Theresa Russell, one of the more intriguing and intelligent screen actresses of her generation, harbors no artsy pretensions about this latest film of hers.

"It's a bodice-ripper, plain and simple," Russell said in a fact-of-the-matter interview heralding the direct-to-video release of Strathford Hamilton's "The Proposition" (A-Pix Entertainment)."I turned it down at first, actually, and then Patrick Bergin was approached, and he said, `If Theresa does it, then I'll do it,' and I'd always wanted to work with Patrick - so here we are."

"The Proposition" is at heart a costume-drama soap opera (rated R for adult situations and violence), but it is directed with style and energy, and the presence of Russell and Bergin lends an undeniable dignity.

"Oh, it was always meant for TV, for video - it's flatly a melodrama, no art-film posturing about it," said Russell, 39. "Funny, but I've always wanted to do a western film, and this is about as close as I've come. Patrick and Strathford and I just tried to give it a little class, keep it from wallowing in the mud."

The period piece starts out in a civilized early-day America but promptly heads west as Russell, playing a lady of substance who is driven from her position by treachery, finds herself at large on the wild frontier.

Paul Matthews' screenplay concerns a brawling relationship that takes shape between Bergin, as a rough outdoorsman, and Russell, whose struggle to regain her honor is the entire (and rather overdone) point of the film.

There is more than a hint of Daniel Defoe's "Moll Flanders" here. "The Proposition" benefits from strong portrayals and an every-dollar-on-screen look - and should be essential viewing for anyone who has been enchanted with Theresa Russell.

That would account for a great many moviegoers. Russell has graced the screen for 21 years, now, starting with "The Last Tycoon" (1976) and reaching an early peak with "Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession" (England; 1980). "Bad Timing" was directed by Nicolas Roeg, whom Russell would marry in 1982.

Her films with Roeg, in fact, have accounted for Russell's most loyal popular following: These include the eerie afterlife meditation "Cold Heaven" (1992), the sobering political fantasy "Insignificance" (1985) and especially the near-indescribable "Track 29" (1988).

"Talk about ahead of your time!" said Russell. "Nicolas said while we were making that film that we might as well just put it in the vault until its time came - and of course hardly anyone in 1988 `got' it, as far as what we were trying to do with the story.

"Of course, `Track 29' has a very strong following today, mostly of young people who sense what the film is saying right off," she added. "Track 29" is, briefly, about a model-train fanatic (Christopher Lloyd), his neglected wife (Russell) and a drifter (Gary Oldman) who might or might not be her long-lost son.

Russell, who has concentrated in more recent years upon raising a family, said she has little desire to be a "star" in mainstream Hollywood, "where the watchword is mediocrity at all costs."

In Hollywood, she said, "they don't remember your accomplishments, don't keep track of the good works you've done that have held up over the long haul, or that have proved ahead of their time. You don't get cast for respect - you get cast for your last box-office smash.

"But it's nice to have an occasional new title out, whether it's going to the theaters, or to the video stores."


TRISTANA - An innocent young woman goes to live with her wealthy but hypocritical uncle, entering a power struggle that takes many ironic twists before reaching its sardonic conclusion. This ranks with the subtlest and sparest films by Spanish director Luis Bunuel, whose penchant for surrealistic touches and sly social criticism has never been more cleverly applied. The star-studded cast includes Catherine Deneuve as the heroine, Fernando Rey as her aristocratic uncle and Franco Nero as her handsome boyfriend. Nominated for best foreign-language picture in the 1970 Academy Award race. Not rated, Home Vision.

- David Sterritt

(Christian Science Monitor)

GOOD STUFF! STAND-UP DEBUTS FROM THE TONIGHT SHOW - Somebody in Videoland really likes Johnny Carson. His "Favorite Moments from the Tonight Show" sold so well that Buena Vista Video has followed that 1992 success with this 50-minute look at "The Tonight Show" debuts of now famous comics. Louie Anderson slams his failed tryouts for the Olympics in his November 1984 bow. Garry Shandling had Carson laughing in March 1981 with a bunch of anti-baby bachelor banter. In her pre-nip-and-tuck days, Roseanne praises the advantages of being a fat mom on her "Tonight Show" appearance in August 1985. Unrated, 1996, Buena Vista, $14.99.

- Max McQueen

(Cox News Service)

EDIE AND PEN - This feature, unfortunately, premiered on cable so it came to video from that purgatory between TV-movie hell and theatrical heaven. Don't be dissuaded by its unfortunate history. Stockard Channing brings the right mix of the zany and the serious to her role as a middle-aged crazy woman in Reno for a quickie divorce. She teams up with Jennifer Tilly and Scott Glenn for this marvelous romantic comedy. The witty, surprising script is by actress Victoria Tennant ("L.A. Story," "All of Me").

- Michael Blowen

(Boston Globe)

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JAMAICA INN - Alfred Hitchcock occasionally strayed from his usual suspense-movie path, and one example is this adventure-filled historical drama, a genre he generally disliked. Set in the early 1800s, the plot revolves around a pirate gang that lures unsuspecting ships to their doom on the rocky British coast, then kills their crews and plunders their cargo for the benefit of an aristocrat who's too decadent to earn a living on his own. Much of the action is run-of-the-mill skulduggery and intrigue, but Charles Laughton is amusingly outrageous as the wicked squire, and the end of the movie makes pointed comments on the legacy of England's age-old class system. First released in 1939, one year before Hitchcock moved from Britain to Hollywood. Part of Kino's British Classics video series. Not rated.

- David Sterritt

(Christian Science Monitor)

LORD OF THE DANCE - Irish dancer Michael Flatley follows up "Riverdance" with "Lord of the Dance," which has been touring the United States. This 92-minute in-concert celebration of Irish dances was filmed at Dublin's Point Theatre. Unrated, 1997, PolyGram, $24.95.

- Max McQueen

(Cox News Service)