bonus-packed edition offering two audio commentary tracks, a stunts featurette, alternate ending and more.

In a more earnest historical action vein, Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents The Alamo ($29.99), starring Dennis Quaid, Jason Patric, and Billy Bob Thornton (as Davy Crockett), in separate widescreen and full-screen editions with deleted scenes and featurettes.

Collectors’ corner

Blue Underground (blue-underground.com) debuts a duo of 1970s David Carradine action fests, the speed-crazed demolition derby Cannonball and the philosophical martial-arts epic Circle of Iron, based on a story by the late Bruce Lee. The discs, tagged at $19.98 each, come complete with ample extras, from audio commentaries to new cast interviews and featurettes.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Is the Mickey Spillane movie Kiss Me Deadly on DVD?

J. Kantor, via e-mail

Robert Aldrich’s brilliantly unorthodox 1955 adaptation (reportedly not beloved by author Spillane) is available via MGM Home Entertainment at Amazon.com ($13.01), among other outlets.

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

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