- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2001

Time has been more than kind to producer-director-writer Val Guest's smart, sophisticated, increasingly nightmarish sci-fi film The Day the Earth Caught Fire. And now it's our …

Video pick of the week

According to Mark Wickum's liner notes for Anchor Bay Entertainment's DVD edition of this outstanding 1961 British doomsday drama, "Day" was Mr. Guest's pet project nearly the whole of his life, combining his experiences as a newspaper reporter in the '30s and his nuclear fears in the '50s.
"Day" looks especially good in light of such recent high-budget, computer-graphic-driven Hollywood trivia as "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact." Mr. Guest and co-writer Wolf Mankowitz's densely packed yet free-flowing script British Academy Best Screenplay award winner in 1962 is a model of the form, showcasing three-dimensional characters who deliver their always credible, sometimes colorful dialogue at a natural, at times overlapping clip.
As hard-drinking, bitterly divorced, downwardly mobile Fleet Street journalist Peter Stenning, Edward Judd makes for an unusually complex sci-fi "hero," one who, through his romantic interest in government office worker Jeannie (an immensely appealing Janet Munro), gradually learns the truth behind the weather disasters and rising heat plaguing London and much of the rest of the globe.
Future Beatles co-star Leo ("Help") McKern hits just the right note as gruff but caring science editor Bill Maguire, a man reluctant to face his own pessimistic theories re Earth's future, while real-life London newspaper editor Arthur Christianson is utterly believable as his own onscreen counterpart (you'll have to look quickly, though, to spot a young Michael Caine as a traffic cop).
"Day" also succeeds on a pure genre level, seamlessly blending disaster stock footage with expert special effects and even setting one pivotal scene amid the uncontrolled chaos of an actual anti-bomb protest rally.
Anchor Bay's pristine wide-screen DVD edition ($24.99) comes complete with audio commentary by Mr. Guest and journalist Ted Newsom, original theatrical trailer, TV spots and more. (The film is also available on VHS for $14.99.) Quality-film lovers owe themselves the experience of seeing this very special movie, one of the best science-fiction films ever made.

Comedies on cassette (and DVD)

September looms as a megamonth for screen comedies. Buena Vista offers Jean Reno (reprising his original role as a French knight) and Christina Applegate in the time-travel caper Just Visiting, the American remake of the Gallic smash "The Visitors," along with Marc Barr and Anna Friel in the period romantic comedy Robert Louis Stevenson's St. Ives.
USA Entertainment goes the dark-comedy route with One Night at McCool's, starring Liv Tyler, Matt Dillon, John Goodman, Paul Reiser and Michael Douglas, and the "reality TV" satire Series 7: The Contender.
Elsewhere, Whoopi Goldberg and LL Cool J head a high-profile cast in the contentious family-reunion farce Kingdom Come (Fox). The same label contributes the romantic comedy Someone Like You, with Hugh Jackman and Ashley Judd.
Kym Whitley headlines in the black "Beverly Hillbillies" variation Beverly Hood (York), while Jessica Pare goes from small-town girl to supermodel in Stardom, co-starring Dan Aykroyd and Frank Langella. All of the above will be priced for rental and also available on DVD.
On the sell-through front, comedian Margaret Cho performs her one-woman show, I'm the One That I Want (Winstar, $14.98 VHS, $19.98 DVD).

Mondo Kino

Last week, Kino Video (800/562-3330) issued two very different musical classics on DVD ($29.95 each). Cult director Edgar G. Ulmer's 1947 Carnegie Hall pays loving tribute to that famed classical venue with a 136-minute romantic drama that incorporates performances by a host of musical greats, from Jascha Heifetz and Leopold Stokowski to Ezio Pinza and Lily Pons.
Bruce Ricker's 1979 documentary The Last of the Blue Devils features terrific club and concert performances by Kansas City jazz and blues legends Count Basie, Big Joe Turner and Jay McShann. Both DVDs include a number of musical and other extras; the titles are also available on VHS ($24.95, $19.95 each, respectively).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Any word on whether the new Universal Monster DVD titles are going to be issued as a boxed set? Thanks.
John in Virginia, via e-mail
Universal Studios will start issuing double-feature DVDs ($24.98-$29.98 each), pairing such 1930s and '40s fright faves as The Mummy's Hand/The Mummy's Tomb and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man/House of Frankenstein next week. No word re a boxed set yet.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or send e-mail to [email protected]

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