- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

A polished indie update of vintage character-driven road movies, Diamond Men features a riveting performance by lead Robert Forster in the type of role at which he has long excelled the world-weary everyman ennobled (and sometimes burdened) by a strong code of honor. It's our…

Video pick of the week

Mr. Forster copped a well-deserved Oscar nomination for a somewhat similar part in Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown" back in 1998. His work in "Diamond Men," due next week from Trimark Home Video (priced for rental VHS, also available on DVD), exhibits an equally bright blue-collar sparkle.

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Here, Mr. Forster plays Eddie Miller, a soon-to-be-downsized diamond salesman granted a final assignment, to break in his own replacement, Bobby Walker (an animated Donnie Wahlberg), along his rural Pennsylvania route.

Adhering to the dictates of the genre, calm, seasoned Eddie and impulsive young Bobby quickly prove polar opposites. But here the opposites gradually attract in an unforced, believable manner as Eddie clues Bobby in to the subtler tricks of their trade and Bobby attempts to rekindle his grieving widower partner's lust for life (and women).

Writer-director Dan Cohen resists Tarantinoesque dazzle, staying true to his characters and letting his actors shape them into fully rounded people. Our only minor gripe lies in its occasionally overly sweet plot turns. Still, it's hard to find serious fault with a film possessed of so much honesty and heart-increasingly rare cinematic commodities. Entertaining DVD extras include auteur Cohen's feature-length audio commentary and several deleted scenes.

Collectors corner

Speaking of vintage, Artisan Entertainment delves deep into the Republic Pictures vault for a fresh quartet of 1940s titles. John Wayne stars in a pair of pics: In 1943's A Lady Takes a Chance, the Duke plays a rugged cowboy (no stretch there) who romances sophisticated city gal Jean Arthur. In 1945's Flame of the Barbary Coast Wayne portrays a Montana rancher who courts saloon chanteuse Ann Dvorak in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. (Both Wayne characters are even named "Duke" in these typecasting coups.)

Director Raoul Walsh offers a more noirish view of the West in his brooding 1947 oater Pursued, written by Niven Busch and starring Robert Mitchum and Teresa Wright. Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda, as a love-struck but underemployed acting duo, look to lighten the mood in the same year's Copacabana.

Artisan fast-forwards a few decades to present the wacky 1969 Terry Southern adaptation The Magic Christian, carried by comedian Peter Sellers as a billionaire who adopts Ringo Starr; John Cleese, Raquel Welch, Christopher Lee and even Roman Polanski also join in the onscreen fun. The discs, available now, are tagged at $14.98 each.

Anchor Bay update

On the subject of Peter Sellers, Anchor Bay Entertainment (anchorbayentertainment.com) has just issued the six-DVD set "The Peter Sellers Collection" ($89.98), containing Heavens Above, Hoffman, I'm Alright, Jack, The Smallest Show on Earth, Two-Way Stretch and Carlton-Browne of the F.O. All but the last-mentioned can also be purchased individually ($19.98 each).

Likewise new from Anchor Bay are three films from director Wim Wenders: "The American Friend, Lightning Over Water and Notebook on Cities and Clothes ($24.98 DVD each). Also from Anchor Bay is the long-withdrawn cult title Murder by Decree ($19.98), pitting an intrepid Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) and Dr. Watson (James Mason) against Jack the Ripper; extras include audio commentary by director Bob Clark.

The 'A' list

A trio of screen tough guys hit area stores next month. Robert De Niro toplines as a veteran cop who learns his son has been accused of murder in the gritty City by the Sea (Warner Home Video, $27.95 DVD, $22.98 VHS), co-starring Frances McDormand. Vin Diesel heads a band of mobsters' sons in the long-shelved Knockaround Guys (New Line Home Entertainment). And Steven Seagal attempts to revive his semi-comatose career in the aptly titled Half Past Dead (Columbia/TriStar), both priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Can you help? I am trying to get my hands on a copy of Bloodbath at the House of Death, a fantastic comedy horror starring Kenny Everett. I can't find one anywhere.

Chris, via e-mail

That 1984 scare spoof, co-starring Vincent Price and originally issued on the Video Treasures label, has been long out of circulation. Online auction sites like eBay would probably be your best bet. For rental copies, Video Vault (800/VAULT-66) would be worth a try.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or e-mail us at: [email protected] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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