Time Capsules: Vintage Releases From the Vaults


Several video companies have mined their vaults and unearthed a diverse collection of vintage movies and TV series, including a Ralph Bakshi animated flick, a collection of Vivien Leigh films, an Oscar-winning adventure starring Henry Fonda and a lunch box full of episodes of "The Monkees."

Arriving Tuesday from Columbia TriStar is "American Pop" ($14), Bakshi's ambitious 1981 animated feature for adults chronicling the history of 20th century music via the lives of four generations of one family. One of the most requested titles in Columbia's library, "American Pop" features such tunes as "Somebody Loves Me," "Purple Haze" and "You Send Me." (Rated R).

Though most Americans had never heard of Leigh before she was cast in her Oscar-winning role of Scarlett O'Hara in 1939's "Gone With the Wind," the gamin British actress had already appeared in several English movies. Home Vision's Vivien Leigh set ($20 each, $40 for the set) spotlights three of her pre-"GWTW" movies, all from 1937.

The best of the lot is "Fire Over England," an enthralling period romance that marks the first on-screen pairing of Leigh with a breathtakingly handsome Laurence Olivier, whom she would later marry. Flora Robson also stars as Queen Elizabeth I and look for James Mason in a small part.

Leigh is equally engaging as a dress designer in the World War I spy drama "Dark Journey." Dapper Conrad Veidt ("Casablanca") is a good match for Leigh.

Rex Harrison is teamed with Leigh in "Storm in a Teacup," a charming little political comedy about the scandal that erupts in a Scottish town over a dog.

Also new this month from Home Vision is the sleazy 1974 cult hit "The Night Porter" ($20). Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling are wasted in this tawdry S&M; hooey about an ex-Nazi doctor who is reunited with the woman he loved and abused in the concentration camp. Yuck. (Rated R)

You may find yourself nodding off during Luchino Visconti's long, lavish and snoozy period film "Ludwig" (Fox Lorber), from 1972. Listless Helmut Burger stars as the mad king of Bavaria; Romy Schneider plays his only true love; and a poorly dubbed Trevor Howard is composer Richard Wagner. (Rated PG)

Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni made many great films together, but the 1956 Italian comedy "What a Woman!" (Hen's Tooth, $20) isn't one of them. This tepid comedy suffers from an inane plot and annoying dubbing.

Strictly for the undiscerning are Universal's "McHale's Navy"(1964) and "McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force" (1965), two lame-brain comedies based on the slapstick TV series of the 1960s.

Definitely worth checking out is 1938's "Spawn of the North" ($15), a rip-snorting adventure set in Alaska. Henry Fonda, Dorothy Lamour, John Barrymore, George Raft, Akim Tamiroff and a cute performing seal star. Frank Loesser and Barton Lane penned the songs. "Spawn" also received a special Oscar for its photographic and special effects.

Though it's dated by today's standards, there are some laughs in the 1958 romp "Perfect Furlough." Then husband and wife Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh star.

For vintage TV fans there's Rhino's new deluxe, limited edition "Monkees Lunch Box" ($40), which includes Davy, Micky, Peter and Mike's personal favorite episode of their '60s TV series, a Monkees jigsaw puzzle and a very cool metal retro Monkees lunch box. To order call (800) 432-0020.

Republic Pictures Home Video has just unleashed a 15-episode, eight-volume set of the classic '60s TV series "The Fugitive" ($15 each), starring David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble Included in the collection is the two-part finale that was viewed by more than 82 million people in 1967.

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