'Shaft' TV movies come to DVD

Published: Friday, Oct. 7 2011 4:36 p.m. MDT

These new-to-DVD television programs are led by the home-video debut of Richard Roundtree's "Shaft" TV movies.

"Shaft: The TV Movie Collection" (Warner Archive, 1973-74, four discs, $39.95). Roundtree created the iconic role of private detective John Shaft for a trio of R-rated violent and sexy action pictures (ably assisted by Isaac Hayes' Oscar-winning theme song).

The original "Shaft" (1971) is widely credited with creating the template for what is known as the "blaxploitation" genre of the 1970s, aimed at black urban audiences.

Following the trilogy, CBS signed Roundtree to star in a "Shaft" television program, feature-length episodes to rotate with other shows as part of a series of made-for-TV movies. However, only seven were made, toning down the violence and sex and having Shaft work with — instead of at odds with — the police.

The result is seven serviceable thrillers that will please fans of '70s cop shows. Rotating supporting players include a number of familiar faces: Tony Curtis, Darren McGavin, Arthur O'Connell, Howard Duff, Robert Culp, Dean Jagger.

Extras: full frame, seven films (this set is available online at www.WarnerArchive.com)

"Midsomer Murders: Barnaby's Top 10" (Acorn, 1997-2003, 10 discs, $99.99). This best-of collection features introductions by star John Nettles, who plays homicide detective Barnaby in a rural English countryside where murder statistics are rivaled only by wherever Jessica Fletcher ("Murder She Wrote") happens to be.

Fans will enjoy Nettles' anecdotal explanations about why each is his favorite, broken down into such categories as "favorite storyline," "favorite leading lady," "most intriguing crime," "most bizarre," "funniest," etc. All episodes are from the first six seasons with Barnaby's first partner, Sgt. Troy (Daniel Casey). A real treat for fans.

Extras: full frame/widescreen, 10 feature-length episodes

"Perry Mason: The Sixth Season, Volume One" (CBS/Paramount, 1962-63, b/w, $54.99). Raymond Burr as Earle Stanley Gardner's never-lost-a-case defense attorney badgers more guilty parties into confessing on the witness stand so his clients may go free. This set includes guest stars Adam West, Leonard Nimoy, Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Korman, Edgar Buchanan and former child actress Margaret O'Brien.

Extras: full frame, 14 episodes

"Fresh Fields: Set 2" (Acorn, 1985-86, two discs, $49.99). Julia McKenzie (who would later take on the role of Miss Marple) and Anton Rodgers star in this sitcom as a married couple adjusting to middle age and the empty nest. McKenzie's self-improvement schemes may make you think of her as an older, English, toned-down "I Love Lucy." (This set contains the show's third and fourth seasons.)

Extras: full frame, 14 episodes

"Army Wives: the Complete Fifth Season" (ABC/Lifetime, 2011, three discs, $39.99). More soap opera machinations with the wives of military personnel serving overseas, as they learn to depend on each other for help weathering life's challenges. (Season 6 will air during winter 2012.)

Extras: widescreen, 13 episodes, deleted scenes, featurettes, bloopers

"Melissa & Joey: Season One, Part Two" (ABC Family/Shout! 2011, two discs, $24.97). Melissa Joan Hart goes from "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" to playing a politician caring for her teenage niece and nephew with help from a nanny (Joe Longo) in this broadly played sitcom.

Extras: widescreen, 18 episodes

"The Looney Tunes Show: Season 1, Volume 1" (Warner, 2011, $14.97). This odd animated show is an attempt to recapture the spirit of the original theatrical cartoons but it does so by setting up an "Odd Couple" sitcom premise: Daffy Duck moves in with Bugs Bunny and other regulars (from Yosemite Sam to Foghorn Leghorn) are also around. Amusing if not particularly inspired.

Extras: widescreen, four episodes

"Scared Shrekless"/"Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins From Outer Space" (Dreamworks, 2010/2009, $19.99). This DVD double pack contains TV specials spun off from "Shrek" and "Monsters vs. Aliens," respectively. Both are fun for fans of the films, OK family fare with lots of gags about old horror moves. (They initially aired as 30-minute Halloween TV specials.)

Extras: widescreen, "Shrek": parody of Michael Jackson's "Thriller"; "Monsters": music video, featurettes (also available separately, $14.99 each)

"Aaahh Real Monsters: Season 1" (Nickelodeon/Shout! 1994-95, two discs, $19.93). Monster children go to school to learn how to scare humans in this inventive and funny children's animated show (which predates "Monsters, Inc." by seven years).

Extras: full frame, 13 episodes

EMAIL: hicks@desnews.com

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