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DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: WASHINGTON: BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

by Mark Burger

(Acorn Media)

Originally broadcast by ABC as a six-part miniseries in 1977, this adaptation of one-time White House insider John Ehrlichman’s best-seller The Company is clearly based on his own experiences. It’s impossible not to detect the real-life inspiration(s) behind the ostensibly fictional proceedings. (He also had plenty of time to write it, as he spent 18 months behind bars after the Watergate scandal.)

Jason Robards, hot off All the President’s Men (1976), is excellent as Richard Monckton, as corrupt and venal a president as the nation has ever seen. Backed by a team of loyalists and toadies — the most ruthless being Frank Flaherty (Robert Vaughn, in prime form) — Monckton cavalierly defies the Constitution by employing bribes, break-ins, blackmail, wiretaps, strongarm tactics and other forms of coercion to consolidate his base of power. There’s an almost Shakespearean quality to Monckton’s madness… a description frequently applied to the presidency of one Richard Nixon. (Coincidence? Sure….)

Top-billed Cliff Robertson plays CIA director Bill Martin, wrestling with his own conscience over past transgres sions.

He wants no part of Monckton’s game, but has to play all the same.

These corridors of power are certainly star-studded:

Andy Griffith, John Houseman, Stefanie Powers, Lois Nettleton, Harold Gould, Tony Bill, Barry Nelson, Meg Foster, Nicholas Pryor, George Gaynes, Alan Oppenheimer, John Randolph, Frances Lee McCain, John Kerr, and a trio of “Dark Shadows” alumni: David Selby, Lara Parker and Thayer David (as a fussy FBI director unmistakably modeled on J. Edgar Hoover).

There’s a lot of narrative ground to cover, and occasionally the running time is too much taken up by the domestic travails of some characters, but this is still a fascinating time capsule and a quintessential ’70s miniseries.

Washington: Behind Closed Doors earned seven Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Limited Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series (Robards) and Outstanding Directing of a Limited Series (Gary Nelson), with Vaughn winning the Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

The DVD boxed set retails for $59.99.

BENEATH THE DARKNESS (Image Entertainment): Dennis Quaid enjoys a change of pace as a murderous smalltown mortician who tangles with a group of teens (including Tony Oller and Aimee Teegarden) who suspect his nefarious scheme. Watchable time-killer, with a good Geoff Zanelli score. Rated R.

CHICAGO IN CHICAGO (Image Entertainment): The popular (and durable) rock ‘n’ roll band, whose many hits include “Saturday in the Park,” “Make Me Smile” and “25 or 6 to 4,” returns to its hometown for a special concert performance at the Charter-One Pavilion on Lake Michigan, joined by the Doobie Brothers. The DVD retails for $19.98, the Blu-ray for $24.98.

“‘DESIGNING WOMEN’: 20 TIME- LESS EPISODES” (Shout! Factory): A self-explanatory DVD collection ($12.99 retail) culled from the long-running (1986-’93), award-winning CBS sitcom with the formidable foursome of Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Annie Potts and Jean Smart.

“EPISODES”: THE FIRST SEASON (Showtime Entertainment/CBS DVD/ Paramount Home Entertainment): A DVD boxed set ($29.99 retail) featuring all seven episodes from the premiere 2011 season of the award-winning Showtime comedy series starring Matt LeBlanc as a fictional (and obnoxious) version of himself, starring in an American sitcom based on a popular British show. Three Emmy nominations includ ing one for LeBlanc as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series.

GARBO THE SPY (First Run Features): Espionage enthusiasts should enjoy Edmon Roch’s thorough, awardwinning documentary about Juan Pujol, a legendary double agent who provided information to both sides during World War II, interspersed with clips from war and spy movies. Once again, truth proves stranger than fiction.

LE CIRQUE: A TABLE IN HEAVEN (First Run Features): Andrew Rossi’s documentary traces the life and career of restaurateur Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque in New York City. The second half of the film, detailing the 2006 reopening of Le Cirque, smacks a bit of commercial endorsement, but the portrait of Maccioni and his family is insightful.

“MONROE”: SERIES 1 (Acorn Media):

The doctor is in — as played by James Nesbitt in the title role — in this two-DVD boxed set ($39.99 retail) featuring all six episodes from the premiere 2011 season of the British medical drama co-starring Sarah Parish, Tom Riley, Manjinder Virk, Christina Chong and Susan Lynch.

RED SCORPION (Synapse Films/ CAV Distributing): A DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.95 retail) of director Joseph Zito’s 1989 action blowout starring Dolph Lundgren as a Soviet super-soldier who switches sides and aids an African rebellion. A decent cast (M. Emmet Walsh, TP McKenna, Carmen Argenziano and Brion James) and a few amusing moments aren’t enough to overcome utterly generic, hackneyed storytelling. Written and produced by former Washington lobbyist (and convicted felon) Jack Abramoff, who is interviewed on-camera, is known to some as “Casino Jack” and others by names not suitable for a family newspaper. A distribution deal with Warner Bros. collapsed when the film had to be shot in Namibia, then under the sway of apartheid. What happened behind the scenes is more interesting than what happens onscreen.

“ROUTE 66”: THE COMPLETE SE- RIES (Shout! Factory): A 24-DVD boxed set ($129.99 retail) of all 166 episodes from the entire run (1960-’64) of the acclaimed CBS drama series starring Martin Milner and George Maharis — the latter replaced by Glenn Corbett in the final season — as two friends who encounter all sorts of people as they travel the title road in a Corvette convertible. The line-up of guest stars is a veritable who’s who of Hollywood stardom: Gene Hackman, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Rod Steiger, Lee Marvin, Joan Crawford, Walter Matthau, Rip Torn, Martin Sheen, James Caan, Ed Asner and many more. The series earned two Emmy nominations in 1962: Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Series (Maharis) and Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Ethel Waters).

SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS (Warner Home Video): The game’s afoot again as Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return as Holmes and Watson in Guy Ritchie’s follow-up to the 2009 blockbuster based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal character. Also returning are Rachel McAdams as Irene Adler and Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lestrade, joined this time by Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry (as Mycroft Holmes) and Jared Harris as that nefarious “Napoleon of crime,” Prof. Moriarty. The next installment’s due in 2014. Available as a single DVD ($28.98 retail) or a DVD/Bluray combo ($35.99 retail). Rated PG-13.

“THE TRIBE”: SERIES 1, PART 2 (Shout! Factory): A four-DVD boxed set ($29.93 retail) containing the second 25 episodes from the premiere 1999 season of the New Zealand-based sci-fi series set in a post-apocalyptic future where adults have perished and children are in charge. Caleb Ross, Meryl Cassle, Antonia Prebble and Victoria Spence head the regular cast.

“THE WALKING TALL TRILOGY COLLECTOR’S EDITION” (Shout! Factory): The saga of real-life Tennessee lawman Buford Pusser was dramatized in a trio of big-screen box-office hits: Joe Don Baker played Pusser in 1973’s Walking Tall (rated R), while Bo Svenson assumed the role in 1975’s Walking Tall Part 2 (rated PG) and 1977’s Final Chapter: Walking Tall (rated R). The DVD boxed set retails for $24.97, the Blu-ray boxed set for $39.97.

MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. ‘ 2012, Mark Burger.

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