- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

One of Hollywood’s most requested films at last makes its home video debut with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s digital release of the edgy 1947 noir classic Nightmare Alley ($14.98). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

Something of a twisted companion piece to Tod Browning’s controversial 1932 sideshow melodrama “Freaks,” “Nightmare Alley” (which could have been as aptly titled “Geeks”) features a powerful performance by Tyrone Power as Stan, an ambitious carnival drifter who hits on a scheme to scale to the top of the “spook racket.”

Picking up the tricks of a mind-reading act from downwardly mobile circuit vet Zeena (Joan Blondell), Stan enlists young Molly (Coleen Gray) to serve as his wife and professional partner as he segues from tent shows to swanky clubs and national fame as “The Great Stanton.” But when Stan gets greedy and hooks up with crooked upper-class psychiatrist Lilith (Helen Walker), his plans begin to unravel.

Director Edmund Goulding and cinematographer Lee Garmes bring Jules Furthman’s razor-sharp script, based on William Lindsay Gresham’s novel, to vivid screen life, starkly contrasting the carny demimonde with the high-society world Stan later crashes. Recurring images of a shadowy “geek,” an alcoholic ex-performer reduced to doing a degrading “wild man” act, haunt this then-daring, still-disturbing film.

Extras include an audio commentary by movie historians James Ursini and Alain Silver, plus the original theatrical trailer.

Those looking for more top noir action, also via Fox, will want to check out William Keighley’s 1948 The Street With No Name, starring Richard Widmark and Mark Stevens; and Sam Fuller’s more exotic 1955 remake of that film, House of Bamboo ($14.98 each), set in Japan and starring Robert Ryan and Robert Stack.

Tele-video

In the TV-on-DVD arena, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment debuts Denis Leary in the firefighting series Rescue Me: The Complete First Season, a three-disc set ($49.95) containing 13 episodes, plus select commentary, four behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes and more.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment issues Home Improvement: The Complete Second Season, packaging all 25 Season Two episodes of the Tim Allen sitcom along with a bonus gag reel. Michael Madsen stars in the same label’s drama Tilt, set in Las Vegas (both three-disc, $49.99 each).

Rhino Video digs deeper into the cathode past with Too Close for Comfort: The Complete Second Season (three-disc, $39.95), starring Ted Knight as a harried dad. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment likewise goes the comedy route with Northern Exposure: The Complete Third Season (three-disc, $59.98), arriving with deleted/extended scenes and other extras.

New label Tango Entertainment contributes a pair of crime-oriented shows — Robert Pastorelli in the Yank remake of the British Cracker: The Complete Series and Robert Altman’s all-star six-film anthology Gun (three-disc, $39.98 each).

WGBH Boston Video focuses on student life at DeGrassi Junior High: Season 2 (three-disc, $39.95), complete with bonus educational features.

Collectors’ corner

Warner Home Video’s The Joan Crawford Collection ($49.92) assembles five of the screen queen’s most famous films: George Cukor’s 1939 ensemble gem The Women, the quintessential 1940s JC vehicles Mildred Pierce and Humoresque, and a pair of intense noirs, Possessed (1947) and The Damned Don’t Cry (1950).

Not to be outdone, celluloid rival Bette Davis dominates her own quintet of filmic tours de force in The Bette Davis Collection ($49.92) — 1939’s Dark Victory, 1940’s The Letter, 1942’s Now, Voyager, 1944’s Mr. Skeffington and 1952’s The Star.

Both sets come equipped with bonus material ranging from commentaries to featurettes. The titles are also available individually ($19.97).

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment lavishes deluxe attention on a pair of vintage titles: Martin Scorsese’s Vegas expose Casino: 10th Anniversary Edition, stacked with a wide array of extras, and the double-disc Jaws: 30th Anniversary Edition ($22.98 each), docking with a two-hour bonus documentary, a Steven Spielberg interview, 60-page commemorative photo journal and more.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment extends equally generous treatment to Sling Blade (two-disc, $19.99), containing the director’s cut, along with a feature commentary by actor-auteur Billy Bob Thornton, a host of fascinating featurettes, interviews and behind-the-scenes material.

The ‘A’ list

Two very different theatrical comedies join the digital ranks in bonus-driven editions: Will Smith plays a smooth operator hired to tutor a clumsy Kevin James in the romantic romp Hitch (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, $28.95), while a contingent of gung-ho sexaholics threaten a staid Baltimore ‘burb in John Waters’ racy farce A Dirty Shame (New Line Home Entertainment, $27.95), starring Tracey Ullman.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Any chance of the cartoon series “Dr. Katz” appearing on DVD?

Mike Edelman, via e-mail

No word as yet on “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist,” though that ‘90s Comedy Central series would be a most welcome addition.

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


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