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DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: THE SCARLET AND THE BLACK

by Mark Burger

Gregory Peck made one of his rare forays into television with this suspenseful 1983 adaptation of J.P. Gallagher’s non-fiction best-seller The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican, well directed by Jerry London and filmed on location in Rome.

In 1943, the Nazis control Italy and the Vatican has declared itself neutral, but that doesn’t dissuade monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty (Peck) from overseeing a covert, underground escape network for thousands of escaped POWs, Jewish refugees and downed fliers. This is the perfect Gregory Peck role: Noble, humane and heroic – and his Irish brogue is spot-on.

Christopher Plummer (first-rate as always) plays Herbert Kappler, the ruthless (but cultured) SS colonel charged with quashing O’Flaherty’s efforts. Peck and Plummer are superbly matched as adversaries, and their scenes together crackle with tension.

Giuseppe Ruttono’s cinematography and Ennio Morricone’s score are first-rate, and a top-flight international cast includes Raf Vallone, Barbara Bouchet, Edmund Purdom, T.P. McKenna, Olga Karlatos, Michael Byrne, Walter Gotell, Ken Colley and the immortal John Gielgud, superb as Pope Pius XII. A powerful tale of courage and sacrifice told in the best Graham Greene tradition – and it happens to be true. ***’½

“AUDREY HEPBURN CLASSICS” (Warner Home Video): Two of the legendary star’s most popular films debut on Blu-ray: Billy Wilder’s 1954 romantic comedy Sabrina, with Hepburn earning an Oscar nomination as Best Actress in the title role alongside Humphrey Bogart and William Holden, which also earned nominations for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography (black-and-white) and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (black-and-white), with a win for Edith Head’s costume design; and director Stanley Donen’s Funny Face (1957), which pairs Hepburn with Fred Astaire, boasts the music of George and Ira Gershwin, and earned Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Best Costume Design (Edith Head and Hubert de Givenchy), Best Art Direction/Set Decoration and Best Cinematography. Each Blu-ray retails for $19.98.

BENEATH (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water “¦ along surfaces Larry Fessenden’s shocker about six teens battling something monstrous in the waters of Black Lake. The DVD retails for $14.93, the Blu-ray for $19.97.

THE CAPTAINS CLOSE UP (Entertainment One): William Shatner, the original Captain Kirk of “Star Trek,” hosts this enjoyable, informative documentary where he interviews the subsequent captains of the Starship Enterprise: Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula and Chris Pine. Needless to say, a must for Trekkies (or Trekkers).

“HOLLISTON”: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (RLJ Entertainment/Image Entertainment): A Blu-ray collection ($19.98 retail) of all 10 episodes from the 2013 season of the popular FEARnet comedy series with series creator Adam Green and Joe Lynch as bumbling filmmakers who constantly encounter strange goings-on in the title town. Laura Ortiz, Corri English, Dee Snyder and the late Dave Brockie round out the regular cast, with guest stars including genre favorites Danielle Harris, Kane Hodder, Seth Green, David Naughton and Sid Haig.

JAMESY BOY (Phase 4 Films/XLrator Media): Newcomer Spencer Lofranco plays the title role of a juvenile delinquent forced to confront his misdeeds in writer/director Trevor White’s debut feature, a gritty but episodic (and overly talky) true-life tale, with James Woods, Ving Rhames, Taissa Farmiga and UNCSA School of Drama alumna Mary-Louise Parker.

“THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS: THE RENEWAL“ (Timeless Media Group): This feature-length, Easter-themed 1978 episode from the family-friendly NBC series sees the titular mountain man (Dan Haggerty) celebrating with his friend Mad Jack (Denver Pyle), a young widower (Patrick Wayne), a Native American tribe, and of course his bear Ben.

MASQUERADE (CJ Entertainment): Director Chang-ming choo’s award-winning historical spectacle (originally titled Gwanghae, Wangyidoen namja) stars Byung-hun Lee in the dual role of a tyrannical Korean emperor and the peasant lookalike who assumes the throne in the midst of political upheaval. In Korean with English subtitles or English-dubbed. The DVD retails for $26.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98.

RAISE THE TITANIC (Shout! Factory): A DVD/Blu-ray combo ($19.97 retail) of the notorious 1980 adaptation of Clive Cussler’s best-seller, in which the title task is attempted by the US Navy to procure a rare element that could spell the difference in the Cold War. Jason Robards, Richard Jordan (as Cussler’s eponymous he-man hero Dirk Pitt), David Selby, Anne Archer, M. Emmet Walsh, J.D. Cannon and Alec Guinness (in a sweet cameo as a survivor of the original voyage) labor against a stodgy script and special effects that range from the impressive to the embarrassing. An expensive flop that hastened the demise of Lew Grade’s media empire (he once famously remarked: “It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic!”) “¦ yet it’s always watchable and the sheer idea is fascinating. Where’s a remake when you need it? Rated PG.

SAMSON AND DELILAH (Paramount): Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr play the title roles in Cecil B. DeMille’s typically overblown 1949 biblical epic – which became Paramount’s biggest hit to date. The climactic destruction of the temple is still impressive. George Sanders sneers away as the villainous Saran of Gaza, with Angela Lansbury, Henry Wilcoxon and young Russ Tamblyn also on hand. Oscar winner for Best Costume Design (Edith Head) and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, with additional nominations for Best Cinematography (color), Best Score and Best Special Effects. The new Blu-ray retails for $24.99.

“SLAPSTICK MARATHON” (Alpha Home Entertainment): A DVD selection ($7.98 retail) of silent shorts featuring such comedy legends as Will Rogers, Harry Langdon and Charley Chase.

“THE SPIDER” (MHz Networks): Ambitious young reporter Jakob Cedergren uncovers widespread political corruption in post-World War II Copenhagen in this six-part 2000 TV mini-series (originally titled Edderkoppen) created by Ole Christian Madsen. In Danish with English subtitles. The three-DVD collection retails for $49.95.

SPINNING PLATES (Inception Media Group): Joseph Levy’s award-winning documentary ($26.98 retail) focuses on the challenges, culinary and otherwise, faced by owners of three restaurants: Alinea (in Chicago), Breitbach’s Country Dining (in Iowa), and Le Cocina de Gabby (in Tucson).

“TODD OLIVER: FUNNY DOG” (Inception Media Group): The popular ventriloquist and “America’s Got Talent” contestant offers a family-friendly presentation showcasing his puppets and “talking” dogs. The DVD retails for $14.98.

“TRANFORMERS RESCUE BOTS: HEROES ON THE SCENE“ (Hasbro Studios/Shout! Kids Factory): A self-explanatory DVD selection ($14.93 retail) of five episodes from the animated sci-fi series boasting the latest incarnation of the popular toys and the voice talents of Lacey Chabert, LeVar Burton, Steve Blum and Peter Cullen (as Optimus Prime).

YOUNG DETECTIVE DEE: RISE OF THE SEA DRAGON (Well Go USA Entertainment): Director Tsui Hark’s prequel to the award-winning 2010 blockbuster Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame stars Mark Chao as the titular sleuth, who uncovers political corruption while investigating reports of a giant sea monster in 665 AD. Newcomer Lin Gengxin essentially plays Dr. Watson to Chao’s Holmes. In Mandarin with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92.

‘© 2014, Mark Burger.

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