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The big treat on video-store shelves this week is The Complete Thin Man Collection (Warner Bros.), a bonus-feature-laden box set collecting the adventures of Hollywood's most charming detectives, Nick and Nora Charles (not to mention their pooch, Asta). The couple's booze-soaked banter is immortal, even if the filmmakers didn't make it all up from scratch; the series sprang from the pen of Dashiell Hammett. The Thin Man series arrives concurrent with a wave of literary adaptations, many of which were pretty obscure before their DVD debuts (some perhaps deservedly so).
Most obscure in a way is Prozac Nation, which Miramax is releasing on video after shelving it for years after production. The Christina Ricci vehicle has long been an object of curiosity for both her fans and the readers of Elizabeth Wurtzel's best-seller, but it might have languished forever had the recent shakeups at Miramax (the founding Weinstein Brothers have finally negotiated their departure from the company)not encouraged staffers to reap as much profit as possible from old assets.
The assets of the Jim Henson company are a different matter. Disney is releasing his Muppet Show, and the company is taking the opportunity to issue the somewhat less monumental The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, in which the L. Frank Baum classic is revisited by Kermit and Fozzie Bear, along with guest stars Queen Latifah and, erm, Quentin Tarantino.
A more respectful, if lesser-known, interpretation of an old chestnut is found on Koch Vision's The Old Man and the Sea. Spencer Tracy may be the actor most closely identified with Ernest Hemingway's eponymous old man, but this 1990 version, made for television, stars a grizzled Anthony Quinn.
On a lighter note, Steve McQueen wanders far from his macho image for a kid-filled comedy in The Reivers (Paramount). The story, about a family of grifters taking a 1905 "horseless carriage" to Memphis, may not be William Faulkner's most heavyweight material - and here it gets a faint whiff of the Apple Dumpling Gang - but it was evidently memorable enough to become the namesake of one of the best bands to hit Central Texas in the late '80s.
Stories by W. Somerset Maugham are adapted in two new releases this month. The Razor's Edge, release number 30 in Fox's "Fox Studio Classics" series, is the famous one. The 1946 Academy Award-winner stars Tyrone Power as a World War I veteran having trouble re-entering the superficial high society he left behind. Gene Tierney plays his jilted fiancée, who winds up seeking consolation with John Payne. The Moon and Sixpence, released by the budget-minded label VCI Entertainment, stars George Sanders as a painter loosely inspired by Paul Gauguin - a London businessman who gives up the straight life in favor of art (not to mention the tropical pleasures of Tahiti).
Two more recent titles take their stories from plays instead of novels: In The Rainmaker (Paramount), Burt Lancaster is a huckster who wants to bilk a small town but gets distracted by Katherine Hepburn; N. Richard Nash wrote the screenplay from his own stage production. Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version (Criterion), meanwhile, gives us Michael Redgrave as a school teacher facing a midlife crisis.
Finally, Batman Begins star Christian Bale pops up in The Secret Agent (Fox), a 1996 adaptation of Joseph Conrad's tale. Screenwritten and directed by Dangerous Liaisons screenwriter Christopher Hampton, it's a dark and moody affair, egged on by an eerie Philip Glass score, that will hit viewers a bit differently now than it did before 9-11. •
John DeFore on DVD