Surprisingly, it's not just the expected, hot new films like Blood Diamond that are hitting the Amazon.com DVD best-seller list these days – there are a few oldies in the top 100 as well.
DVD best-seller lists are usually eclectic, but one thinks of a "top 100" list having the most recent films and TV shows, and certainly this is reflected in the Amazon top 20. Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Collector's Set at the time this writer checked Amazon was number one, followed by the BBC series Planet Earth, the blessed-by-Oprah self-help The Secret, and the newly-released film with Helen Mirren's Oscar-winning performance as The Queen. But a further look at the list can be revealing, for in a world of Buffy fans, there seems to be room for some items that we old-timers recognize, too.
Though it's not ancient, it's interesting that 1990's Twin Peaks – The Second Season charts in at 22. For those who may not remember, Twin Peaks, which asked "Who killed Laura Palmer?" was a cult classic starring Kyle MacLachlan (most recently Orson Hodge on Desperate Housewives), Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilynn Fenn, Ray Wise, Joan Chen, Richard Beymer, and many others. Twin Peaks was one of those shows that started brilliantly and then became weird for the sake of being weird, but the characters are great, and the episodes directed by David Lynch are true standouts. I'm assuming the people buying season two bought season one – because this is one series where each episode stands on the one before it.
Number 28 is Bedazzled, a 1967 riff on Faust written by Peter Cook and starring Cook and his comedy partner, Dudley Moore. Cook and Moore, who were part of the "Beyond the Fringe" comedy troupe of the 1950s, were very successful, but this is actually the only film that showed their unique pairing to great advantage. Directed by Stanley Donen, the man responsible for films like Charade, Arabesque, and many musicals of the '50s and '60s, Bedazzled tells the story of a short order cook named Stanley (Moore). As he is about to kill himself because of his mad love for a waitress who works with him at Whimpy Burger, he meets George Spiggott (Cook), the devil, and sells his soul for seven wishes. It's not only a funny film but fascinating, as it was made before Dudley Moore became a movie star in 10 and Arthur.
At number 40, we have the sixth season of the highly successful Murder, She Wrote starring the indomitable Angela Lansbury as mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher, who solves mysteries in her personal life as well as in fiction. Murder, She Wrote was a true breakout show – who knew people my parents' age were watching television? And who cared? CBS did, and trotted out many old stars, including MGM players from Lansbury's contract days such as Van Johnson and Hurd Hatfield, as well as some of her Broadway costars. The mysteries weren't much, but for 12 years, from 1984 to 1996, audiences ate it up. Thanks to Angela, TV later got The Golden Girls.
The next oldie is a musical, at number 48 – Camelot, starring Richard Harris and Meg Bussert – but this isn't the movie Camelot, this is the 1982 Broadway production filmed by HBO, preserving Richard Harris' only stage role on film. Richard Muenz is Lancelot. Something amazing, amidst Grey's Anatomy and The Good Shepherd, to see a Broadway special in such company.
If you had to guess which classic musicals would make the top 100, The Sound of Music would come to mind sooner or later. The 40th anniversary two-disc special edition starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer pops up at number 56 -and was released in 2005. Let's face it, The Sound of Music is a perennial with audiences, thus making it a perennial on best-seller lists. This is the film that saved 20th Century Fox from complete disintegration.
It was mentioned above that The Sound of Music saved 20th Century Fox. At number 58 is a man who kept 20th Century Fox solvent for many a year – Tyrone Power. Power's major swashbucklers, 1940's The Mark of Zorro and the 1942 Black Swan are already out – Zorro, in fact, was released twice, once in black and white and once in double-sided black and white/color – but this set contains the remarkable Blood and Sand and Son of Fury from the early '40s, and the later films Captain from Castile (1947), Prince of Foxes (1949), and The Black Rose (1950). The latter three were made on location with gorgeous results, including an actual erupting volcano in Captain from Castile. The pre-order sales of Tyrone Power: The Swashbuckler Box Set promises another Power collection in the future.
Legend Judy Garland is at number 63 in The Pirate, a beautiful 1948 film which also stars Gene Kelly and is directed by the brilliant Vincent Minnelli. Often overlooked, this film has a great script and a rich Cole Porter score – not to mention the talents of Garland, Kelly, and Minnelli. A definite must. Not due out until July 2007.
Number 71 is 1977's Roots, one of the greatest miniseries ever produced, in the days when the networks had the money to do them. This is a four-disc collector's set, due to be released next month. It is the story of Kunta Kinte, who is abducted from his African village and brought to America as a slave. The series follows the family he eventually has and events in U.S. history such as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and eventual emancipation of the slaves. The stars include LeVar Burton, Lou Gossett, Jr., Ben Vereen, Maya Angelou, Moses Gunn, among others. This isn't the first time Roots has been on DVD, but this promises to be a very special edition with an additional bonus disc, Crossing Over: How Roots Captivated a Nation and a documentary from 1978, Roots: One Year Later.
In number 73 is that rumpled detective in the old raincoat, Columbo, with a new DVD set due out next week, Columbo: Mystery Movie Collection – 1989. Peter Falk came back as Columbo in 1989 after an 11-year break, and the series did some marvelous episodes. Six of them, including a personal favorite, "Mirrors, Smoke, and Shadows" are included here and are a must for fans of Columbo, one of the all-time great shows that was originally part of an NBC mystery movie series that rotated shows such as McCloud and McMillan and Wife. If you're old enough to remember that Sunday night series, you'll appreciate this bit of trivia: the original Columbo was onstage and played by Thomas Mitchell, Scarlett O'Hara's father.
Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole star in Becket, the 1964 film coming out on DVD next month and currently in the number 88 spot. This is the true story of Henry II (O'Toole) and his complicated relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury (Burton). The film won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay, and both actors received Academy Award nominations for their roles. A fantastic film.
So while you're enjoying Rocky Balboa and taking in The Office, some of us will be watching a squinting detective, humming Cole Porter, and watching some classic acting. Thanks to DVDs and a great response from several generations of viewers, current and old favorites should continue to entertain for some time to come.