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From sublime to ridiculous

June 03, 2007|Susan King

The Life After: After taking the easy route in movies for several years, Eddie Murphy revitalized his career with the musical "Dreamgirls," winning the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award -- and earning an Oscar nomination -- for his powerful performance as an ill-fated R&B singer. But Murphy lost a lot of ground with the critics for his next film, "Norbit," which arrives Tuesday on DVD.

Released in February while Murphy was basking in his "Dreamgirls" success, "Norbit" found the comic actor back to his old tricks -- playing three parts in the ill-conceived comedy, including the role of a fat, obnoxious woman named Rasputia.

But "Norbit" proved to be critic-proof, earning $95.4 million in the U.S. and $62.6 million more internationally. In fact, internationally, "Norbit" outpaced "Dreamgirls" at the box office by nearly $4 million.

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Hollywood at war

"The Spoils of....": War may be hell, but it's certainly been manna from heaven for Hollywood, creatively and commercially. And combat films have become one of the most popular genres on DVD. On Tuesday, Warner Home Video is releasing "World War II Collection, Vol. 2: Heroes Fight for Freedom," a collection that features six films made from 1943 to 1964.

The 1943 Howard Hawks action film "Air Force," which won an Oscar for editing, tells the story of a B-17 bomber that leaves San Francisco for Honolulu on Dec. 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The ensemble cast includes John Garfield, Gig Young and Arthur Kennedy.

The rousing 1944 production "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" features Spencer Tracy as Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who devised a dangerous mission to launch bomber planes headed for Tokyo from a short runway on an aircraft carrier. An Oscar winner for special effects, the box office hit starred up-and-comers Van Johnson, Robert Walker and Robert Mitchum.

Several of MGM's top stars, including Clark Gable, Walter Pidgeon, Van Johnson and John Hodiak, star in the stirring 1948 drama "Command Decision," based on the hit Broadway play about a general who realizes he must send fighter planes deeper and deeper into Germany to destroy their jet factories.

In a casting stretch, fair-skinned, blue-eyed Jeffrey Hunter plays a Hispanic from East Los Angeles raised in a Japanese American foster family who wins the Navy Cross in the 1960 drama "Hell to Eternity."

Sean Connery gives one of his strongest performances in Sidney Lumet's "The Hill," an uncompromising 1965 drama set in a British military prison in North Africa.

James Garner stars in the underrated 1964 thriller "36 Hours" as a major whom the Germans kidnap and attempt to brainwash to get him to reveal the Allies' plans for D-day. Rod Taylor also stars.

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Launch of Ponch

Couch Potato: "CHiPs" " and "The Fall Guy" were never critical favorites, but the vintage TV series have had much longer legs than many of the Emmy Award-winning darlings of their time. Both shows' premiere seasons make their DVD bows Tuesday.

"CHiPs" premiered on NBC in fall 1977. Erik Estrada became the heartthrob du jour, thanks to his performance -- and his tight-fitting uniform -- as Officer Frank "Ponch" Poncherello, who with his partner, Officer Jon Baker (Larry Wilcox), fought crime on the mean highways of Los Angeles as state motorcycle patrolmen. Bruce Jenner briefly joined the show in fall 1981 when Estrada was embroiled in a contract dispute with the series. Wilcox left the show in fall 1982 and Ponch got a new partner named Bobby Nelson (Tim Reilly). But viewers didn't like the new pairing and "ChiPs" rode into the sunset in spring 1983.

"Six Million Dollar Man" Lee Majors returned to series TV in fall 1981 in ABC's "The Fall Guy." Majors played Colt Seavers, a Hollywood stuntman who earned money on the side as a bounty hunter. The series continued through spring 1986.

-- Susan King

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