DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: MINISTRY OF FEAR (The Criterion Collection)
Based on Graham Green’s novel — although not entirely faithfully — Fritz Lang’s 1944 suspense thriller is top-notch entertainment in the best Hitchcock tradition. Indeed, some cineastes prefer Lang to Hitchcock.Ray Milland is first-rate as Stephen Neale, just barely released from an asylum (for the mercy-killing of his wife) when he is drawn into a whirlpool of deception, intrigue and murder. Is he delusional or has he stumbled across a Nazi spy ring? It’s revealing nothing to confirm it’s the latter.Anchored by Milland’s performance, Lang maintains a crackling pace throughout, with war-torn London (or Hollywood’s re-creation thereof) a vivid backdrop for the paranoid proceedings. Marjorie Reynolds, Carl Esmond, Dan Duryea, Alan Napier, Percy Waram, Hillary Brooke and Erskine Sanford offer solid support. The DVD retails for $19.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95.
“THE AMAZING WORLD OF GUMBALL: ‘THE MYSTERY’” (Cartoon Network/Warner Home Video): A DVD compilation ($14.97 retail) of all 12 episodes from the initial 2011 season of the award-winning, animated children’s series, including the title tale, which follows the misadventures of a 12-year-old gumball (voiced by Logan Grove).
BABAR: THE MOVIE (Entertainment One): A G-rated animated musical feature based on Jean de Brunhoff’s perennially popular series of children’s books, available on DVD ($14.98 retail). Entertainment One has also released “Babar: The Classic Series — The Complete First Season,” a two-DVD collection ($19.98 retail) of all 13 episodes from the inaugural 1989 season of the award-winning animated series that originally aired on HBO.
BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: BLOOD & CHROME (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): An unrated version of the SyFy prequel to the popular, award-winning series, first aired in the 1970s and then successfully revived and updated more than 25 years later. Luke Pasqualino plays the young William Adama, defending the human race against the dreaded Cylons. The DVD retails for $29.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $34.98.
“BEN 10 OMNIVERSE: A NEW BEGIN- NING” (Cartoon Network/Warner Home Video): A two-DVD collection ($19.97 retail) of 10 episodes from the premiere 2012 season of the animated sci-fi series following the adventures of a young hero (voiced by Yuri Lowenthal) who can transform into any number of alien beings.
THE CAPTAIN’S TABLE (VCI Entertainment): Frothy 1959 seagoing comedy based on a novel by Richard Gordon (of Doctor in the House fame), with John Gregson as the new skipper of a cruise ship. Lots of British stalwarts on hand (and on board), including Donald Sinden, Peggy Cummins, Maurice Denham, Joan Sims and John LeMesurier. The food fight is a highlight.
CARAVAN (VCI Entertainment): A dashing, athletic Stewart Granger headlines this enjoyably florid 1946 costume melodrama based on Lady Eleanore Smith’s novel. Anne Crawford and Jean Kent play the ladies in Granger’s life, while Dennis Price and Robert Helpmann sneer and preen as the villains. The original British cut (which this is) runs two hours, but in the US, an 80-minute (!) version was released.
CHRISTIAN COWBOY DOUBLE FEA- TURE VOLUME 1 (VCI Entertainment): A DVD twin-bill ($9.99 retail) of Christianthemed animated children’s Westerns from producer Ken Anderson and director Art Davis: Badrock Valley Gang (1986) and Danger on the Pioneer Express (1987).
CURIOUS GEORGE SWINGS INTO SPRING (Universal Studios Home Entertainmen): The title tells all in this all-new animated feature ($19.98 retail) in which the beloved monkey, immortalized in a popular series of children’s books by Hans Augusto Rey and Margret Rey, celebrates the season of spring.
DORA’S EASTER COLLECTION (Nickelodeon/Paramount Home Entertainment): The title tells all in this two-DVD gift set ($19.99 retail) of Easter-themed episodes from the long-running, award-winning animated children’s series “Dora the Explorer.” Nickelodeon/Paramount is also releasing “Dora the Explorer: Dora’s Butterfly Ball,” a selection of episodes from the series which retails for $14.99.
GIVE ME THE BANJO (Docurama Films/ Cinedigm): This feature documentary ($29.95 retail) explores the history and popularity of the title instrument, featuring appearances by Steve Martin, Bela Fleck, Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, Abigail Washburn and more.
“H20: JUST ADD WATER” (Flatiron Film Company/Cinedigm): The awardwinning Australian comedy series, which stars Claire Holt, Phoebe Tonkin and Cariba Heine as teens who can transform into mermaids, ran from 2006-’10 and broadcast on Nickelodeon for a time, is now available: “The Complete Season One,” “The Complete Season Two” and “The Complete Season Three” each contain 13 episodes and each DVD retails for $24.95.
LUPINO LANE COLLECTION (Alpha Home Entertainment): A DVD selection ($7.98 retail) of six comedy shorts featuring London-born comic actor Lupino Lane (a cousin of Ida’s), most of which co-star brother Wallace Lupino and some directed by Lupino Lane himself (sometimes under the pseudonym Henry W. George). Breezy slapstick for nostalgia buffs.
“MAX & RUBY: A BUNNY FOR EVERY SEASON” (Nickelodeon/Paramount Home Entertainment): A four-DVD collection ($26.99 retail) of 48 stories from the long-running, animated Nickelodeon series following the adventures of two bunnies, named Max and Ruby.
“OLE OLSEN & CHIC JOHNSON COL- LECTION” (Alpha Home Entertainment): For vaudeville buffs, this DVD twin-bill ($7.98 retail) includes two ‘50s TV specials featuring the Hellzapoppin comedy team of “Ole” Olsen and “Chic” Johnson, including one on Milton Berle’s popular variety show. Enjoyable nostalgia, especially the vintage TV ads.
‘THE RED HEN’… AND MORE COOKING STORIES (Scholastic Storybook Selections): A DVD collection ($14.95 retail) of popular children’s tales, including Bread Comes to Life (narrated by Lily Tomlin), Arnie the Doughnut (narrated by Michael McKean) and the title tale.
“REGULAR SHOW: PARTY PACK” (Cartoon Network/Warner Home Video): A DVD collection ($19.82 retail) of 16 episodes from the popular, animated Cartoon Network series about a blue jay (named Mordecai) and a raccoon (named Rigby) who toil as park groundskeepers and always seem to find trouble. Cartoon Network/Warner Home Video has also released ‘Regular Show’: The Best DVD in the World — At This Moment in Time, a collection of 16 episodes from the second and third seasons which also retails for $19.82. In 2012, the series won the Emmy Award as Outstanding Short-Format Animated Program.
SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE (Alpha Home Entertainment): George M. Cohan made a rare screen appearance in this silent 1917 screen adaptation of the hit Broadway play he adapted from Earl Derr Biggers’ novel, as a writer whose attempt to write a novel in 24 hours at an isolated inn is repeatedly interrupted by unexpected visitors and trespassers. The story has been remade many times over the years, often with the emphasis on mystery and suspense. Here it’s on humor. This old chestnut, co-starring Anna Q. Nilsson and future Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (under the name Elda Furry), is a pleasant diversion for silent-screen aficionados and Cohan completists.
SPECIAL AGENT K-7 (Alpha Home Entertainment): Walter McGrail headlines this entertaining 1934 programmer as “Lanny” Landers, a wealthy playboy who moonlights as an undercover FBI agent and battles organized crime. More a whodunit than a crime drama, this was the first in a proposed series that never came to pass. Irving Pichel, erstwhile “Cisco Kid” Duncan Renaldo and silent comedy star Snub Pollard also appear.
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2013, Mark Burger.