Home video has added a whole new dimension to the public mourning that surrounds the death of a beloved celebrity, and video consumers are jumping on the funereal bandwagon with gusto. RKO Home Video reports that orders on some of its Fred Astaire films tripled in the week after his death and made up about 90 percent of the company's total business. RKO offers seven Astaire films -- five with Ginger Rogers -- on videocassettes duplicated from the original studio masters from the RKO vaults; while other labels offer lower prices on some of the same movies ($19.95 compared with RKO's $29.95), their video copies were struck from prints, losing some of the sharp black-and-white contrast. RKO also offers an elegantly packaged boxed set of "Top Hat," "Swing Time" and "Shall We Dance" for $75.
On the morning after Jackie Gleason's death, MPI Home Video, sole purveyor of the "Honeymooners" Lost Episodes, sold more Gleason tapes than it had in the previous six weeks, according to Jaffer Ali, vice president for sales. The morning after also brought a call from TeeVee Toons entrepreneur Steven Gottleib, which will result in a music video that sets Gleason clips to the "Honeymooners Serenade," which Gleason himself penned. Targeted for MTV and VH-1, the video will be "a tribute more than anything else," says Ali. "We won't make a penny off of it." MPI has sold more than 150,000 copies of its 20 volumes of "Honeymooners" episodes, and has more than 20 more in the wings; a $14.95, 30-minute "Best of" compilation from the collection, already on the release schedule, is due in stores next week. Ali says the company decided against rushing to market with another compilation tape, "The Great Gleason," that is in the can but not on the schedule. "We just can't exploit something we think is a real loss," says Ali, "even though -- I hate to say it -- we could make a killing."
Eddie, Eddie Everywhere
Now that the movie lines for "Beverly Hills Cop II" have dwindled, Eddie Murphy is set to jam traffic in video stores. Next Wednesday brings the rental release of "The Golden Child," last Christmas season's big Murphy movie, which fared much better with audiences than with critics. In addition, for fans who must watch Eddie in every movie he's in -- the kind that some say made "Golden Child" a success -- Paramount has assembled a specially priced Eddie Murphy video library: "Beverly Hills Cop," "Trading Places," "48 Hrs.," the concert film "Eddie Murphy Delirious" and "Best Defense," in which he plays a bigger part on the cover than he does in the movie. The collection is priced at $99.75, or $19.95 per movie. The catch: you have to buy all five. Even if you don't want to buy all five, they will probably be easier to rent, as video retailers often take advantage of price reductions to replenish their inventories.
By pricing "The Golden Child" at $79.95, Paramount remains the only movie studio that hasn't raised the price on its lead rental titles to $89.95. When the higher price was introduced with "Aliens" in February, angry rental store owners threatened to carry fewer copies of the big hit movies, which would make it even harder for customers to find the movies they want. It turns out, however, that most video retailers, who have only so much money they can spend on buying movies, are ordering the same number of hits, and are cutting back instead (if at all) on less popular titles -- vintage films, B-movies and special-interest programming. As a result, the big movies remain as hard to find as ever, while less commercial videocassettes are even scarcer.
At Long Last 'Purple'
Another big Christmas movie also hits video stores on Wednesday -- a year and a half after its theatrical release. Steven Spielberg's "The Color Purple" has been so long in coming to video because it was subject to that bygone Hollywood staple, the reissue. The home video market has all but destroyed the once-standard practice of releasing popular films for a second go-round in the theaters, but earlier this year, about the time that most studios would have put "The Color Purple" on video, Warner Bros. put it on the big screen once again.
Spielberg movies often take their time making the transition to tape. Paramount didn't get "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" onto video for more than two years after its debut. And the all-time box office champ "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" still isn't available on video five years after it first appeared, and there's no word on when it will hit the home screen -- if ever.
The Edge of Your Sofa
A number of recent attempts to revive the suspense-thriller genre are on their way to video stores this summer. "The Morning After" hits rental shelves tomorrow, followed by Debra Winger and Teresa Russell in "Black Widow" toward the end of the month, Steve Guttenberg and Elizabeth McGovern in "The Bedroom Window" in mid-August, and "The Stepfather" soon thereafter. Meanwhile, the surprise hit "Jagged Edge," whose success some in the movie industry credit with the sudden resurgence of the category, will be discounted to $19.95 next month.