The name may be different, but the folks at MGM/Pathe Home Video are apparently going to be able to perpetuate the tradition of bringing classic films to new video audiences -- a tradition that shaped the business philosophy of the company's previous incarnation, MGM/UA Home Video. The label has been quiet since last fall, when it was effectively dismantled during Pathe Communications' acquisition of MGM/UA. Next month it will again make its presence known in the market with two promotions involving classic films previously unavailable on videocassette -- a salute to Academy Award-winning performances, and an extension of MGM/UA's line of Bette Davis classics -- that will include the video debut of eight vintage MGM/UA titles.

Timed to coincide with the official opening of Oscar season, which kicks off with next month's announcement of the nominations, the Academy Award promotion includes four winning performances never before seen on tape: Wallace Beery's Best Actor turn in the 1931 version of "The Champ" (remade twice later); Helen Hayes's first Oscar performance, in "The Sin of Madelon Claudet" (1931); Norma Shearer's Best Actress performance in "The Divorcee" (1930); and "A Free Soul" (1931), which won Lionel Barrymore a Best Actor statuette. The four are priced at $29.95 each, as are "Separate Tables" (1958) and "Lilies of the Field" (1963), which feature Best Actor performances by David Niven and Sidney Poitier, respectively.

While most of Bette Davis's finest efforts are already on tape, the well wasn't quite dry when MGM changed hands. Four more are on their way next month: "Beyond the Forest" (1949), a movie far less famous than its most famous line ("What a dump!"); "The Bride Came C.O.D." (1941), in which Davis attempted comedy (opposite James Cagney); "The Catered Affair" (1956), offering Debbie Reynolds's first dramatic role (as Davis's daughter); and "Satan Met a Lady," a 1936 attempt to film "The Maltese Falcon" that was far less successful than the subsequent film bearing the novel's name. All 21 tapes in MGM's Bette Davis collection are priced at $19.95 each.

Justify His Million

More than 400,000 copies later (and counting), Madonna's ground-breaking video single of "Justify My Love" must be interpreted as some form of proof that there is a market out there for the video single. While other artists aren't exactly rushing to have their video clips banned on MTV and released as video singles, at least one other artist is prepared to follow in Madonna's video-format footsteps. Rapper M.C. Hammer, himself no stranger to incorporating others' success strategies into his own, will release the second video single sometime in the next few weeks. "Here Comes the Hammer" has already been filmed for the small screen to the tune of more than $1 million in production costs, funded in part by Pepsi, which will use some of the shoot's footage in a future commercial. The Hammer video won't be too racy for MTV, but at eight minutes, it may be too long for heavy rotation -- especially since a shorter version reportedly will not be available for broadcast use. Featuring additional behind-the-scenes footage, the Hammer video single will run about 15 minutes -- longer than Madonna's steamy bestseller and, at $12.95, $3 more expensive.

Family Ties

Last summer's surprise hit comedy "Problem Child" offended lots of people -- particularly women, animal rights activists and adoptive parents, who took issue with the movie's sympathetic portrayal of attempted rape, the movie poster's humorous take on pet abuse, and the film's general adoptee-from-hell premise, respectively. A letter-writing campaign from adoptive-parent organizations failed to stop Universal's video release of the film -- which hits video rental stores today -- but one Washington writer has succeeded in keeping it out of three local Blockbuster outlets. Linda Bothun, who is an adoptive parent, never got a response from Blockbuster or Universal headquarters, but she did strike a chord with a local franchise holder with three Blockbuster outlets, and Universal can count on selling 30 fewer copies as a result. The chain, on the other hand, did make a highly publicized corporate decision to close its doors to movies rated NC-17 after Donald Wildmon's American Family Association threatened a chainwide boycott.