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Film documentary draws on ‘spaghetti Westerns’

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It may not answer everything you ever wanted to know about Italian Westerns, but David Gregory's sterling documentary The Spaghetti West, new from Docurama ($26.95), is sure to appeal to serious celluloid sagebrush buffs. It's our ...

DVD pick of the week

As the prime transitional figure in the shift of Western-movie power from Hollywood to Rome, Clint Eastwood explains on-camera how a break during his waning "Rawhide" TV-series chores led to his collaboration with director Sergio Leone on the first true "spaghetti" Western, 1964's "A Fistful of Dollars." Writer-director Gregory likewise calls on several other key participants, from seminal composer Ennio Morricone to political Western director Sergio Sollima, in recounting the transplanted genre's roughly decade-long heyday.

Along the way, we're treated to riveting clips from Messrs. Eastwood and Leone's top films, along with such other thriving franchises as the Franco Nero "Django" series and the Terence Hill (born Mario Girotti) 1970s "Trinity" capers, whose self-mocking approach signaled the beginning of the end of the spaghetti Western trend.

Veteran actor Robert Forster, of "Jackie Brown" renown, narrates the deftly scripted account in expert fashion, while archival footage captures pointed comments by the late Mr. Leone. Our only criticism: At 56 minutes, "The Spaghetti West" left this viewer hungry for more; hopefully, an expanded edition will one day gallop down the digital trail.

Tele-video

In the week's fresh TV-on-DVD developments, Paramount Home Entertainment proffers a trio of disparate titles: the BET reality TV show College Hill: The Virgin Islands (two-disc, $26.99), the 39-episode Gunsmoke: The First Season (six-disc, $42.99) and the "American Experience" documentary miniseries The Mormons ($24.99).

Universal Studios accentuates 1980s adventures with Lou Ferrigno as The Incredible Hulk: The Complete Second Season (five-disc, $39.98) and the time-traveling sci-fi show Voyagers!: The Complete Series (four-disc, $49.98). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment introduces the 1970s police drama The Rookies: The Complete First Season (five-disc, $49.95), featuring Kate Jackson.

Genius Entertainment presents two comedy series, the stand-up showcase Comedy Zen: First Season ($14.95) and the L.A.-set The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman: Season One (two-disc, $29.95), while HBO Video contributes The Bad Boys of Comedy: Season Two (two-disc, $24.99).

Warner Home Video covers the cartoon front with a pair of Hanna-Barbera series, Birdman & the Galaxy Trio: The Complete Series and Space Ghost & Dino Boy: The Complete Series (two-disc, $26.99 each), while Shout! Factory unearths the animated Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog (four-disc, $29.99).

From across the pond, Acorn Media imports the PBS mystery Foyle's War Set 4 (four-disc, $59.99), starring Michael Kitchen, and Leonard Rossiter in the classic Britcom Rising Damp Series 4 ($24.99). Koch Vision counters with Grafters: First Season (three-disc, $39.98) and Diana Rigg in the Henrik Ibsen adaptation Hedda Gabler ($24.98).

The 'A' list

Among recent theatrical films debuting on DVD, Sandra Bullock stars as a distraught heroine in Sony Pictures' psychic chiller Premonition ($28.95), while 20th Century Fox supplies the mutants-amok sequel The Hills Have Eyes 2 and the vampire tale Perfect Creature ($29.99 each).

The Weinstein Company furnishes Factory Girl ($28.95), George Hickenlooper's fact-based biopic of late Andy Warhol "superstar" Edie Sedgwick, in an extras-enhanced edition.

Koch Lorber Films introduces a trio of titles: the Argentine entry Blessed by Fire, "High Tension" auteur Alexandre Aja's dystopian sci-fi film Furia ($29.98 each) and the crime drama Love ($26.98), set in New York City.

Two French films likewise surface, the ensemble comedy Avenue Montaigne (ThinkFilm, $27.98) and the taut revenge thriller The Page Turner (Tartan Video, $22.95).

Miramax Home Entertainment adds two domestic dramas, Aaron Eckhardt in the fable Neverwas and Allison Janney in the coming-of-age story Our Very Own ($29.99 each).

Collectors' corner

An erstwhile cinematic swim queen continues to make a splash on the digital scene via Warner Home Video's Esther Williams Collection Vol. 1 (five-disc, $49.92). The set gathers Bathing Beauty (1944), Easy to Wed (1946), On an Island With You (1948), Neptune's Daughter (1949) and Dangerous When Wet (1953). Bonus material includes classic cartoons, vintage Pete Smith novelty shorts, featurettes and more.

MGM Home Entertainment goes the racy route with the 1970s The Happy Hooker Trilogy, assembling The Happy Hooker, The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington and The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood, plus director Paul Verhoeven's enduring 1995 camp classic Showgirls: Fully Exposed Edition ($19.98 each), the latter landing with an audio commentary and featurettes.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: What is the status of a favorite old movie of mine, "Joy in the Morning," starring Richard Chamberlain and Yvette Mimieux? Video or DVD to be had at all anywhere?

— Evelyn Dearstyne, via e-mail

Not as yet, but hopefully MGM will eventually add that 1965 drama to its digital roster.

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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