Despite the abundance of top-billed -- and top-paid -- actors on display in the current crop of summer blockbusters, leading men are still hard to find; they're there on the screen, but thanks to the hardware and special effects that so often take center screen, most of today's leading men are getting lost in the art direction. It wasn't always so. It's hard to imagine Spencer Tracy playing second banana to a soft-drink advertisement on wheels, for example, or Clark Gable directing himself in a movie in which his is the least interesting face -- if only because most of the other faces demonstrate a level of makeup artistry that surpasses the rest of the artistry on screen.
This week CBS/Fox Video -- whose corporate parent has unleashed such leading men of late as Bruce Willis, Andrew Dice Clay and Bart Simpson -- will take viewers back to those bygone days when the leading men were deservedly the focus of attention. Today brings the video debut of four vintage titles starring four actors whose names remind viewers of the years before the targeted moviegoers weren't being driven to the theater by their parents: Tracy, Gable, Gregory Peck and James Earl Jones.
Tracy appears in 1939's "Stanley & Livingstone," a filmed-on-location African adventure with Sir Cedric Hardwicke. Gable also travels to an exotic locale -- postwar Hong Kong -- as a gangster hooked up with Susan Hayward in 1955's "Soldier of Fortune." Peck faces mid-century white-collar angst in "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," costarring Fredric March and Jennifer Jones, from 1956. And Jones delivers his star-making, Academy Award-nominated performance as boxer Jack Jefferson in 1970's "The Great White Hope," with Jane Alexander.
All four reach stores today priced at $39.98 each.
Ol' Blue Eyes In the late 1960s, Fox tried to revive the leading-man appeal of one of the biggest film stars of the '50s with a series patterned on one of the most successful film series of the '60s: Frank Sinatra as America's answer to James Bond -- the swinging detective Tony Rome. It didn't quite work, which is one reason Tony Rome hasn't made it to home video until now. Today brings the first two films in the series: "Tony Rome" (1967), which introduces the eponymous detective in a South Florida location, with Jill St. John, Gena Rowlands and Sue Lyon; and its sequel, "Lady in Cement" (1968), in which Sinatra is joined by Raquel Welch and Lainie Kazan. The two are priced at $59.98 each.
New Blue Eyes Sinatra's alleged heir apparent, Harry Connick Jr., won't make his film acting debut until this fall's David Puttnam feature "Memphis Belle," but he has made quite a name for himself (and his record label, Columbia) this summer by releasing two albums simultaneously featuring his disparate musical styles: the vocal collection "We Are in Love" and the jazz piano offering "Lofty's Roach Souffle." Label affiliate CBS Music Video Enterprises opted to offer both Harrys on one videocassette, however. "Harry Connick Jr. Singin' & Swingin' " features music video clips from both albums: the vocal "Recipe for Love" from "We Are in Love," and the jazz trio "One Last Pitch" from "Roach Souffle." Also included are new video clips from the "When Harry Met Sally ..." movie soundtrack, which made Connick famous: "It Had to Be You" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," as well as a duet with Dr. John, "(Do You Know What It Means To) Miss New Orleans." The tape is priced at $19.98.
Trickle-Down Videonomics While their big-screen sequels battle it out at the box office, the movies that got moviegoers into this sequel-filled jam in the first place are enjoying a renaissance at the video store this summer: "Top Gun," "Die Hard," "Back to the Future" and "48 Hrs." are all currently in the top 40 on the Billboard chart ranking videocassette sales. That's good news for the studios, which would rather see the upsurge in tape sales -- meaning they have to sell new tapes to the stores -- than in rentals, in which case tapes can be recycled. The only unofficial prequel in the bunch, "Top Gun," is performing the strongest, ranked at No. 5. "Gremlins" and "RoboCop," like their sequels, are nowhere to be seen.