- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2002

A legendary World War I incident receives sturdy, engrossing treatment in Russell ("Highlander") Mulcahy's The Lost Battalion, new from A&E; Home Video ($19.98 DVD and VHS). It's our …

Video pick of the week
In The Great War's waning days, a battalion of a few hundred men found themselves surrounded by superior German forces in the Argonne Forest, where they were subjected to constant attacks and even bombarded with withering, erroneously aimed U.S. artillery fire. Despite heavy losses and dwindling supplies, the troops kept the enemy at bay for five grueling days in a bloody siege that helped hasten the Allied victory.
Former child star ("Silver Spoons," "The Champ") and current "NYPD Blue" regular Rick Schroder turns in sterling work as Maj. Charles Whittlesey, a former lawyer who kept his men's collective spirit alive during the ordeal. He is abetted ably by a capable, if largely unknown, supporting cast, particularly Phil McKee as the battle-hardened Capt. McMurtry.
Following post-"Saving Private Ryan" orders, this A&E; Original Movie confronts viewers with the extreme violence and gore of close-up combat. That is especially difficult to endure when the soldiers are being blasted by "friendly" fire. Nevertheless, the relentless realism undeniably heightens our awe of the undermanned and undermined warriors' refusal to surrender. The filmmakers also admirably resist demonizing the enemy, whose men and officers are very much the Americans' war-weary counterparts.
The only serious flaw in "The Lost Battalion" is the often trite, occasionally irritatingly anachronistic, dialogue force-fed by scripter Jim Carabatsos into the foot soldiers' mouths. For some reason, the officers largely are spared these inanities and inaccuracies. Still, this is a powerful film that at once condemns warfare's tragic waste and commends the men who carry it out to protect a larger ideal.

"Curse" could be worse
In a decidedly lighter vein, we tender a mild recommendation for Woody Allen's mild farce The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (Universal Studios, priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD). No, the Woodman's latest doesn't recapture the giddy glory of "Bananas," "Sleepers" or "Annie Hall," but it does rate as his best since 1994's "Bullets Over Broadway."
Set in 1940, the swiftly paced "Curse" casts Woody as a semi-sleazy insurance investigator who runs afoul of hostile co-worker Helen Hunt and a mysterious hypnotist. Even non-Allen addicts may want to give this one a try.

From "Curse" to "Worst"
Before Harry Potter was so much as a gleam in author J.K. Rowling's eye, writer Jill Murphy was enchanting readers with her "The Worst Witch" books, chronicling the misadventures of clumsy apprentice witch Mildred Hubble at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches. BFS Entertainment has collected 13 episodes from the subsequent popular British teleseries of the same name, starring Kate Duchene, Georgina Sherrington and Emma Brown. The Worst Witch Collection Set 1 contains six magical episodes; Set 2 chips in with an additional seven. The two-DVD sets are tagged at $29.98 each.

Collectors' corner
In the bargain DVD department, 20th Century Fox has re-priced (to $19.98 each) a trio of entertaining titles on single-disc DVDs: James Cameron's epic undersea sci-fi adventure The Abyss , starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Michael Biehn; Robert Zemeckis' ultimate survivor tale Cast Away , with Tom Hanks; and Roland Emmerich's sci-fi blockbuster Independence Day , with Will Smith, Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum.

Phan mail
Dear Phantom: I'm trying to find a 1979 movie called The Evil , starring Richard Crenna. Do you know if the movie Them is ever coming out on DVD?
Samuel Cohen, via e-mail
"The Evil" was available on VHS but is long out of circulation. We have sighted copies for sale on online auction sites such as www.ebay.com. No word yet about the definitive 1954 insect fearfest "Them" joining the DVD ranks, but it certainly would be a welcome addition to Warner Home Video's lineup.

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: [email protected] . Also, check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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