- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2007

A riveting classic that underperformed during its initial 1951 stateside run receives a long-anticipated digital reincarnation with the Criterion Collection’s remastered double-disc edition of Billy Wilder’s prescient, hard-hitting press expose Ace in the Hole ($39.98). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

A charismatic Kirk Douglas stars as Chuck Tatum, a terminally bridge-burning former big-time New York City journalist reduced to covering trivia for a humble Albuquerque newspaper. The ruthless reporter senses a possible reversal of fortune when artifacts collector Leo (Richard Benedict) gets trapped in a nearby cavern.

Tatum exerts his corruptive influence to transform the local story into a national sensation as the public grows obsessed with the resultant arduous rescue operation, orchestrated by the amoral Chuck himself.

Though director-co-writer Wilder’s corrosively uncompromising tale of manipulation and deceit failed to find a large audience during its era, even under its alternate title, “The Big Carnival,” today’s viewers are much more likely to accept his tough message, brought to vivid screen life by an expert ensemble cast. Jan Sterling turned in especially memorable work as Leo’s callous waitress wife.

Among the copious extras are a 1980 documentary portrait of the entertaining Mr. Wilder, a 1984 Kirk Douglas interview, an afterword by “Ace” admirer Spike Lee, an audio commentary by film scholar Neil Sinyard and bonus essays by filmmaker Guy Maddin and critic Molly Haskell. Criterion’s invaluable release should be embraced heartily by quality-film lovers.

Collectors’ corner

In other vintage film news, Warner Home Video goes the toe-tapping route with its Classic Musicals From the Dream Factory Volume 2 (seven-disc, $59.92).

It’s highlighted by a pair of double-feature discs, the Mario Lanza duo That Midnight Kiss (1949) and The Toast of New Orleans (1950) and the Fred Astaire vehicles Royal Wedding (1951) and The Belle of New York (1952). Completing the Warner lineup are the Gene Kelly/Judy Garland showcases The Pirate (1948) and Words and Music (1948) and the 1985 compilation That’s Dancing!

Bounteous extras in the seven-disc package include new featurettes, interviews, expert commentaries, cartoons, shorts and more.

MGM Home Entertainment salutes an enduring screen icon with its Frank Sinatra Movie Legends Collection (five-disc, $39.98). The set assembles two lighthearted affairs, the Damon Runyon musical Guys and Dolls (1955) and A Hole in the Head (1959), along with three dramatic showcases — The Pride and the Passion (1957), the World War II drama Kings Go Forth (1958) and John Frankenheimer’s still-chilling 1962 conspiracy thriller The Manchurian Candidate.

The same label proffers a novel concept with its CliffsNotes Ultimate Study Guide series ($14.98 each), packaging feature-length cinematic literary adaptations such as Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989), John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956) and Gary Sinise’s Of Mice and Men (1992) with their corresponding “CliffsNotes” study guides.

In art-house developments, Kino Video unearths a treasure trove of avant-garde items via its Experimental Cinema: 1928-1954 (two-disc, $29.95), collecting some 17 works by seminal underground filmmakers ranging from Marie Menken to Stan Brakhage.

The ‘A’ list

Several recent theatrical releases making their digital debuts supply a welcome summer chill this week. Serial killers furnish the focus of Tom Tykwer’s period piece Perfume (DreamWorks, $29.99), co-starring Dustin Hoffman, and David Fincher’s inquiry Zodiac (Paramount Home Entertainment, $29.98), the latter headlining Jake Gyllenhaal and Mark Ruffalo.

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