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Hearty Sagas With a Punch

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For more than 80 years, audiences have clamored for epics--sweeping, spectacular tales of romance, war, love, action and adventure. If “The Man Who Would Be King” whets your appetite for an epic, why not check out these classics available at your local video store?

“Intolerance” (available through Movies Unlimited for $20 and $40): Although this D.W. Griffith extravaganza bombed in 1916, “Intolerance” has grown in stature over the ages. Griffith deftly interweaves four spellbinding stories dealing with human intolerance set in Babylon, ancient Judea, Paris and contemporary times. Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh and Bessie Love are among the stars. To order, call (800) 4-Movies.

“The Big Parade” (MGM, $30): One of the first films to deal with World War I, King Vidor’s 1925 silent classic is also one of the best war films made. Heartthrob John Gilbert stars as a young American who experiences the harsh realities of war and ends up losing his leg. Renee Adoree plays his love interest. Terrific battle sequences still pack a wallop.

“Ben-Hur” (MGM, $30): The Oscar-winning 1959 version of Lew Wallace’s novel is better known, but this inspiring 1926 silent adaptation is equally impressive. Ramon Navarro stars as Ben-Hur, a Palestinian Jew battling the Romans during the time of Christ. The impressive, exciting chariot race sequence was filmed in early Technicolor. The most expensive film of its time, “Ben-Hur” has stood the test of time.

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“Gone With the Wind” (MGM): The granddaddy of all romantic epics. Based on Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling Civil War novel, “GWTW” has everything: sex, violence, war, romance, intrigue, gorgeous stars, beautiful costumes and sets, lush Technicolor cinematography and an oh-so-romantic score by Max Steiner. Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard star.

“For Whom the Bell Tolls” (Universal, $20): Two of cinema’s legends, Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, ignite this long, sexy and sometimes slow-moving 1943 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s romantic novel set during the Spanish Civil War. Cooper and Bergman received Oscar nominations as the doomed lovers Robert and Maria. Katina Paxinou picked up a supporting Oscar as the feisty rebel, Pilar.

“Children of Paradise” (Home Vision, $40): There are no flaws in this beautiful, lyrical French masterpiece from 1945. Penned by poet Jacques Prevert and masterfully directed by Marcel Carne, it tells the story a young mime (the haunting Jean-Louis Barrault) and the unattainable woman (Arletty) he loves. Made during the Nazi occupation of France.

“Duel in the Sun” (Fox, $20): Martin Scorsese is a big fan of this lush, lusty and overheated 1946 western saga from “GWTW” producer David O. Selznick. Gregory Peck and Joseph Cotten play two feuding brothers, the sons of a powerful Texas landowner (Lionel Barrymore) who fall in love with a racially mixed vixen (Jennifer Jones). Lillian Gish also stars. The bizarre finale between Peck and Jones has to be seen to be believed.

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“Giant” (Warner, $25): George Stevens picked up an Oscar for directing this stirring, tastefully mounted 1956 adaptation of Edna Ferber’s soap opera chronicling two generations of a rich Texas ranching family. Rock Hudson is a powerful cattleman and Elizabeth Taylor is his beautiful, independent-minded, Virginia-born wife. James Dean, in his last role, excels as Hudson’s rebellious hired hand who loves Taylor.

“The Bridge on the River Kwai” (Columbia TriStar, $20): David Lean directed this stirring, Oscar-winning 1957 dramatization of Pierre Boulle’s bestseller about the battle of wills that develops between the powerful commander (Sessue Hayakawa) of a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and the strong-willed, by-the-book British colonel (Oscar-winning Alec Guinness) over the construction of a bridge. William Holden plays the escaped American prisoner who returns to blow it up.

“Lawrence of Arabia” (Columbia TriStar, $25): Five years after “Bridge,” Lean directed this rich, complex exploration of the infamous T.E. Lawrence, the enigmatic British adventurer who helped the Bedouins in their battle with the Turks during World War I. Robert Bolt penned the literate script. The film made a star out of Peter O’Toole, who is mesmerizing as Lawrence, as well as Omar Sharif, who played his Arab friend.

“Spartacus” (Universal): Stanley Kubrick directed this tragic, romantic and magnificently executed 1960 historical epic about the brave gladiator (a buff Kirk Douglas) who led a rebellion of slaves against the Romans in 73 BC. Jean Simmons, Laurence Olivier, Oscar-winning Peter Ustinov and a woefully miscast Tony Curtis also star. Get your hankies out for the ending.

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“The Sand Pebbles” (Fox, $30): A year after directing the 1965 family classic “The Sound of Music,” Robert Wise returned to the gritty dramas in which he excelled in the 1940s and ‘50s. Set in war-torn China in 1926, “Pebbles” stars Steve McQueen in his best performance as an American expatriate engineer working on a gunboat on the Yangtze River. A touching Richard Attenborough, Richard Crenna, Mako and Candice Bergen head the rich supporting cast.

“Patton” (Fox, $20): Superlative, literate bio-pic that swept the 1970 Oscars. George C. Scott gives a larger-than-life, indelible performance as “Old Blood and Guts” Patton, the controversial, temperamental World War II general. Directed by Franklin Schaffner and co-written by Francis Ford Coppola.

“The Godfather” trilogy (Paramount, $65 for a set; $25 each): Although 1990’s “The Godfather, Part III” is a real disappointment, 1972’s “The Godfather” and 1974’s “The Godfather, Part 2,” are magnificent examples of storytelling at its finest. Beautifully written and directed by Coppola, these Oscar-winning gangster chronicles feature powerhouse performances from Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Robert De Niro, James Caan and Diane Keaton.

“Reds” (Paramount, $30): Warren Beatty won the Oscar as best director for his lengthy but compelling 1981 chronicle of the life of American communist John Reed, who penned the classic book on the Russian Revolution, “Ten Days That Shook the World.” Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson, as playwright Eugene O’Neill, and Oscar-winning Maureen Stapleton, as radical Emma Goldman, also star.

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