Whoever said love can't be sold -- or rented -- has been proved wrong this Valentine's season. The video business has finally caught on to the marketing possibilities that Valentine's Day presents; television viewers have been urged to pick up those copies of "Pretty Woman" left over from Christmas as the perfect Valentine's gift, and another group of previously discounted love stories on tape is being promoted again. Though this is a new phenomenon for the holiday-hungry video marketers, they have yet to exploit what is likely home video's most widely appreciated role in the yearly Valentine's festivities -- providing comfort and company for those of us who have nothing better to do that special night but stay home with a tape. As cynical as it may sound, that approach may not be too many years off; after all, video companies follow the lead of their movie-studio parents, one of whom is observing this year's feast of hearts by making it opening night for a movie about cannibalism.
One of these years some tapemonger will stumble onto the promotional possibilities that lie in that other holiday in February, and start pushing patriotic movies for Presidents Day weekend. Not this year; one of the most patriotic video promotions in memory is on tap for release soon, but it won't hit the stores until early next month. That's when CBS/Fox Video will engineer the home video debut of the first sampling of the 21 movies in the Twentieth Century Fox vaults starring the once-beloved embodiment of the American Dream, Will Rogers.
Four vintage big-screen exercises in Rogers's unique brand of Americans will hit video stores priced at $19.98 each. Rogers takes the title role in all four: the cowboy who ends up settling a European revolution in "Ambassador Bill" (1931, with Ray Milland); Mark Twain's time traveler in "A Connecticut Yankee," the 1931 adaptation (with Myrna Loy) of the classic satire; a father of six trying to regain the family fortune lost in a bank failure in "Mr. Skitch" (1935, featuring ZaSu Pitts); and a sausage maker who survives a brush with Hollywood stardom in "Doubting Thomas" (1935).
Although the timing seems somewhat arbitrary for the video revival of the Depression's favorite humorist -- unless the folks at Fox side with the pessimists on the economic forecast -- Rogers may reach a new, younger audience this spring when a big-budgeted musical showcasing his vaudeville routines arrives on Broadway. If it catches on, CBS/Fox will doubtless unearth more Rogers gems for tape; if not the movie studio may have to wait until next Presidents Day.
This time last year, it looked as though a small slew of Academy Award nominations might improve the box office prospects of "Glory," which was struggling to find an audience commensurate with its critical reception. The nominations -- and a couple of awards -- didn't help very much, but the film has proved to be remarkably resilient on tape, remaining on the list of top rental titles long after movies that grossed far more at the multiplex. Now "Glory" will be able to reach a new audience that may not be able to rent it at rule-abiding video stores -- namely, the 20,000 junior and senior high schools that just received free copies of the R-rated movie, courtesy of Pepsi-Cola. The 20,000 tapes were distributed along with lesson plans as part of Pepsi's corporate commemoration of Black History Month. Parents needn't worry about the gory side of "Glory" -- the film is being distributed in a special version re-edited for underage consumption.
Down for the Discount
RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video may be only the most recent major video studio to drop re-release prices below the $15 mark. While none of the other studios is following RCA/Columbia's lead (after Paramount and MGM/UA) of re-pricing movies at $14.95 each, it is quietly releasing the industry's heaviest slate of big and not-so-big hits at fire sale prices. Last month "Hairspray," "Murphy's Romance," "The Seventh Sign" and "Ishtar" showed up in the nation's discount bins -- not a moment too soon on the latter, some might say. And this week brings "The Bear," Tony Danza's fizzled big-screen jump "She's Out of Control," and children's favorites "Born Free" and "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad," all priced at $14.95. But RCA/Columbia, one of the first studios to move away from the Beta format, is resorting to old ways in one aspect of the offer; despite Beta-meister Sony Corp.'s new role as parent of one-half of RCA/Columbia partnership, the tapes are available only in VHS.