A CHRISTMAS STORY
PG, 1983, 98 minutes, MGM Home Video, $24.95.
Peter Billingsley stars in this nostalgic small-town comedy about one little boy's quest for the present of his dreams -- a Genuine Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, with a Shock-Proof High-Adventure Combination Trail Compass and Sundial Set Right in the Stock. Bob Clark, creator of "Porky's," turns away from teen sleaze to direct and cowrite this anecdotal delight from a bestselling novel by Jean Shepherd. It's a loose, easy-going look at a quirky family of 1940s Midwesterners as they celebrate Christmas with snowflakes, parades and little noses pressed against windowpanes. Billingsley is a bespectacled doll and Darren McGavin is riotous as the Old Man, perpetually battling the furnace and the Oldsmobile and the neighbor's hound dogs. Melinda Dillon, as the Mom of Moms, stuffs the kids with second helpings, the turkey with her special dressing and baby brother (Ian Petrella) into so many snowsuits he looks like "a tick about to explode." The sound of it is Golden Age radio, and the look, a frayed Saturday Evening Post. A joy right down to the moment Mom slips downstairs to unplug the tree lights.
COMFORT AND JOY
PG, 1984, 90 minutes, Universal Home Video, $69.95.
Scotland's Bill Forsyth of "Local Hero" and "Gregory's Girl" writes and directs this charming comedy about a deejay's run-in with a kooky ice cream Mafia. Bill Paterson stars as the delightful Dicky Bird, a radio personality whose whirlwind of a girlfriend (exciting Eleanor David) leaves him at Christmastime -- which as Dickens and Capra knew is the ideal time for reassessing one's life. The heartbroken Bird decides to become a serious newsman. While making a documentary on Glasgow's version of the Cold War, he inadvertently becomes a peacemaker between ice cream godfather Mr. McCool and renegade cone man Mr. Bunny. It is a deliriously silly script set to the Muzak of life -- a drone of news updates, ad jingles and ice cream chimes -- with a sense of Good Humor. The point is an ancient but still timely one: We take our greatest joy in the comfort we give to others.
R, 1987, 104 minutes, International Video Entertainments, $89.95.
Nick Nolte keeps his big cowboy hat pulled down tight over his ears in this druggy western about a rivalry between two old friends, a Texas Ranger (Nolte) and a cocaine smuggler named Chase (Powers Boothe, in a white suit and hat) who keeps running powder into his friend's territory. The director, Walter Hill, may have thought he was making a film with classic features; he seems to want to strike a mythic western note. But what he manages to do is rip off practically everyone who's ever made a western (especially his mentor, Sam Peckinpah) and himself as well. There are a lot of bullet wounds and buckets of blood all around. And the dialogue is so soaked in tobacco juice that at times it's groaningly funny. Nolte has the best moment: His line, "You know me, Chase. I like to keep the conversation simple," is one of the year's great howlers. Simple! Watching this guy square off his jaw to deliver a line is like waiting for Teddy Roosevelt's lips to move at Mount Rushmore.
THE DIVORCE OF LADY X
Unrated, 1937, color, 92 minutes, Embassy Home Entertainment, $19.95.
When Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon shared the screen in 1939 as Heathcliff and Cathy in William Wyler's "Wuthering Heights," they had already been paired in this farcical high-society romp, and the results weren't very auspicious. The plot is hackneyed and disposable, and the performances aren't what you'd call distinguished. But the movie is an example of a particular brand of Alexander Korda-style, prewar British fluff, and it has its charms. Olivier plays an arrogant barrister who falls in love with a beguiling stranger (Oberon) whose name, unfortunately, he fails to get even though they share a night (chaste, of course) in his hotel room. Through a series of misapprehensions, he comes to believe that she is Lady Mere, the wife of the dotty pe`re (Ralph Richardson) whose divorce he's handling. If you've seen bad German operetta, you know how this works out. But along the way Olivier has his moments as a romantic simp and Oberon is alluringly fresh-faced. The byplay between Richardson and Binnie Barnes, who plays the real Lady Mere, has more snap, and one scene, in which Lord Mere wanders the city trying to figure out the subtext of a casual message from his solicitor to his wife, is vintage Richardson. Directed by Tim Whelan.
Unrated, 1987, in Russian with subtitles, 2 tapes -- 96 and 80 minutes, Home Vision, $59.95.
Modest Mussorgsky's tragic treatment of the "Russian Macbeth" is one of the greatest works in the history of opera, though it has taken quite a while for it to achieve full recognition. With the almost universal use of surtitles, language is no longer a problem, and gradually Mussorgsky's original version is winning audiences in competition with Rimsky-Korsakov's prettier but less powerful revision. This production, by the Bolshoi Opera, is strong on spectacle and well sung; this is the Bolshoi doing what it does best, and for this televised production it brought out some of the strongest voices on its roster, including Yevgeny Nesterenko, Vladislav Piavko, Tamara Sinyavskaya and Arthur Eizen. There will be competition, in a year or two, from a film (and home video) production with a sound track using the National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Mstislav Rostropovich, and anyone who wants only one video "Boris" in his or her collection should wait to compare. But the competition will not be clear-cut, because this is the Rimsky-Korsakov version and the NSO/Erato production is the very different first Mussorgsky version, which omits Act 3 entirely. Comparisons aside, this is an outstanding performance of a great opera and it would enrich any video opera collection.