- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

An earthy art-house classic that more than stands the test of time, Tony Richardson’s 1962 British “angry young man” film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner makes its digital debut via Warner Home Video ($19.97). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

Tom Courtenay shines as Colin Smith, a wary working-class lad whose talent for marathon running isn’t exploited until he lands in reform school following an ill-advised bakery break-in.

Once in stir (a “borstal” that seems a far kinder, gentler lockup than its hellhole counterparts in countless American movies old and new), Smith is discovered by the institute’s governor (Michael Redgrave), who recruits him for the track team and a pivotal meet against a rival upper-class school.

Director Richardson and scenarist Alan Sillitoe (who also wrote the source story) intertwine Smith’s past and present with unforced narrative ease. We view Smith’s domestic life with his recently widowed mom (Avis Bunnage) and younger siblings; his romantic involvement with girlfriend Audrey (Topsy Jane); and his knockabout antics with best bud Mike (James Bolam).

Beyond that, “Loneliness” paints a vivid picture of British blue-collar life with its built-in dead ends, simmering resentments and creeping consumerism (represented by the family’s new TV set).

The film skillfully builds to a suspenseful conclusion and a final iconic moment that presages the open youth rebellion of the late ‘60s. DVD extras are nonexistent beyond the original trailer, but “Loneliness” rates as essential viewing both as powerful drama and as an example of seamless cinematic storytelling.

Collectors’ corner

Returning to a more distant past, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment celebrates two vintage screen icons. The four-disc Alice Faye Collection ($49.98) assembles a quartet of that singing star’s musical showcases — Lillian Russell, On the Avenue, That Night in Rio and The Gang’s All Here — while The Mr. Moto Collection Volume Two showcases Peter Lorre as the no-nonsense Japanese sleuth in Mr. Moto on Danger Island, Mr. Moto’s Gamble, Mr. Moto’s Last Warning and Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation. Both sets include new featurettes and other bonus material.

First Run Features debuts five previously unavailable films in its The Cuban Masterworks Collection (five-disc, $99.95): two 1960s titles, The Twelve Chairs and The Adventures of Juan Quin Quin; plus three 1980s films by Humberto Solas — Cecilia, Amada and A Successful Man.

In time for Oscar weekend, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment issues the 1966 best picture winner, A Man for All Seasons ($19.98), starring Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More.

Tele-video

In fresh TV-on-DVD developments, Britain is well represented by a pair of double-disc Masterpiece Theatre literary miniseries — Emily Bronte’s Jane Eyre (WGBH Boston Video, $29.95) and James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (Koch Vision, $29.98), along with the three-disc The Ruth Rendell Mysteries (Acorn Media, $49.99).

Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents the 1970s buddy Western Alias Smith & Jones: Season One (four-disc, $39.99), while 20th Century Fox goes the subaqueous route with the 1960s sci-fi series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Season Two, Volume Two (three-disc $29.98).

Paramount Home Entertainment revisits the ‘80s with the sitcom Family Ties: The Complete First Season (four-disc, $42.99) and Warner Home Video salutes a 1970s canine star with the animated What’s New, Scooby-Doo?: Complete Season One (two-disc, $19.98).

The ‘A’ list

Among recent theatrical releases making their digital debuts, Paramount unveils Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s powerful best picture contender Babel, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett , along with an extras-enhanced edition of the animated comedy Flushed Away ($29.99 each), while Warner Home Video ushers in Christopher Guest’s Oscar send-up For Your Consideration ($27.98).

Elsewhere, Touchstone Home Entertainment offers the magic-themed The Prestige ($29.99); ThinkFilm unleashes the dark British farce Keeping Mum ($27.98), starring Maggie Smith and Rowan Atkinson, in a bonus-packed edition; Universal Studios offers the Robin Williams satire Man of the Year ($29.98); and Genius Products Inc. parts the curtains for the Grammy-winning Dixie Chicks in the documentary Shut Up & Sing ($28.95).

Laughs from the past

Universal Studios pays tribute to two screen comics in a pair of fresh sets (two-disc, $19.98 each). Steve Martin: The Wild and Crazy Comedy Collection assembles The Jerk (1979), Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) and The Lonely Guy (1984), while Tom Hanks: Comedy Favorites Collection gathers The Money Pit (1986), Dragnet (1987) and The ‘Burbs (1989).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Do you know if the TV shows “St. Elsewhere” and “Chicago Hope” have or will come out on DVD?

— Marvin Dean Cox, via e-mail

No word as yet on “Chicago Hope” but 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment issued St. Elsewhere: Season One (four-disc, $39.98) in November, with future installments likely on the way.

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