PG-13, 1987, 105 minutes, Vestron Video, $89.98.
Nobody has better posture than Patrick Swayze. And it's worth renting this video just to see him stand up straight. Swayze, also terrific at terpsichore, joins mischievous Jennifer Grey in this dazzling dance romance -- the "Flashdance" of the Borsch Belt. Grey plays a 17-year-old Daddy's Girl whose family vacation turns into a torrid rite of passage when she falls for a working-class dance teacher and the sexy dancing of the '60s. She and Swayze set off plenty of sparks in this rich girl-poor boy romance, much to the dismay of Grey's doctor daddy -- Jerry Orbach, superb as the compassionate family man who is losing his best girl in this enjoyable cornball dramedy. Cynthia Rhodes also joins this excellent cast as Swayze's sidelined dancing partner, with promising Jane Bruckner as Grey's prissy older sister. Eleanor Bergstein wrote the screenplay based on her own dirty dancing days, with Kenny Ortega contributing the exuberant, sultry choreography. Mostly, the movie is an excuse to watch the leads move their gorgeous, sweaty bodies. It's fluidly directed by Emile Ardolino, who won an Oscar for his documentary "He Makes Me Feel Like Dancing." He, too, is a man who makes you feel like dancing.
BACK TO THE BEACH
PG, 1987, 92 minutes, Paramount Pictures, $89.95 (VHS), $29.95 (Beta).
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water -- Annette and Frankie shake out their beach blankets for a relentless spoof of the surfing movies of the '60s. He's still the Big Kahuna and she's the so-called "queen of the sand," and together they are, aptly, as wooden as Tiki Hut totems. Likewise their sequel is as affably retarded as the original series, its skimpy plot dressed up in surfer footage and beachside production numbers -- such as Annette doing the "Jamaica Ska" with the reggae band Fishbone. "Beach," the feature debut of video director Lyndall Hobbs, finds the former teen idols married, middle-aged and living in Ohio. With their son Bobby in tow, they decide to visit their daughter in their old stomping grounds at Malibu. During their stay, Frankie runs into Connie Stevens, playing one of the Kahuna's old flames. Annette gets jealous. This movie's only grit is between her toes. It's strong on lines, short on story, and twice as long as the material merits. Still, worse things have washed up on the beach.
Unrated, 1954, 110 minutes,
Republic Pictures Home Video, $19.95.
Directed by Nicholas Ray, from a screenplay by Philip Yordan, this is the only Western Joan Crawford ever made and its a real strange one. The film's about a feud between Crawford and the townspeople, headed by Mercedes McCambridge, over the location of her gambling house, which is conveniently located on the site of the proposed railroad depot. But its real interest lies in the density of perverse detail that Ray has packed into the subtext. Almost everything about this film -- from Crawford's outfits to the sexual tension between the leads -- seems cockeyed, cloaked, as if the filmmakers don't quite want to reveal what's really going on. The title character, played by Sterling Hayden, is a gunslinger who has hung up his guns, but has to strap them on again to defend Crawford (who looks flinty enough to stand off the Mexican Army). Some of the parties who made the film were involved in the blacklisting controversies of the '50s, and there's more than a little witch hunt hysteria in the town's attempts to get ropes around certain people's necks. The real adversaries in the film are the women, which is part of what makes this such a unique item: It's feminine jealousy that fuels the violence here; the men are almost inconsequential. McCambridge is hilariously fever-pitched trying to bring down Crawford -- like a sagebrush Medea. With Ward Bond and Ernest Borgnine, and a title song by Peggy Lee.
THE QUIET MAN
Unrated, 1952, 129 minutes, Republic Pictures Home Video, $19.95.
John Ford won an Oscar for Best Director for this film about a prizefighting Yank's return to his home in Ireland, and many people have a soft spot in their hearts for it. But in order to appreciate this film, which was shot partly on location in Ireland by Winton C. Hoch, who also won an Oscar, you have to forgive its cozy misogyny and its cloyingly adorable Irishmen. John Wayne is the Yank and he's in fine condition -- a prime specimen. And so is the almost unnaturally striking Maureen O'Hara, as the lovely colleen he falls in love with. The impediment to their betrothal is a rather large one -- Victor McLaglen, who plays O'Hara's brother. McLaglen and Wayne, who refuses to fight because of a mishap in the ring that forced him to retire, eventually have to duke it out to settle the matter, and the fight is the donnybrook of the century, sprawling all over the lush Irish countryside. The movie does seduce you, in spite of yourself. -- Hal Hinson
Unrated, 1986, in Italian with subtitles, 150 minutes, Home Vision, $39.95.
Sometimes, watching a production from La Scala in Milan, one suspects that the company was coasting on its towering reputation, or that nonartistic considerations (budget, politics, clashing egos or ideologies) interfered with the final product. Not this time. For Puccini's tear-jerker, La Scala went first class, with the music in the able hands of Lorin Maazel and the atmosphere entrusted to Japanese director Keita Asari. The result is deeply satisfying; all of Puccini's important operas except "Gianni Schicchi" are now available in good home video editions. Like the outstanding "Butterfly" recently presented by the Washington Opera, this one uses a Japanese singer, Yasuko Hayashi, in the title role. The outcome is visual communication (body language as well as sometimes highly stylized theatrical gestures) that reinforces the music. In the video dimension, this production has opening credits and a staging of the prelude worthy of a Kabuki drama or perhaps a bit of stark minimalism by Beckett. Besides Hayashi, fine singing can be heard from Peter Dvorsky as Pinkerton, Hak-Nam Kim as Suzuki and Giorgio Zancanaro as Sharpless.