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‘Stepford’ still far from perfect

The Stepford Wives

Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick

Paramount, $20

Ira Levin’s novel from the early 1970s was a delectable thriller in which worried husbands -- in a perverse response to feminism -- turned their wives into docile “perfect” robots. Bryan Forbes went on to make an acclaimed film version of the book starring Katharine Ross. This misguided remake turns Levin’s tale into an out-and-out comedy, but the laughs are strained and the ending is for the birds. Director Frank Oz and writer Paul Rudnick clicked beautifully with the comedy “In & Out” but lost their way with this collaboration.

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The “special collector’s edition” features five featurettes, none of which reflect the alleged problems on the set. Those dealing with the production and costume design are decent, and there are deleted and extended scenes and a gag reel. Oz offers some interesting factoids in his commentary: the original title sequence was scrapped at the last moment because the tone was wrong and an entire subplot revolving around Broderick’s affair with his wife’s secretary was omitted in editing.

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The Clearing

Robert Redford, Helen Mirren

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Fox, $28

Robert Redford gives one of his finest, most complex performances in this intelligent, well-crafted thriller that seems almost European in style and atmosphere. Redford plays a wealthy businessman kidnapped by a disgruntled former employee (a scary Willem Dafoe). Half of the film is devoted to the men’s relationship as they make their way to a cabin in the woods and the other to how the victim’s wife (Helen Mirren) and family cope with his disappearance.

The DVD includes the screenplay, deleted scenes and audio tracks by director Pieter Jan Brugge and editor Kevin Tent, who come across as intelligent and thoughtful but could work on making their commentary more scintillating.

*

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The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection

Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo Marx

Universal, $60

The great news is that the five early freewheeling comedies that the Marx Brothers made for Paramount -- 1929’s “The Cocoanuts,” 1930’s “Animal Crackers,” 1931’s “Monkey Business,” 1932’s “Horse Feathers” and 1933’s “Duck Soup” -- have finally been released together. Though the first two films creak here and there because of the limitations of the early sound films, these five films are wild and crazy. The boys were anarchists always rebelling against authority and wreaking havoc on the rich and famous.

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Probably the best of the bunch is the zany “Duck Soup,” directed by Leo McCarey, which finds the brothers going to war. It flopped at the box office, however, and the Marx Brothers soon bid adieu to Paramount. They found a home -- minus Zeppo -- two years later at MGM.

The bad news is that Universal skimped on the extras. Besides a few trailers, the “bonus” disc features only clips from “The Today Show” -- two from the early ‘60s with Harpo and Groucho and one from the mid-'80s with Harpo’s son, Bill Marx.

*

W.C. Fields Comedy Collection

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W.C Fields, Baby LeRoy

Universal, $60

Fans of the acerbic curmudgeon have complained for years about the dearth of Fields’ movies on DVD.

There are some real gems in this collection; 1933’s “It’s a Gift,” in which Fields plays a grocer who wants to buy an orange grove in California, is arguably his best vehicle. A close second is “The Bank Dick” (1940), in which he plays a hapless bank guard. And though “My Little Chickadee” isn’t in the same league, it’s fun to watch Fields banter with Mae West. But “International House” (1933) and the tired “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man” (1939) are questionable choices.

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