- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

Despite its family-friendly title, screenwriter and director Anthony Pelissier's complex, disturbing 1950 fable The Rocking Horse Winner, drawn from a D.H. Lawrence story and newly issued by Home Vision Cinema ($39.95 DVD), is emphatically intended for adult viewers. It's our
Video pick of the week
In the film, Paul (John Howard Davies) is a roughly 12-year-old boy upset that the spendthrift ways of his mother (Valerie Hobson) are threatening their upper-middle-class lifestyle. When new handyman Bassett (John Mills, who also produced the movie) tells Paul of his jockey past, the youth becomes obsessed with winning at the track to make up the money his mom has squandered.
On Christmas, the boy receives a seemingly happy gift, a somewhat sinister-looking rocking horse that, when Paul rides it with sufficient vigor, helps him predict local race winners. Paul, Bassett and the boy's uncle Oscar (Ronald Squire) keep this prophetic ability a sworn secret, even as all three reap the profits, with Paul covertly donating his share to his heedless mom, who only increases her extravagant habits.
In lesser hands than Lawrence and Mr. Pelissier, the movie might have swung into sunny Disney terrain or descended into supernatural "Twilight Zone" territory. But "The Rocking Horse Winner," story and film alike, proves far more textured and subtle than that, opting for nothing less than an unblinking exploration of human nature and its sometimes fatal foibles.
Home Vision's digitally remastered edition presents the film in pristine black-and-white. Extras include Michael Almeyreda's experimental 1997 short-film version of the tale (an interesting failure starring Eric Stoltz), excerpts from a chamber opera retelling, a complete radio broadcast, and a booklet containing Lawrence's short story.
Collectors' corner
Home Vision Cinema keeps the backdate classics coming with a quartet of additional new releases. Up first is the Criterion Collection edition of Rene Clair's romantic 1930 Parisian portrait Under the Roofs of Paris, presented in a new digital transfer and including such bonuses as a deleted scene, Clair's 1924 silent short "Paris qui dort," a 1966 BBC-TV interview with the auteur and more.
The label also offers a remastered version of the 1945 Alfred Hitchcock suspenser Spellbound, with a plethora of special features at $39.95. Also remastered, at 29.95 each, are Bryan Forbes' moody 1964 dramatic thriller Seance on a Wet Afternoon, highlighted by outstanding performances by Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough; and the controversial 1992 Belgian mockumentary Man Bites Dog, about a naive video crew that records the exploits of a garrulous serial killer.
Columbia comedies
Columbia/TriStar grants the gala DVD treatment to two summer '02 comedy hits. Later this month, the label unleashes Adam Sandler as unexpected billionaire Mr. Deeds in a "widescreen special edition" ($27.95) rich in bonus material, ranging from filmmaker commentary to a raft of behind-the-scenes featurettes. The sci-fi spoof sequel Men in Black II, starring returning Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, arrives next month in a similar "Special Edition" ($28.95) likewise loaded with extras. Both titles will also be available on VHS ($24.95 each).
Thumb fun
"Thumbation" expert Steve Oedekerk strikes again with a new Halloween-targeted mini-epic, Frankenthumb, wherein his usual cadre of walking, talking thumbs lightheartedly skewer the "Frankenstein" mythos. The fun DVD, new from Image Entertainment ($14.98), includes storyboards, cast interviews, outtakes, commentary by Mr. Oedekerk and the Thumb team and coming-attraction trailers for other Thumbation spoofs, including our fave, "The Blair Thumb Project."
Brit hits
Returning to the British connection, WGBH Boston Video debuts a pair of "Masterpiece Theater" titles on DVD. Daniel Radcliffe, of "Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone" fame, takes the eponymous role in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, co-starring Maggie Smith and Bob Hoskins, while Jenny Agutter and Richard Attenborough appear in a new adaptation of the 1906 Edith Nesbit novel The Railway Children. The discs are tagged at $19.98 each.
'Gilligan' stew
For viewers who still pine for "Gilligan's Island," Artisan Entertainment offers Surviving 'Gilligan's Island' ($19.98 DVD/$14.98 VHS), containing both a new docudrama and documentary features wherein original cast members Bob Denver, Russell Johnson, Dawn Wells and director Paul Kaufman recount the show's sometimes rocky sailing.
Phan mail
Dear Phantom: Looking for a 1980s fantasy film called Hawk the Slayer, with Jack Palance. No one seems to have the video.
J. Simmons, via e-mail
Long out of circulation, that 1980 sword-and-sorcery movie will return to the video ranks next month, via Hen's Tooth Video, available in both VHS ($19.95) and DVD ($24.95).

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] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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