March is often something of a gray area in the video business: Most of the previous summer's blockbusters are already out on tape, the big Christmas movies are still playing in theaters, and the "prestige" films from the previous year are being held back by savvy studios in the hope that Academy Award attention will boost their eventual video sales. As a result, the spring video market tends to be limited to the failures of the previous fall.
While next month has a few blockbusters -- "Beverly Hills Cop II," "Stakeout" and "The Living Daylights," all priced at $89.95 -- a number of video companies have turned to their film libraries to find offerings for the lower end of the rental market (tapes priced in the $60-$70 range) to shore up their own lackluster lead titles. That's good news for renters whose tastes tend toward the eclectic, because next month will offer an unusually rich assortment of old movies that will make the video store a more interesting place to visit.
Many come from the 1960s -- a decade whose unique tensions are evident in the wide range of movies it produced. On one end of the spectrum resides 1963's "The Thrill of It All," one of the best Doris Day comedies (the one with James Garner and a swimming pool full of soap suds); this story of a housewife turned celebrity-spokeswoman turned housewife was directed by "Moonstruck's" Norman Jewison. "Walk, Don't Run," from 1966, offers Cary Grant's last screen performance, in a romantic comedy played against the backdrop of the Tokyo Olympics. For once, he doesn't get the girl (Samantha Eggar). Nobody ends up with his or her choice in Richard Lester's 1968 "Petulia," which features George C. Scott, Julie Christie and Richard Chamberlain in a romantic triangle. And with its unashamedly Marxist politics, 1965's "The Battle of Algiers" is about as far removed from Doris Day as imaginable. The Italian/Algerian production lost the foreign-language Oscar to "Closely Watched Trains."
Other March arrivals to watch for include "The Nun's Story" (1959), featuring Audrey Hepburn in a habit; the Jane Fonda comedy "Any Wednesday" from 1966; and John Huston's 1972 boxing drama "Fat City." The video companies involved (Warner, MCA, RCA/Columbia and Axon) have done their part by making these tapes available. Let's hope your video dealer has the good taste to do the same.
Little Miss Video Is the world ready for a Shirley Temple renaissance? The folks at Playhouse Video think so, and they're doing their part to usher it in this week with 10 $19.98 tapes starring the Depression's favorite movie moppet. Seven are new to video: "The Little Colonel," "The Littlest Rebel," "Dimples," "Poor Little Rich Girl," "Stowaway," "Just Around the Corner" and "Little Miss Broadway." The three reissues, available previously at higher prices, are classics in their own right: "Heidi," "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" and "Curly Top," whose musical number "Animal Crackers" proved that even the best-behaved children sometimes play with their food. While Shirley's patented all-day Polly-Wolly Doodling may seem out of step with today's underage overachievers, consider this: Temple made all 10 films (and three more) in a four-year period (1935-38), adding to the dozen features she completed in the previous three years.
Cable Comedy In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Robin Williams sings the praises of cable television -- "Without it," he says, "I think it would be death for comedians." Those of us who still rely on rabbit ears judge for ourselves next week when HBO Video launches its Comedy Club tape series with three offerings from the cable network's library of stand-up specials. Williams is on hand for "Reunion: The Tenth Annual Young Comedians Special" along with four cohosts -- "Young Comedians Special" veterans Steven Wright, Howie Mandel, Richard Belzer and Harry Anderson -- who introduce five new hopefuls in nightclubs in the continent's five comedy capitals (Washington isn't one of them). Mandel goes it alone in "Howie Mandel: Live From Maui." And the outsize "Domestic Goddess" of game and talk shows, Rosanne Barr, shows up in her own eponymous special. The one-hour tapes are priced at $39.95; the "Reunion" sound track will also be available next month on a $8.95 audio cassette from Simon and Schuster.