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DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: ACE IN THE HOLE (The Criterion Collection)

Billy Wilder’s prescient 1951 drama was virtually ignored by critics and audiences (even a retitling to The Big Carnival didn’t help), but has since undergone a major critical reassessment and is rightly regarded as one of the filmmaker’s most potent, penetrating efforts.Kirk Douglas is in top form as Charles Tatum, a cynical, hard-drinking reporter who bottoms out in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fate and opportunity intervene when a local prospector (Richard Benedict) becomes trapped in a cave in the desert. Tatum pounces upon the story, exploiting it for all it’s worth – and then some. It’s not long before his coverage turns a small-town tragedy into a national media circus that spirals out of control.There’s hardly an unbelievable moment — nor a dull one — in the entire film, which steadfastly refrains from sentiment or redemption of any kind. It’s tough, hard-hitting and on-target – enough to at least earn an Oscar nomination for Best Story & Screenplay (Wilder, Lester Samuels and Walter Newman). If the story seems dated at all, it’s because real-life events have surpassed it.The DVD/Blu-ray combo retails for $39.95 and includes a bevy of extras, including audio commentary and archival interviews with Wilder and Douglas.

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FESTIVAL EXPRESS (Shout! Factory): Classic rock ‘n’ roll fans should groove to this 2003 documentary that recounts a 1970 concert tour across Canada in a customized train featuring such luminaries as the Grateful Dead, The Band, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Buddy Guy, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Janis Joplin (mere months before her death). Given that line-up, it’s safe to say a heady time was had by all! Remarkably, the footage was thought lost for almost 30 years. Happily, it was found. The two-disc DVD retails for $19.98, the Blu-ray for $24.98. Rated R.

FINAL EXAM (Scream Factory/ Shout! Factory): A DVD/Blu-ray combo ($24.97 retail) of writer/director Jimmy Huston’s prototypical 1981 slasher film with a murderous maniac stalking the student body of a small Southern college. Typical drive-in schlock, although well-paced and graced by appealing leading lady Cecile Bagdadi (in her first and only film). Much of the film, which cost a reported $60,000 (!), was shot in North Carolina. Rated R.

“THE FIRST WORLD WAR”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Entertainment One): The title tells all in this 2003 documentary series, broadcast on the Military Channel and based on the best-selling book by Hew Strachan and narrated by producer Jonathan Lewis. The three-DVD boxed set retails for $34.98.

“L.A. LAW”: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Shout! Factory): A DVD collection ($29.93 retail) containing all 20 episodes from the 1987-’88 season of the acclaimed, long-running NBC courtroom drama created by Steven Bochco, starring Harry Hamlin, Jimmy Smits, Susan Dey, Corbin Bernsen, reallife couple Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, Richard Dysart, Michele Greene, Alan Rachins, Larry Drake and Susan Ruttan. Emmy winner for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Drake) and Outstanding Editing for a Series, with an additional 17 nominations including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (Bernsen and Tucker), Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Dey and Eikenberry), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Rachins and Smits), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Ruttan), four for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series and two for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series.

“MAYBERRY, R.F.D.”: THE COM- PLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video): Andy Griffith departed “The Andy Griffith Show” but remained an executive producer for this spin-off/continuation series starring Ken Berry as a young widower who moves to Mayberry with his young son (Buddy Foster), joined by such familiar folk as Frances Bavier (as Aunt Bee), George Lindsey (as Goober) and Jack Dodson (as Howard Sprague). This DVD collection ($29.98 retail) includes all 26 episodes from the inaugural 1968-’69 season of the popular CBS sitcom.

NARCO CULTURA (Cinedigm): Photojournalist Shaul Schwarz turns filmmaker with this award-winning documentary examining the rising popularity of Latin music called “narcocorridos,” which is inspired by actual killers and drug lords in Mexico’s ongoing narcotics war. In Spanish with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray for $34.95.

NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): A collector’s edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.93 retail) of director Kevin S. Tenney’s 1988 shocker about a hellish Halloween party in Suburbia USA, featuring Mimi Kincade, Cathy Podewell and scream queen Linnea Quigley. A surprise box-office hit in limited release, this found greater success as a cable-TV perennial. Fun moments along the way, but few surprises. Still, it’s got a following – and later spawned sequels and a remake. Rated R.

PSYCHO II (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): After 22 years, Norman Bates is coming home and the Bates Motel is back in business in this surprisingly well-rendered (and very respectful) 1983 follow-up to the Hitchcock classic, directed by Hitchcock devotee Richard Franklin. Anthony Perkins adds a witty flourish to his signature role, and an excellent cast includes Vera Miles (reprising her role from the original), Meg Tilly, Dennis Franz and the always welcome Robert Loggia as Norman’s psychiatrist. Some concessions to the then-popular slasher genre, but Tom Holland’s script incorporates tribute, whodunit and black comedy in equal measure. The special-edition DVD retails for $19.93, the special-edition Blu-ray for $29.93. Rated R.

PSYCHO III (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Anthony Perkins is back as Norman Bates and makes his directorial debut in this 1986 sequel, with more emphasis on black comedy and some wicked moments – plus Perkins’ customarily excellent performance — but the seams tend to show. Diana Scarwid, Jeff Fahey and Roberta Maxwell make their marks in support. The special-edition DVD retails for $19.93, the special-edition Blu-ray for $29.93. Rated R.

“SECRETS OF THE THIRD REICH” (Smithsonian Channel/Inception Media Group): A self-explanatory DVD compilation ($19.98 retail) of the four-part Smithsonian Channel documentary series: “Hitler’s Madness,” “Hitler’s General,” “The Ghost of U-513” and “Deadly Missions.”

WHITE ZOMBIE (VCI Entertainment): A “Cary Roan Signature Edition” Blu-ray ($24.97 retail) of brothers Edward and Victor Halperin’s evocative low-budget 1932 chiller featuring Bela Lugosi in one of his best roles as the mysterious and malevolent voodoo master “Murder” Legendre. The first Hollywood zombie movie and one of the biggest independent box-office hits of its time, with creepy pre-Code allusions to necrophilia, drug abuse and slavery. Yes, this was the inspiration for Rob Zombie’s first band. Available in various public-domain editions, this digitallyenhanced edition features audio commentary by author and Lugosi expert Gary Don Rhodes.

WITCHBOARD (Scream Factory/ Shout! Factory): Steer clear of the Ouija board is the message of writer/director Kevin Tenney’s enjoyable 1986 feature debut, among the better and more imaginative low-budget efforts during the slasher-happy ‘80s, boasting Tawny Kitaen’s finest performance (seriously!) and good work by Kathleen Wilhoite as a kooky psychic and Burke Byrnes as a cynical detective, plus Rose Marie (!) as a nosy landlady. The new DVD/Blu-ray combo retails for $26.99. Rated R.!

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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