Tuesday, January 27, 2004

The busy archivists at VCI Entertainment (www.vcientertainment.com) offer a double-barreled treat for vintage noir fans with two new discs, the twin-bill The Scar/The Limping Man and the reel rarity Blonde Ice ($14.98 each). They’re our…

Video picks of the week

A film that had developed a cult reputation via early TV airings, 1948’s ingeniously plotted “The Scar” stars “Casablanca” alum Paul Henreid (who co-produced) as John Muller, a sophisticated crook on the lam from the law and vengeful thugs alike. Muller arranges a possible out when he murders, then assumes the identity of, lookalike psychiatrist Dr. Victor Bartok (also Mr. Henreid).

Director Steve Sekely and his ace cast, including Joan Bennett as the late shrink’s cynical secretary, build tension at a steady clip while delivering a textured tale of karmic comeuppance that will keep you thinking long after the end credits roll.

The disc includes the second feature “The Limping Man,” a fairly sturdy 1953 British mystery, with Lloyd Bridges as a visiting Yank, that unfortunately collapses with an unnecessary cop-out ending. Visually, both films suffer from some graininess and involuntary jump cuts, but “The Scar” is an edgy gem no noir fan will want to miss.

VCI performs greater restoration wonders with 1948’s undeservedly obscure “Blonde Ice,” showcasing actress Leslie Brooks (who enjoys a supporting role in “The Scar”) as a quite literal femme fatale who attempts to seduce and slay her way to wealth and station. This tough little B film also supplies a knowing glimpse of the 1940s newspaper world, best embodied by character actor James Griffith as a gleefully sneaky reporter.

“Blonde Ice” extras include an enlightening audio commentary by film restoration consultant Jay Fenton, a bonus film noir TV episode called “Into the Night,” the vintage musical short “Satan Wears a Satin Dress” and more. Let’s just hope Hollywood doesn’t get wise and remake (i.e., ruin) these classic hard-boiled winners.

Collectors’ corner

The Valentine’s Day video scene continues to heat up with a romantic quartet just out via Warner Home Video. William Hurt plays a divorced, depressed travel writer who finds his joie de vivre revived by kooky dog trainer Geena Davis in Lawrence Kasdan’s 1988 The Accidental Tourist, which arrives complete with select commentary by actress Davis, a new Kasdan introduction, featurette and more.

In Taylor Hackford’s 1988 Everybody’s All American, based on Frank Deford’s novel, pro footballer Dennis Quaid and former high-school sweetheart Jessica Lange try to keep love alive while weathering career ups and downs. The disc includes audio commentary by director Hackford and screenwriter Tom Rickman, making-of featurettes and more.

Arriving sans extras but likewise making their DVD debuts are Norman Jewison’s 1982 comedy/drama Best Friends, starring Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn as a screenwriting couple, and Jonathan Demme’s 1982 Swing Shift, set in World War II and starring Miss Hawn and Kurt Russell. The discs are tagged at $19.97 each.

The ‘A’ list

Recent theatrical releases making their homevid bows this week include a pair of art-house titles from 20th Century Fox ($27.98 each): Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts lead an all-star cast in the Merchant/Ivory romantic comedy Le Divorce, featuring Leslie Caron, Glenn Close and Matthew Modine. In Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen, the story of a good girl gone bad, Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood portray a fractious mother and daughter tandem. The latter DVD includes filmmaker and cast audio commentary, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and original trailer.

Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment delivers the fact-based drama Radio ($28.95), starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as a mentally challenged man who bonds with local football coach Ed Harris. The disc contains deleted scenes, bloopers and two featurettes. All three titles are also available on VHS.

Here’s looking at you, Sid

MGM Home Entertainment celebrates a deserving thesp with its new The Sidney Poitier DVD Collection ($59.95). The set includes the actor’s Oscar winners Lilies of the Field and In the Heat of the Night, the “Heat” sequels The Organization and They Call Me Mister Tibbs! along with For the Love of Ivy. The titles are also available individually ($14.95 each).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Love your section in The Washington Times. I also loved the Death Valley Days shows as a kid and recently found they are being offered again on video by the museum in Death Valley National Park (deathvalleydays.com). Maybe other readers would enjoy them. Thanks again for your always enjoyable column.

C.M., via email

And thanks for sharing the skinny on that entertaining 1950s show.

• 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: phanmedia@aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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