"Platoon" should be in video stores tomorrow, following an out-of-court settlement reached last weekend that gave HBO Video temporary rights to distribute the movie and left Vestron Video $15.7 million richer. Under the terms of the agreement, HBO can market tapes of "Platoon" and "Hoosiers," another disputed film, through August. Come September, Vestron is free to market both tapes for the next 10 years (although it can't actually ship them until mid-October); because the settlement exempts Vestron from any royalty payments on either feature, prices on the two tapes are expected to be extremely low -- less than $20 -- once Vestron takes them over.
The settlement -- which also gives Vestron royalty-free rights to another Hemdale release, the James Woods thriller "Best Seller" -- was dubbed a "fair and reasonable compensation" by Vestron President Jon Peisinger, despite the apparent likelihood of a decision in Vestron's favor if the case had proceeded to trial. "The signs were clearly indicative of a Vestron victory down the road," says Peisinger, "but that was down the road nonetheless."
Just who paid that $15.7 million remains unclear, although it is thought to have come out of the pockets of both Hemdale and HBO. The agreement, which involved all three companies, simply stipulates that Vestron receive the sum, which was paid in two cashier's checks.
HBO plans to keep "Platoon's" $99.95 price tag as well as the Jeep "tribute," a 45-second testimonial by Lee Iacocca that precedes the feature. HBO is legally free to reduce that price between now and September, but HBO Video President Frank O'Connell says the company has no plans to do so. O'Connell wants to "provide the most protection to the retailers," who have been caught in the crossfire the past few months, and a sudden price drop would irritate those who made a large initial investment in the tape. To shore up the value of the tapes, HBO has delayed the movie's pay cable debut from March to September.
O'Connell says that he would "unquestionably" be willing to deal with Hemdale again, and that contests over home video rights are likely to be an issue in the future, "especially when the movies are worth fighting for." Vestron's Peisinger, on the other hand, "would have to think long and hard" before doing business again with Hemdale, which sold "Platoon" rights to HBO long after Vestron thought it had purchased them.
By the time somebody decided that its generous helpings of revenge, remorse and revolution added up to the perfect recipe for a musical, Victor Hugo's classic "Les Mise'rables" had gone before the movie cameras at least 11 times, including a 1927 French silent production that ran more than seven hours. Five of the films were in English, and two of those come out on home video today. The better of the two is the 1935 black-and-white version with classic performances from Fredric March as Jean Valjean and Charles Laughton as Javert; director Richard Boleslawski managed to tell the familiar tale in less than two hours, culminating in a happy ending (Valjean lives). A 1978 British version takes the epic (150 minutes) color-spectacular approach with an odd casting twist: "Psycho's" Anthony Perkins brings his bag of tics to the role of the evil Javert, playing against Richard Jordan's Valjean. Each tape will retail for $59.98.
Brando, Bette and the Duke
One of home video's greatest selling points is that it revives those old movies that you have to see to believe that they were actually filmed. A pair of next week's low-priced ($19.98) releases are cases in point. Marlon Brando may not leap to mind as the logical choice to play Napoleon Bonaparte, but he apparently fit the bill (and the uniform) for "Desiree," a 1954 romance costarring Jean Simmons. The pair never quite get together, and the film concludes with Simmons talking Brando into laying down his sword and packing off to St. Helena. Bette Davis and Joan Collins square off in an Elizabethan love triangle in "The Virgin Queen" (1955) with Davis in the title role and Richard Todd as the spoils (Sir Walter Raleigh); as the title suggests, Davis loses.
Bothfilms -- along with the World War II adventure "Morituri" (1965) starring Brando and "Phone Call From a Stranger" (1952) with Davis as a crippled widow -- are the latest additions to Key Video's low-priced Brando and Davis collections. Next week Key launches a John Wayne collection with seven $19.98 tapes. Two of the films are new to video: "The Big Trail" (1930), Wayne's first feature film, whose experimental wide-screen color format was scaled down for its black-and-white theatrical (and home video, unfortunately) release; and "The Barbarian and the Geisha" (1958) a 19th-century Japanese adventure directed by John Huston. Also included are "North to Alaska" (1960), "The Comancheros" (1961), "Rio Lobo" (1970) directed by Howard Hawks, "The Undefeated" (1969, costarring Rock Hudson) and "Big Jake" (1971).