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[VIDEO VAULT]

by Mark Burger

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: 5 FINGERS

One of the most fascinating espionage stories of World War II rates top-drawer treatment from director Joseph L. Mankiewicz and screenwriter Michael Wilson – both Oscar-nominated – in this classic 1952 thriller, now available as part of Fox’s “Cinema Archives” series.

The great James Mason is at his greatest as Ulysses Diello, personal valet to the British ambassador of Turkey (Walter Hampden). Diello is diligent, dutiful, and deceptive – selling secrets to the Nazis under the code name “Cicero.” It’s the sort of role Mason excelled at: Ruthless, cunning, witty – yet also vulnerable. This is one of his best performances.

Danielle Darrieux (still active at age 96) plays an alluring, impoverished countess who becomes Diello’s illicit partner in espionage and romance, and Michael Rennie the British agent on Diello’s trail. Mason’s verbal jousting with both Darrieux and Rennie crackle with intensity and innuendo – the unbeatable combination of outstanding writing and outstanding acting. 5 Fingers grips from start to finish.

THE 300 SPARTANS (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment):

The Blu-ray bow ($19.99 retail) of the 1962 adventure detailing the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, with Richard Egan (earnest but miscast) as King Leonidas, with Diane Baker, David Farrar, Donald Houston and (briefly) Sir Ralph Richardson in support. Typically stodgy CinemaScope saga with some impressive battle sequences and a few unintentional laughs.

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment):

Sparks fly when Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) is commissioned to paint the Sistine Chapel by Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison) in director Carol Reed’s overlong but enjoyably bombastic 1965 adaptation of Irving Stone’s best-seller. Diane Cilento, Harry Andrews and Adolfo Celi co-star, but Harrison and Heston’s prickly relationship (reportedly likewise off-camera) yields the most pleasure. A box-office flop but five Oscar nominations: Best Cinematography (color), Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (color), Best Costume Design (color), Best Score and Best Sound. The new Blu-ray retails for $24.99.

“BEWARE THE BATMAN: SHAD- OWS OF GOTHAM” – SEASON 1, PART 1 (DC Entertainment/Warner Home Video):

The Caped Crusader (voiced by Anthony Ruivivar) continues his war against crime in Gotham City, in the first 13 episodes from the inaugural 2013 season of the popular animated series based on Bob Kane’s comic book, aired by DC Nation on Cartoon Network. The two-disc DVD collection retails for $19.97, the Blu-ray for $19.95.

THE CAPTURE OF GRIZZLY AD- AMS (CBS DVD/Paramount):

The title tells all in this 1982 follow-up to the NBC series, with Dan Haggerty reprising his role as the mountain man, wrongly accused of murder. Despite a cast of Western familiars – Chuck Connors, Noah Beery Jr., Kim Darby, Keenan Wynn, June Lockhart, G.W. Bailey, plus Sydney Penny as Adams’ little girl – this is tired fare. Emmy nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing.

THE DEADLY COMPANIONS (VCI Entertainment):

Sam Peckinpah’s 1961 debut feature stars Brian Keith as a gunman who accidentally kills Maureen O’Hara’s son then accompanies her on the long, arduous trek to bury the body. Peckinpah’s trademark Western flavor and attitudes about retribution and honor became a constant, as would contretemps with his producer, in this case Charles FitzSimons (O’Hara’s brother), yielding an uneven but interesting film. Strother Martin and Chill Wills later worked with Peckinpah. O’Hara also sings the theme song. Previously available on various public-domain labels, but this restored Roan Group presentation looks better than any of them.

“THE ESSENTIALLY SPRING COL- LECTION” (Nickelodeon/Paramount):

A special selection of animated children’s DVDs being released to coincide with the advent of spring: Peter Rabbit: Spring Into Adventure!, Peter Rabbit, Max & Ruby: Easter with Max & Ruby, Max & Ruby: Everybunny Loves Spring, SpongeBob  and Friends: Patrick Squarepants, Dora the Explorer: Dora’s Easter Adventure and Dora the Explorer: Egg Hunt. Each DVD retails for $14.99. Nickelodeon/ Paramount is also releasing “Dora the Explorer: Dora in Wonderland” ($16.99 retail), a DVD selection from the popular, award-winning Nickelodeon series including a two-part episode inspired by Alice in Wonderland; and “Lalaloopsy: Friends are Sew Special!” ($16.99 retail), a DVD selection of episodes from the animated Nickelodeon series.

“GENTLE BEN”: SEASON TWO (CBS DVD/Paramount):

Dennis Weaver and Clint Howard return for all 28 epi sodes from the 1968-’69 (and final) season of the prime-time CBS family series about a boy and his bear, based on the novel by Walt Morey. Guest stars include Clint’s brother Ron and father Rance, NFL legend Bart Starr, and Albert Salmi. The four-DVD boxed set retails for $36.

“GERONIMO STILTON: INTRIGUE ON THE RODENT EXPRESS AND OTHER ADVENTURES” (Entertainment One):

The title tells all in this DVD collection ($12.98 retail) of selected episodes from the animated children’s series following the adventures of a mouse (voiced by Brian Drummond) with a knack for solving mysteries.

“GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU: FRIENDSHIP ADVENTURES” (Entertainment One):

A DVD selection ($12.98 retail) of seven episodes from the animated series following the adventures of Little Nutbrown Hare, inspired by Sam McBratney’s best-selling children’s novel.

THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPI- NESS (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment):

Director Mark Robson earned an Oscar nomination for this soapy but sincere 1958 CinemaScope adaptation of Alan Burgess’ best-seller The Small Woman, detailing the life of English governess Gladys Aylward (Ingrid Bergman) as a missionary in China. Despite being Anglos playing Asians, Curt Jurgens and Robert Donat (in his final film) offer thoughtful interpretations. The new Bluray retails for $24.99.

“LAVERNE & SHIRLEY”: THE SEV- ENTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount):

Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams are back as Milwaukee’s most eligible bachelorettes in all 22 episodes from the 1981-’82 season of the award-winning ABC sitcom. The three-DVD boxed set retails for $42.99.

“REGULAR SHOW: MORDECAI AND MARGARET PACK” (Cartoon Network/Warner Home Video):

A DVD selection ($19.82 retail) of 16 episodes from the Emmy-winning (Outstanding Short-Format Animated Program) comedy series created by JG Quintel, featuring the voices of Quintel (as Mordecai), Janie Haddad Tompkins (as Margaret), and William Salyers (as Rigby).

“TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: MUTAGEN MAYHEM” (Nickelodeon/Paramount):

The “heroes in a half-shell” return in this DVD collection ($14.99 retail) of six episodes from the animated Nickelodeon fantasy series, featuring the voices of Sean Astin, Jason Biggs and Mae Whitman.

THE WAR BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN (CBS DVD/Paramount):

The works of James Thurber inspired this broad, bumpy 1972 farce with Jack Lemmon as a cartoonist who marries a divorcee (Barbara Harris) with three kids and has difficulty adjusting. Jason Robards steals it as Harris’ ex-husband and Lisa Gerritsen is terrific as Harris’ younger daughter, with Herb Edelman, Severn Darden, Lisa Eilbacher (in her screen debut) and Dr. Joyce Brothers (!). Rated PG.

“WINX CLUB: MAGICAL ADVEN- TURE” (Nickelodeon/Paramount):

A two-DVD collection ($16.99 retail) including an animated CGI feature plus seven episodes from the popular Nickelodeon children’s series about five girls with magical powers battling the forces of evil. !

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