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Leaping From the Olympics to Hollywood

July 26, 1996|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Over the decades, several Summer Olympics medal winners have tried to strike gold in Hollywood. Some athletes became big stars in Tinseltown; others failed to make the grade.

As the world is caught up yet again in Summer Olympics fever, it's a great time to check out videos starring some former Olympic greats.

Johnny Weissmuller was cinema's ultimate Tarzan. The mega-muscular swimmer had won five gold medals at the 1924 and 1928 Olympics before starring as Edgar Rice Burroughs' loincloth-clad hero in a popular series of films.

Weissmuller's first outing, 1932's "Tarzan, the Ape Man" (MGM/UA, $20), is simply da-vine fun. Maureen O'Sullivan is the perfect Jane. Even better is 1934's sexy "Tarzan and His Mate" (MGM/UA, $20), in which Tarzan and Jane live in unmarried bliss in the jungle. Also worth catching is 1942's "Tarzan's New York Adventure" (MGM/UA, $20), in which Jane and Tarzan go to the big city after Boy (Johnny Sheffield) is kidnapped by an evil circus owner.

Weissmuller's freestyle record was broken by handsome Larry "Buster" Crabbe, who won the 1932 Olympic gold medal. Like Weissmuller, he took a swing at Tarzan but with poor results in 1933's "Tarzan the Fearless" (Sinister Cinema, $17).

Crabbe's career went into orbit, though, as the hero of two popular serials: "Flash Gordon" and "Buck Rogers." Currently available on video is 1936's "Flash Gordon: Rocketship" (Cable Films and Video, $40); 1938's "Flash Gordon: Mars Attacks the World" (Cable Films and Video, $40); 1940's "Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe" (Video Yesterday, $40); and 1939's "Buck Rogers Conquers the Universe" (FoxVideo, $30).

Muhammad Ali, who lit the flame last Friday in a dramatic, emotional moment during the opening ceremonies, made his feature film debut in 1962's "Requiem for a Heavyweight" two years after winning Olympic gold in boxing. Though that film is not on video, fans can check out Ali in 1977's "The Greatest" (Columbia TriStar, $15), a rather disappointing bio-pic on the boxing legend. The movie introduced the hit song "The Greatest Love of All."

After winning the decathlon in 1976, Bruce Jenner starred in 1980's disco musical "Can't Stop the Music" (Republic, $15), which was released during the waning moments of the disco craze. It should have been called "Can't Watch the Movie." Directed by Nancy Walker (Rhoda's mom), the campy time capsule also stars Valerie Perrine, Steve Guttenberg and the Village People.

The 1984 Olympic gold gymnast heartthrob Mitch Gaylord scored a zero with his starring role in 1986's snoozy romantic drama "American Anthem" (Warner, $15). Gaylord plays a gymnast with family problems. Even less interesting is 1989's "American Tiger" (Academy Entertainment, $20), a kung fu action flick about a college student, framed for murder, who tries to clear himself.

Olympics II: This Tuesday heralds the arrival of "Tokyo Olympiad" (Home Vision, $50), Kon Ichikawa's 1965 classic documentary on the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. This special collectors' limited edition features a program guide of events. To order, call (800) 826-FILM.

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Stone's Cut: New on Tuesday is the long-awaited director's cut of Oliver Stone's controversial 1994 film "Natural Born Killers" (Vidmark, $30). The two-volume set restores the 150 cuts (three minutes of running time) that the MPAA requested to qualify for an R rating. Stone also hosts 28 minutes of outtakes from seven never-before-seen sequences, including a trial scene in which Ashley Judd is brutally murdered while giving testimony. Also included are interviews with Stone and stars Woody Harrelson, Juliette Lewis, Robert Downey Jr., Tommy Lee Jones and Tom Sizemore.

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Oldie But Goodie: Wham! USA is offering the original, 137-minute full-length version of the 1923 Lon Chaney version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" ($20). Most prints of this classic "Hunchback" run between 93 and 100 minutes. To order, call (888) WHAM-USA.

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Six-Parter: Fans of mystery writer P.D. James will devour the absolutely yummy six-part thriller "Devices and Desires" (A&E, $80), starring Roy Marsden as Scotland Yard commander Adam Dalgliesh. To order: (800) 423-1212.

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Documentary: "Floating Palaces" (A&E, $60) is a fascinating four-volume chronicle of the history of the ocean liner. To order: (800) 423-1212.

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Coming Next Week: "Hedd Wynn" (Fox Lorber), the first Welsh language film ever to be nominated for an Oscar, is a powerful antiwar drama based on a true story of a talented young poet whose dream of winning his country's most coveted literary prize is shattered with the outbreak of World War I. Penned by Welsh poet-author Alan Llwyd, the 1993 film has won 16 international awards.

Chance, Shadow and Sassy lose their way once again in "Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco" (Walt Disney, $23).

Al Pacino, John Cusack, Bridget Fonda and Danny Aiello star in the drama "City Hall" (Columbia TriStar).

Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani and Chazz Palminteri star in "Diabolique" (Warner), a remake of the classic French thriller "Les Diaboliques."

Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh star in the latest version of Shakespeare's "Othello" (Columbia TriStar).

Jason Robards stars in the acclaimed 1995 "Hallmark Hall of Fame" presentation "Journey" (Hallmark Home Entertainment).

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