James Toback Gets His 'Fingers' to Do More Walking; 'The Bicycle Thief' and 'The Asphalt Jungle' Return

Times Staff Writer

Another controversial cult film, writer-director James Toback's "Fingers," is being released Tuesday by Media at $49.95.

This is one of these sordid melodramas that fans either love or loathe. Despite limited distribution--60 theaters in 10 cities--when it was released in 1978, it has attained the status of cult classic. "Fingers" debuted on videocassette the same year it was released, but that was before the videocassette boom. It quickly went out of print.

"It's been a struggle to get it exposed," Toback explained. "I've never given up on it. Videocassettes are a great thing for a movie like this. It gives it a whole new life, a whole new audience. It's like the movie was reborn."

Harvey Keitel plays Jimmy Fingers, a multifaceted character who dreams of being a concert pianist while doubling as hard-boiled debt collector. The movie was a milestone for ex-football star Jim Brown, always noted for his macho performances. This time he was singled out for his unusually controlled and low-key portrayal.

Labeled "gritty" and "unsettling" by its admirers, the movie has also generated some violently negative reactions. Toback likes to tell the story of a student who approached him after seeing it in a film school class: "She said, 'I'm not a violent person but I'd like to take a knife and stick it in your face.' "

Made for just $1 million, it has earned, according to Toback, only $600,000 in this country but a total of $6 million worldwide.

Recently in New York, Toback saw one of the movie's rare showings on TV. The 91-minute film was chopped to 70 minutes. "It wasn't a bad censoring job," he said. "If I had to cut 21 minutes out, I'd do it that way. Of course, I don't want to see anything cut out. That's why cassettes are so nice--nothing is cut."

MORE OLD MOVIES: The 1949 Italian film, "The Bicycle Thief," which always gets votes when critics assemble their all-time Top 10, is available this week, only with subtitles, on Corinth Video for $69.95. Directed by Vittorio de Sica, it's considered the gem of the Italian neo-realist film movement. It shows how a man in post-World War II Italy copes after the theft of a bicycle, which is vital to his job. Only available by phone or mail: (800) 221-4720.

Recent releases: John Huston's "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950), a crime drama famed for a brief bit by a dazzling new actress, Marilyn Monroe (MGM/UA, $69.95); two James Stewart Westerns, "Bend of the River" (1952) and "Winchester '73" (1950), out this week on MCA at $59.95.

HORROR/ACTION: "Creepers," considered a high-class B-movie horror, is about a girl who can communicate with insects through telepathy. Full of creepy-crawlies, it's just out on Media at $69.95. Other recent horror releases: "Death Curse of Tartu" (Active Video, $49.95), "The Body Beneath" (World Video ($59.95) and two on Vestron at $79.95--"Flesh and Blood" and "Burial Ground."

Three horror spoofs will make their cassette debuts in the next few weeks. "School Spirit," a comic ghost story, is due next week on Media. The Lauren Hutton vampire comedy, "Once Bitten" (Vestron), comes out April 16. "Transylvania 6-5000" (New World), with Jeff Goldblum, will be out March 25. Though it was a box-office bomb, it's expected to do good rental business.

"Vincent Price's Once Upon a Midnight Scary" (1979) is out next week (Video Gems, $29.95).

SPORTS: Continental Video gambled that boxing fans would be eager to see Monday's middleweight championship bouts at home as soon as possible. For $29.95, a cassette of these March 10 matches is in the stores Thursday, a mere 10 days after the event, which must be some kind of record. The fights were shown only on closed-circuit theater TV. In case you hadn't heard, Marvin Hagler beat John Mugabi in 11 rounds and Tommy Hearns clobbered James Shuler in the first.

Ex-Yankees Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Phil Rizzuto are featured on an instructional cassette, "Mickey Mantle's Baseball Tips for Kids of All Ages" (CBS-Fox, $19.98), that teaches batting, pitching and fielding styles. Though it might have entertainment value for people of all ages, youngsters interested in acquiring these skills will get the most out of it.

Remember the Chicago Bears' "Super Bowl Shuffle," the cassette that was so hot a few weeks ago? With the end of football season, it's shuffled off into oblivion.

NEW AND COMING MOVIES: "Sweet Dreams," about the late country singer Patsy Cline, will be released April 16. If star Jessica Lange wins a best actress Oscar, this would be one of next month's hottest rentals.

The best new kidvid title of the year, "Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird," will be released by Warner Video next week. It features the Muppets, Chevy Chase and John Candy. At this price--$79.95--parents will be renting, not buying.

Also next week: CBS-Fox's "Better Off Dead"--the John Cusack teen comedy--and MGM/UA's "Year of the Dragon," the gangster drama starring Mickey Rourke. The week of March 23 is the best of the month for new releases: "The Goonies" and "Commando"--two certain rental hits--will debut along with "Plenty" and "The Bride," a version of "The Bride of Frankenstein," starring Jennifer Beals and Sting.

The month winds up with the cassette debut of another Sting movie, the acclaimed documentary "Bring On the Night." "Compromising Positions," the comedy-mystery starring Susan Sarandon, and "Stephen King's Silver Bullet" are also available that week.

April releases: "Witness" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman" are out the week of April 6; "Invasion, U.S.A.," a Chuck Norris action movie, comes out April 15; during the week of April 27, "Cocoon" and "A Chorus Line."

So far, the two major May releases are "To Live and Die in L.A." and "Back to the Future."

CHARTS (Compiled by Billboard magazine) TOP VIDEOCASSETTES, RENTALS

1--"Rambo: First Blood Part II" (Thorn/EMI/HBO).

2--"Mask" (MCA).

3--"St. Elmo's Fire" (RCA/Columbia).

4--"Prizzi's Honor" (Vestron).

5--"Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" (Warner Video).

6--"Teen Wolf" (Paramount).

7--"Weird Science" (MCA).

8--"Return of the Jedi" (CBS-Fox).

9--"Beverly Hills Cop" (Paramount).

10--"Gremlins" (Warner Video). TOP VIDEOCASSETTES, SALES

1--"Jane Fonda's New Workout" (Karl-Lorimar).

2--"Return of the Jedi" (CBS-Fox).

3--"Rambo: First Blood Part II" (Thorn/EMI/HBO).

4--"Beverly Hills Cop" (Paramount).

5--"Pinocchio" (Disney).

6--"Jane Fonda's Workout" (Karl-Lorimar).

7--"The Best of John Belushi" (Warner Video).

8--"The Wizard of Oz" MGM/UA).

9--"Miami Vice" (MCA).

10--"Prime Time" (Karl-Lorimar).

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