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Deseret News Archives
Peter Cushing stars in the British horror film "The Skull."

Here are some new movie and TV releases, led by a trio of golden-oldie films coming to DVD for the first time.

"The Optimists" (Legend/Paramount, 1973, PG, $14.95) is an utterly delightful comedy-drama about two impoverished children living in a London slum who befriend an aging busker (street musician) and learn some life lessons about childhood.

Originally developed in the '60s as a project for Buster Keaton (one can only wonder how that might have turned out), it nonetheless seems the perfect vehicle for the mad genius of Peter Sellers.

With an extended nose, downtrodden demeanor and variety of colorful costumes, Sellers fully embodies this former stage performer who — despite his penchant for singing and dancing, and speaking in rhymes and witty wordplay — mourns the loss of a child and the departure of his wife some 20 years earlier.

The young brother and sister tag after him, at first to tease and harass, but then become attached to his dog, a mongrel that has been trained to beg with a tin cup around his neck. Soon we learn the dog is dying and predictable plot twists kick in.

But thanks to a neo-realism style of filmmaking and the inimitable Sellers in one of his finest hours, this is a rare film that deserves attention.

Extras: widescreen

"Houdini" (Legend/Paramount, 1953, $14.95) is one of those Hollywood biographies that offers only a faint, romanticized shadow of the truth yet still manages to be quite entertaining.

Tony Curtis is the famed escape artist Harry Houdini, and Janet Leigh is his long-suffering wife, who loves him but doesn't really understand his obsession with magic. Both stars are at the peak of their skills, and taken for what it is, the film provides, um, escapist fun.

Extras: full-frame, trailer

"The Skull" (Legend/Paramount, 1965, $14.95). This British horror film is not an anthology, but it occasionally plays like one, with a series of gruesome vignettes tied to a direct narrative about the skull of the Marquis de Sade driving men to murder.

Routine in some ways but skillfully played and bolstered by the presence of several Hammer horror regulars (though this is not a Hammer film), led by Peter Cushing in the lead and Christopher Lee in support.

Extras: widescreen, trailer

"The Big Easy: The Complete First Season" (MPI, 1996-97, four discs, $49.98). Tony Crane and Susan Walters take over the Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin roles from the 1987 film for this USA cable series set in pre-Katrina New Orleans. Crane is a homicide detective and Walters is the district attorney who is his romantic and sparring partner. Each episode offers an entertaining murder mystery, but the show gets its juice primarily from the atmosphere of its setting.

Extras: full frame, 22 episodes

"The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Set 3" (Acorn, 1997-98, three discs, $49.99) offers more British mysteries for Rendell fans with an anthology of five thrillers, each well played and well worth a look.

Extras: full frame, five episodes

"King" (History, 2008, $24.95). This forthright, stirring documentary about Martin Luther King Jr., with Tom Brokaw as narrator and on-camera interviewer, tells King's story but is really more focused more on the civil-rights movement he led in the 1960s. Interviewees include Andrew Young, Harry Belafonte, former President Bill Clinton, Condoleezza Rice and others, including Martin Luther King III.

Extras: widescreen, 45-minute documentary: "Voices of Civil Rights" (personal testimonials by those involved in the civil-rights movement)

"Intervention: Season One: Then and Now" (A&E, 2005-06, 14.95). This series profiles — in harrowing detail, complete with disturbing visuals — the downward spiral of addiction. Most of those profiled here are drug addicts, though there is also a gambling addict and a shopaholic. Each is the recipient of an intervention, with some working out better than others. Hard to watch but essential viewing for families who are looking to help loved ones with similar problems.

Extras: widescreen, four hourlong episodes, four five-minute follow-up episodes

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