- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Not your typical 1970s Italian crime movie, director and co-writer Damiano Damiani’s complex 1974 thriller How to Kill a Judge, new this week from Blue Underground ($19.95), rates with the best of Costa-Gavras’ vintage political films, from “Z” to “Missing.” It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

At once a mystery and a meditation on the interplay between reel and real life, “How to Kill a Judge” casts Franco Nero as Giacomo Solaris, a filmmaker whose latest movie exhibits intentional parallels to the sometimes suspicious career of Sicilian prosecutor Traini (Marco Guglielmi).

Traini initially is more amused than upset by the resultant furor the film sets off in the media, among rivals and within his own ranks. However, when the prosecutor is felled by an assassin’s bullet, an act seemingly “inspired” by Solaris’ film, the director turns amateur detective in a bid to clear his name and uncover the elusive truth.

“How to Kill a Judge” proffers suspects and red herrings galore while simultaneously dissecting Sicily’s delicately balanced sociopolitical underpinnings and conflicts and/or alliances among bickering authorities and ever-lurking Mafiosi.

Mr. Nero makes for an unusually cerebral (and not entirely innocent) hero, while Francois Fabian registers well as prosecutor Traini’s all-too-merry widow. More-than-capable supporting thesps ably inhabit director Damiani’s gallery of colorful secondary characters. Composer Riz Ortolani propels the action with a striking score.

Extras include extremely perceptive contemporary interviews with director Damiani and star Nero along with original Italian and English trailers. Viewers bored with often simplistic current Hollywood thrillers should deem “How to Kill a Judge” a refreshing change of pace.

Tele-video

In busy TV-on-DVD developments, A&E puts the accent on comedy in three new collections: Ellen: Season 3 (three-disc, $49.95) contains all 25 third-season episodes of the Ellen DeGeneres showcase, while John Cleese’s Personal Best and Terry Jones’ Personal Best ($19.95 each) assemble choice “Monty Python” skits.

The same label debuts Agatha Christie’s Marple: The Classic Mysteries Collection (five-disc, $59.95), gathering nine “Marple” TV films featuring Joan Hickson as the spinster sleuth. The related label New Video bows the 17-program World War II History Channel documentary set The Color of War (five-disc, $49.95), narrated by Peter Coyote.

WGBH Boston Video likewise emphasizes history with the Masterpiece Theatre miniseries Elizabeth I: The Virgin Queen (two-disc, $29.95) and the five-part PBS series Secrets of Lost Empires (three-disc, $39.95), and sets its sights on science with Physics: The Elegant Universe and Beyond (three-disc, $39.95).

Paramount Home Entertainment revisits the supernatural-themed Charmed: The Complete Fourth Season (six-disc, $59.99), while Sony Pictures Home Entertainment issues NewsRadio: The Complete Third Season (three-disc, $39.98), with all 25 third-season episodes, plus select commentary, featurettes and a gag reel.

MPI Home Video digs deeper into television’s past for The Beverly Hillbillies Ultimate Collection Volume 2 (four-disc, $34.98) and Dark Shadows: DVD Collection 23 (four-disc, $59.99), both supplemented by cast interviews. MGM Home Entertainment likewise goes the spooky route with Poltergeist: The Legacy: Season 1 (five-disc, $59.95).

Collectors’ corner

In musical news, the King swings in a trio of Elvis reissues from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Love Me Tender: 50th Anniversary Edition ($19.98) complements El’s screen debut with audio commentary by Elvis historian Jerry Schilling, three featurettes, a photo gallery and more. Elvis returns in the excellent 1960 Western Flaming Star and the 1961 drama Wild in the Country ($9.98 each).

Walt Disney Home Entertainment polishes one of its animated gems, Lady and the Tramp, with a digitally restored double-disc 50th Anniversary Edition ($29.99) complete with featurettes, deleted scenes, storyboards, interactive games and much more.

Warner Home Video’s exemplary Controversial Classics Volume 2: The Power of Media ($59.98) packages bonus-laden double-disc editions of three edgy 1970s hits — All the President’s Men, Dog Day Afternoon and Network.

One of the best movies ever made receives a further upgrade via MGM Home Entertainment’s Midnight Cowboy: Collector’s Edition (two-disc, $29.98), arriving with producer Jerome Hellman’s commentary and three new featurettes.

The ‘A’ list

Universal Studios Home Entertainment introduces extras-enhanced editions of the dark comedy caper The Ice Harvest, teaming John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, and the Jane Austen adaptation Pride and Prejudice ($29.98 each), starring Keira Knightley.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment offers separate single- ($29.98) and double-disc ($39.98) editions of James Mangold’s engrossing Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, both packed with bonus material.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I’m looking for two ‘50s Westerns, “Little Big Horn” and “The Tall Texan.”

Mark Swenson, via e-mail

VCI Entertainment issued The Tall Texan on DVD ($14.99); the same label’s earlier “Little Big Horn” VHS is out of circulation.

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.video scopemag.com.

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