AS THE DVD MARKET continues to expand, some interesting trends are emerging. New films are coming on market much faster, sometimes within a couple of months of their theatrical release. With the exception of certain blockbusters collectors feel they must have and special categories--such as children's animated features--these newer pictures are making their major impact on the rental market. It will not be until years later, probably, that collectors of that time will be seeking them out for their libraries. What today's collectors are scooping up are classics, well-remembered favorites, and "cult" films. The other hot commodity is boxed sets, in some cases of pictures with a common star, director, or theme; in others, TV series--especially cable shows that a number of viewers do not have access to--are selling well. Recent releases reflect these trends.
The Producers (MGM Home Entertainment, 90 minutes, $24.98). Possibly capitalizing on the popularity of the record-breaking Tony-winning Broadway musical, but more likely due to the clamor of film buffs for what is almost universally regarded as one of the funniest movies ever made, the 1968 howler finally is out in DVD. Writer/director Mel Brooks' maniacal concept was of a Broadway show entitled "Springtime for Hitler" becoming a smash hit, thus foiling the crooked producer and his accountant who had come up with a scheme to oversubscribe shares in the production, certain that it would be a colossal failure, allowing them to pocket all the excess money raised. The hilarity of the plot is compounded by the over-the-top performances by Zero Mostel as the producer and Gene Wilder as the accountant, aided and abetted by Kenneth Mars, Dick Shawn, and other perfectly cast comic performers. For Brooks, nothing is sacred--Nazism, old age, religion, and homosexuality are mere fodder for laughs, which are never ending throughout. The accompanying "Making of ..." feature is almost as uproarious.
Straw Dogs (The Criterion Collection, 117 minutes, $39.95) was arguably the most-controversial film of 1971. The unlikely teaming of an actor who intellectualizes his every role and a director famed for his blood-and-guts violence would seem to be counterproductive. Yet, Dustin Hoffman, as an American mathematician forced to resort to unimaginable savagery to defend his home, displays a heretofore unexplored depth of machismo, and Sam Peckinpah, in both his writing and direction, reveals an unexpected knowledge of the human psyche and what drives a man to battle brutality with brutality. Filmed in England with a top-flight cast of relatively little-known British character actors, the movie benefits from the audience not being able to assign expectations to performers, as they would have with more-familiar Americans, who typically portray villains, good guys, cowards, etc. in role after role. Standouts are Susan George as Hoffman's discontented wife and David Warner as the mentally slow villager whose actions trigger the carnage. As usual with a Criterion release, the picture is reproduced with crystal sharpness of image and sound, and the special features are engrossing: a documentary about Peckinpah; an on-location featurette with Hoffman; interviews with George and producer Daniel Melnick; behind-the-scenes footage; and even correspondence between the director and critics.
The Killers (The Criterion Collection, 200 minutes, $39.95) is a fascinating video concept, teaming the 1946 version of Ernest Hemingway's short story with the 1964 remake. The original, costarring Burt Lancaster in his movie debut as the doomed ex-boxer and Ava Gardner as a double-dealing femme fatale, is a classic film noir, aided immeasurably by Edmond O'Brien and a host of Hollywood B-actors who are used to good advantage. The later version, with Lee Marvin and Angle Dickinson in the lead roles, is perhaps noted most as the last movie role for Ronald Reagan (as one of the title killers), who later achieved fame in another career. …