by Mark Burger


(Timeless Media Group)

During the 1970s, conspiracy movies were all the rage – so it’s hardly surprising that British media mogul Sir Lew Grade would jump on the bandwagon with a pair of glossy, star-studded outings that missed the box-office boat but qualify as guilty pleasures.

In 1977’s The Cassandra Crossing (***), travelers aboard a train are infected with plague, prompting hard-boiled military man Burt Lancaster to order the train sealed, secured and sent across the title overpass, which may not be as safe as he claims. As befits a ‘70s disaster saga, there’s an all-star passenger list: Sophia Loren, Richard Harris, Martin Sheen, Lee Strasberg, Lionel Stander, Ann Turkel (then Harris’ wife) and O.J. Simpson, who isn’t who he claims, either. Often silly and overacted, the film is nevertheless

engrossing, amusing (sometimes unintentionally), and graced with a typically terrific Jerry Goldsmith score.

In 1977’s The Domino Principle ( ), hardened convict Gene Hackman is sprung from prison by a mysterious cadre of businessmen (Richard Widmark, Edward Albert and Eli Wallach) to carry out an assassination. Soon, however, Hackman and wife Candice Bergen realize that they’re merely pawns in this deadly game. Not among director Stanley Kramer’s more distinguished productions (even he didn’t like it), it’s strangely persuasive in its stiff, stodgy way – right down to its cynical ending.

The DVD/Blu-ray combo retails for $24.99. Both films are rated R.

THE APRIL FOOLS (CBS DVD/Paramount): Curious 1969 romantic farce with Jack Lemmon as an unhappily married, newly-hired executive who falls in love with the equally unhappy wife (Catherine Deneuve in her American film debut) of his playboy boss (Peter Lawford). Director Stuart Rosenberg was hardly renowned for his comedies, but the Marvin Hamlisch score, Dionne Warwick theme song and “mod” trappings have their appeal, as do supporting players Myrna Loy, Charles Boyer, Jack Weston, Harvey Korman, Kenneth Mars, Melinda Dillon, David Doyle and Sally Kellerman (as Lemmon’s wife). Rated PG.

BATTLE OF THE DAMNED (Anchor Bay): Executive producer Dolph Lundgren wages war against zombies to save a woman (Melanie Zanetti) trapped in a quarantine zone. Familiar and occasionally talky, but not without its charms – and the killer robots are a fun touch. Rated R.

HAVANA 57 (Monarch Home Entertainment): Rookie detective Juan Reidinger investigates a murder tied to rising political unrest in pre-Castro Cuba in writer/ director Jim Purdy’s adaptation of Harlan Abrahams’ novels, which aspires to James Ellroy territory but falls short – although it’s watchable. As a Canadian production, this was filmed on location. Paulino Nunes adds spark as Reidinger’s corrupt partner.

HUNTED (VCI Entertainment): Fugitive Dirk Bogarde and abused child Jon Whiteley try to escape England in director Charles Crichton’s award-winning, low-key 1952 drama, also released as The Stranger In Between. Kay Walsh, Elizabeth Sellars and Geoffrey Keen are notable in support, but this show belongs to Bogarde and Whiteley (in his screen debut).

“JOHAN FALK TRILOGY” (MHz Networks): A self-explanatory three-DVD collection ($39.95 retail) of the hit crime thrillers that introduced Jakob Ekluand as the title character, a hard-boiled Gothenburg detective who bends the rules but gets the job done: Zero Tolerance (1999), Executive Protection (2001) and The Third Wave (2003). All three were directed by Anders Nilsson, and spawned the popular Swedish TV series with Eklund reprising the role. In Swedish with English subtitles.

KNIGHT OF THE DEAD (Inception Media Group): During the Black Death of the 14 th century, a band of knights battles the living dead. Lots of clanking swords, clunky dialogue and gruesome gore for the horror faithful. Others, beware.

McCONKEY (Anchor Bay): A featurelength documentary ($24.98 retail) following the life of Canadian-born professional skier and extreme sports legend Shane McConkey, who perished at age 39 in a skiing accident in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy in 2009.

MISCHIEF NIGHT (Image Entertainment): Blind teenager Noell Coet is terrorized by an intruder the night before Halloween. Routine scare fare with a few twists and a decent cast: Daniel Hugh Kelly, Erica Leerhsen, Ally Walker, Charlie O’Connell, Ian Bamberg, Adam C. Edwards and Richard Riehle.

ONCE A JOLLY SWAGMAN (VCI Entertainment): Dirk Bogarde is good as a factory worker who gains fame on the motorcycle circuit in pre-World War II England in this 1949 adaptation of Montagu Slater’s novel, with Renee Asherson, Bonar Colleano, Thora Hird, Bill Owen and Cyril Cusack in support. Released in America, incredibly, as Maniacs on Wheels (!).

“THE RED SKELTON SHOW: THE LOST EPISODES” (Timeless Media Group): The title tells all in this two-DVD collection ($19.97 retail) of the awardwinning, long-running (20 seasons!) comedy/variety show hosted by Red Skelton. Guest stars include Eve Arden, Sebastian Cabot, Fabian, Keenan Wynn, Vivian Vance, Arthur Godfrey and Jackie Gleason.

ROMEO AND JULIET (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld play Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers in this PG-13-rated adaptation penned by Julian Fellowes and directed by Carlo Carlei, featuring Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard, Tom Wisdom and Kodi Smit-McPhee. The DVD retails for $22.98, the Blu-ray for $29.99.

“SEBASTIAN BERGMAN: THE CURSED ONE” – PARTS 1 & 2 (MHz Networks): Rolf Lassgard plays the title role of a troubled but tenacious criminal profiler tapped by the Stockholm police to track down a serial killer from his past in this two-DVD boxed set ($29.95 retail) taken from the popular Swedish mystery series (Den fordomde). In Swedish with English subtitles.

THE THREE FACES OF EVE (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment):

Joanne Woodward won the 1957 Oscar as Best Actress for her stellar turn as young wife suffering from a severe multiplepersonality disorder. Nunnally Johnson’s adaptation of the best-selling book is a bit dated but still affecting and powerful. Lee J. Cobb is also first-rate as Eve’s psychiatrist. The new Blu-ray retails for $24.99.

UNMANNED: AMERICA’S DRONE WARS (The Disinformation Company): The title’s the topic in award-winning filmmaker Robert Greenwald’s latest documentary, which tackles the controversial issue of the US military’s practice of drone attacks. The DVD retails for $19.98).

“THE VAMPIRE DIARIES”: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): Bloodsucker brothers Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder continue vying for the affections of Nina Dobrev in all 23 episodes from the 2012-’13 season of the award-winning CW Television Network series based on L.J. Smith’s best-selling series of novels. The DVD boxed set retails for $59.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $69.97. Both contain extensive special features.

“THE WHITE QUEEN” (Anchor Bay): Philippa Gregory’s best-selling series of historical novels is adapted as a 10-part Starz Original mini-series, which dramatizes the “War of the Roses” feud that rocked the British monarchy in 15th-century England. Max Irons (son of Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack) plays young Edward IV, with Rebecca Ferguson, Amanda Hale, Faye Marsay, James Frain and Janet McTeer. The DVD boxed set retails for $49.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $59.99. !

MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2013, Mark Burger.