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Spotlighting the Early DeMille

Director showed his talent in films such as 'King of Kings.'


The latest batch of oldies but goodies on video range from Cecil B. DeMille silents to an acclaimed chronicle of the first great rock festival.

DeMille is best known for his lavish, often overstuffed, epics like the Oscar-winning "The Greatest Show on Earth," "The Ten Commandments" and "Samson and Delilah." But Kino's new six-volume set, "Cecil B. DeMille: The Visionary Years 1915-27" ($30 each), illustrates he was adept at domestic melodrama, sexy comedy and fantasy. DeMille was a true film pioneer who made lasting contributions in lighting, design and storytelling.

The earliest film in the DeMille collection is 1915's "Carmen," an entertaining rendition of the famed tale starring opera singer Geraldine Farrar and heartthrob Wallace Reid.

The following year, Farrar and Reid starred in "Joan the Woman," DeMille's first historical epic. Joan of Arc's life is framed by a modern story of a World War I trench soldier assigned to a suicide mission.

Raymond Hatton headlines 1918's "The Whispering Chorus," a forerunner of modern-day psychological thrillers. Hatton plays a nebbish bookkeeper who fakes his own death by disguising a corpse as himself.

Gloria Swanson became a superstar thanks to DeMille's 1919 comedy "Male and Female," based on J.M. Barrie's "The Admirable Crichton." Swanson plays a spoiled British socialite shipwrecked on a deserted island with her friends and her very able and handsome butler (Thomas Meighan). The infamous Babylon flashback is a real hoot.

DeMille takes on the Russian Revolution in the fun 1926 historical melodrama "The Volga Boatman," which stars William Boyd (later known as Hopalong Cassidy).

"The King of Kings," DeMille's lavish 1927 religious epic about Christ, was his personal favorite. H.B. Warner offers a warm portrayal of Jesus. Kino's version includes the two-strip Technicolor Resurrection sequence.

To order the digitally mastered DeMille films, call (800) 562-3330.

Universal has added four new titles to its Classics War Collection ($15 each): the stirring 1933 drama "The Eagle and the Hawk," with Cary Grant and Fredric March; the mediocre 1943 adventure "China," starring Alan Ladd and Loretta Young; the suspenseful 1946 thriller "O.S.S.," with Ladd; and Billy Wilder's delicious 1943 spy flick "Five Graves to Cairo."

Universal's Western Collection ($15 each) spotlights the horse operas of Audie Murphy, the famous World War II hero-turned-actor. The 1952 flick "The Duel at Silver Creek" and 1956's "Walk the Proud Land" are pretty ho-hum. But 1959's "No Name on the Bullet" is a taut, lean thriller in which Murphy plays a hired killer.

New from Home Vision is Leni Riefenstahl's legendary two-volume "Olympia" ($50 for both; $30 each), which has been digitally remastered under her supervision. The controversial director, who caught the attention and favor of Adolf Hitler in 1932, was commissioned by the International Olympic Committee to record the Berlin Olympia in 1936. She led a crew of 45 cameramen who shot the event from every angle imaginable. For 18 months, she edited 200 hours of film down to just under four hours. Pauline Kael described the finished product as "one of the two greatest films ever directed by a woman."

"Olympia I: Festival of the Nation" features the lighting of the Olympic torch, the marathon and track and field events, including African American sprint star Jesse Owens winning four gold medals much to the chagrin of Hitler.

"Olympia II: Festival of Beauty" depicts the field hockey, soccer, bicycling, equestrian and gymnastic events. To order call (800) 826-FILM.

"Monterey Pop: The Film" (Rhino, $20), from 1969, is a groovy chronicle of the Monterey Pop Festival, which took place 30 years ago this week. The concert offers terrific performances from Janis Joplin and Big Brother & the Holding Company, the Mamas and the Papas, Jefferson Airplane and Ravi Shankar. This edition includes a nine-minute never-before-seen performance by the Who of "A Quick One While He's Away." Rhino also is releasing "Jimi Plays Monterey" ($15) and "Otis Redding: Shake" ($13). To order call (800) 432-0020.

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