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Valentino's Smoldering 'Sheik' Returns

Screen idol's last film, the Little Tramp's 'City Lights' and other silents are now on the shelf.

March 23, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Several silent film classics have just arrived on your local video and DVD shelves, featuring such Hollywood legends as Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson.

A new collection from Kino, "Notorious Movies of the Jazz Age," presents restored versions of three dramas from the 1920s: "The Affairs of Anatol," "The Battle of the Sexes" and "Son of the Sheik." The movies are all on video (at $25 each), and "Son of the Sheik" is also available on DVD ($30).

Cecil B. DeMille directed the lush, lusty and entertaining 1921 "The Affairs of Anatol," starring Swanson, Wallace Reid and Bebe Daniels. Suggested from the play "Anatol" by Arthur Schnitzler, the drama tells the story of a wealthy philanderer (Reid) who is drawn to fallen women, much to the chagrin of his naive young wife (Swanson).

Alvin Wyckoff's and Karl Struss' beautiful color-tinted photography and interesting compositions have been restored to their original vibrancies in this edition.

D.W. Griffith's "The Battle of the Sexes," from 1928, is actually a remake of a film he made in 1913. Jean Hersholt and Phyllis Haver star in this often-stilted comedy-drama about a gold-digging flapper who sets her sights on a wealthy and happily married real estate tycoon. This was one of Griffith's last successful silent films.

The digitally mastered "Son of the Sheik," from 1926, may not be the most politically correct film, but it's tons of fun. Valentino, who gave new meaning to the word "smolder," stars in this sequel to his 1921 smash, "The Sheik." This time around, the Sheik kidnaps a beautiful dancer (Vilma Banky) who is the daughter of a notorious thief and holds her captive in the desert. William Cameron Menzies designed the glorious sets and George Barnes supplied the gorgeous cinematography.

"Son of the Sheik" was the then 31-year-old Valentino's last film. He died in August 1926, after an operation for appendicitis and peritonitis.

Image Entertainment has just released a lovely DVD of "City Lights" ($30), Chaplin's 1931 masterpiece about the Little Tramp and a blind flower girl. Be sure to have your hankies ready for the heartbreaking final scene.

The disc has a crisp transfer of the black-and-white film and the option to hear Chaplin's lovely score in either the 1931 mono soundtrack or the new digitally recorded stereo version. Also included is an interview with composer-conductor Carl Davis (who reconstructed Chaplin's score for the 1989 Chaplin Centennial), original story notes, production information and publicity materials.

Elite Entertainment's DVD of the German horror films "Nosferatu," "Der Golem" and "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" ($55) is a mixed bag. These three silent classics are always fun to watch, but the transfers from supposedly restored prints aren't all that impressive. And there isn't even a music track for "Der Golem." The two-disc set features production notes and photo galleries that include poster art and lobby cards.

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Back in more modern terrain, for the smallest of fry, there's the latest from the Purple One, "Barney's Rhyme Time Rhythm" (Lyrick, $15 for VHS; $25 for DVD). In this adventure, Barney, BJ, Baby Bop and their friends journey to the land of Mother Goose. It features 35 familiar rhymes and 16 songs. Wee ones will probably love this; parents may want to wear earplugs.

The DVD includes such goodies as "What Can I Be?," a 32-page electronic book that is read by Barney and his friends; a sing-along, including 15 songs with on-screen lyrics; 17 rhymes from the video; and seven Mother Goose songs. Parents may want to head for the hills while their kids watch the DVD of "Pokemon: The First Movie" (Warner, $27). Though "Pokemon" is one of the biggest kid phenomena in recent history, this movie won't make much sense to the unenlightened adult.

Warner has pulled out all the stops for the DVD. Besides a nice wide-screen transfer of the animated box-office hit, the disc includes a peek at the upcoming "Pokemon" movie, a music video and two special shorts that shed some light on the back story of Ash, Pikachu and the legendary Mew. The DVD also features an audio commentary from director Michael Haigney and producer Norman Grossfeld. But it's doubtful kids will want to spend time listening to them.

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Artisan Entertainment is offering a DVD of Steven Soderbergh's innovative film noir, "The Limey" ($30), starring two icons from the '60s, Terence Stamp and Peter Fonda. Stamp plays a British ex-con, recently released from a 10-year prison sentence, who comes to Los Angeles to find out who murdered his daughter. Fonda plays a sleek record producer who had dated Stamp's daughter.

The handsome DVD includes a nice wide-screen transfer of the film, an isolated music track featuring tunes by the Who, the Hollies and the Byrds. There's also cast and crew biographies and trailers.

The audio commentary of Soderbergh and writer Lem Dobbs is pretty good. Dobbs talks about the fact that his script had been kicking around for a long time and at one point he even dropped it off at the late Robert Aldrich's office. But the director never read it. (The disc provided for review had a major glitch on it, making it impossible to listen to the commentary after the first 20 minutes.)

The best aspect of the DVD is the "Life in the '60s" track that has Stamp, Fonda, Dobbs, Soderbergh and co-stars Lesley Ann Warren and Barry Newman reminiscing about their lives in that decade and talking about their characters. It's great stuff.

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