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View From The Couch

All in the Family, Beauty and the Beast

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ALL IN THE FAMILY: THE COMPLETE SIXTH SEASON (1975-1976). All In the Family premiered in January 1971, which made it too late to be ranked by the A.C. Nielsen Company for the complete 1970-1971 season. But for the next five seasons, the landmark television sitcom was the top-rated program in the country, a record it still holds to this day (tied with The Cosby Show). This box set includes all 24 episodes of that final season in the #1 slot, and what's remarkable is that at this point, the show still showed no signs of curtailing its quality. The major developments include Gloria (Sally Struthers) and Mike (Rob Reiner) moving into the house next door to Archie (Carroll O'Connor) and Edith (Jean Stapleton), as well as Gloria's pregnancy and the birth of baby Joey. The series continued to inject flashes of drama into the uproarious comedy quotient, resulting in some standout episodes -- among the gems are "Archie, The Hero," in which Archie saves the life of a female impersonator (Lori Shannon), and "Joey's Baptism," in which Archie tries to get his grandson baptized without Mike or Gloria's permission (veteran character actor Clyde Kusatsu provides a great foil as Reverend Chong). There are no extras beyond promos for other TV shows on DVD.

Season: ****

Extras: *

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: THE FIRST SEASON (1987-1988). Beauty and the Beast was such a departure from the usual prime-time TV fodder that it's a wonder CBS ever gave the idea the green light in the first place. But the network took a chance on this unusual concept, and the risk paid off with a slew of Emmy Award nominations (including one for Best Drama Series) and a fervent following that has allowed the show to retain its standing as a cult hit. Finally available on DVD, Season One establishes the bond that exists between Catherine Chandler (The Terminator's Linda Hamilton), an assistant D.A. in New York, and Vincent (Hellboy's Ron Perlman), the tunnel dweller with the features of a lion but the soul of a poet. Unabashedly romantic, the show occasionally falls victim to the rigid formula of an hour-long time slot (most episodes culminate with Vincent racing across town to save Catherine from whatever danger confronts her), but its strength primarily rests in the two perfectly cast stars and the memorable characters they created. There are no extras in this six-disc, 22-episode set.

Season: ***1/2

Extras: *

THE DEPARTED (2006). At this point in his career, it's hard to imagine Martin Scorsese accepting another filmmaker's hand-me-downs. Yet in essence, that's what happened with The Departed, which isn't an original screen story but rather a remake of the excellent 2002 Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs. Like its predecessor, this critical and commercial hit boasts an ingenious premise: A lawman (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes undercover and infiltrates the inner circle of a crime lord (Jack Nicholson in ham mode) while a mob underling (Matt Damon) simultaneously works his way up through the ranks of the police department. Neither informant knows the other's identity, prompting both men to feverishly work to uncover the plant on the other side of the fence. Given that powerhouse punch of a scenario, it's perhaps not surprising that Scorsese elected to rework someone else's property while also embellishing it with his own distinctive style. The violence and vulgarity -- trademarks of this sort of Scorsese outing -- are pitched at operatic levels, and they occasionally verge on overkill. But with weighty issues of identity, duplicity and deception remaining constants throughout the film, it's refreshing to find a stateside remake that for once doesn't feel the need to dumb down for the sake of Yank audiences. DiCaprio and Damon are compelling as the co-leads, while Mark Wahlberg steals scenes as a profane detective. Extras on the two-disc DVD edition include nine additional scenes with introductions by Scorsese, the Turner Classic Movies documentary Scorsese On Scorsese, and a look at the real-life mobster who inspired Nicholson's character.

Movie: ***

Extras: ***

GREEN FOR DANGER (1946). A shining example of British '40s cinema at its most sterling, this adaptation of Christianna Brand's novel is a superb whodunit laced with generous dollops of that mordant Brit wit. At a remote English hospital during the days of World War II, an elderly postman dies during what should have been a simple operation. When one of the attendant nurses is subsequently found murdered, the five remaining staff members are immediately established as the only suspects. The personal dramas among the two doctors (Trevor Howard and Leo Genn) and three nurses (Sally Gray, Rosamund John and Megs Jenkins) rub raw against their mistrust of one another, and the tensions only mount when the sly Inspector Cockrill (Alastair Sim) enters the scene. Near-perfect as a murder-mystery, the joy factor is elevated even more with the arrival of Sim, whose marvelous work as the bumbling yet shrewd Inspector Cockrill predates Peter Falk's similarly inspired work as Columbo. (Brand would write several novels featuring the Cockrill character, and it would have been nice to see a series of movies with Sim reprising the role.) DVD extras include audio commentary by film historian Bruce Eder and an interview with film historian Geoff Brown.

Movie: ****

Extras: **1/2

HERE COMES MR. JORDAN (1941). The delightful Here Comes Mr. Jordan was based on a play (Harry Segall's Heaven Can Wait), but it's hardly a stagebound film, given its ease at hopping between numerous locales both earthy and celestial. Robert Montgomery stars as Joe Pendleton, a boxer who dies in a plane crash just before he's set to embark on a championship run. Insisting to the angel (Edward Everett Horton, Hollywood's favorite fussbudget) who nabbed him that there's been some mistake, Joe learns from the angel's superior, Mr. Jordan (Claude Rains), that an error has indeed been made and that he's not set to die for another 50 years. But since his earthbound body has been cremated, Joe's forced to occupy the human shell of Mr. Farnsworth, a heartless millionaire whose wife (Rita Johnson) and assistant (John Emery) are plotting to murder him. The plot twists fly fast and furious in this sharply written fantasy boosted by standout turns from Montgomery and James Gleason (as Joe's befuddled boxing manager). Nominated for seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture), it earned two for Best Original Story and Best Screenplay. Thirty-seven years later, this was remade by Warren Beatty as the popular Heaven Can Wait; six years ago, it was remade again as the limp Chris Rock vehicle Down to Earth. There are no extras on the DVD.

Movie: ***1/2

Extras: *

INFAMOUS (2006). Could the box office handle two movies about Truman Capote? Not a chance. That's a shame, because Infamous, which was theatrically released approximately one year after Capote, compares favorably to its award-laden predecessor and, in at least one regard, it trumps it. Whereas Capote focused almost exclusively on the social raconteur's experiences while writing the true-crime novel In Cold Blood, Infamous offers more scenes showing Truman flitting about the New York social scene. Furthermore, it has more of a sense of humor in sequences that could benefit from them. Toby Jones is quite good as Truman, even if he doesn't provide as many psychological shadings to his portrayal as Philip Seymour Hoffman did in his Oscar-winning turn. And while Sandra Bullock's impression of Capote confidante Harper Lee isn't as memorable as Catherine Keener's work in the earlier film, other performances stand out, particularly Jeff Daniels as the sheriff investigating the farmland slayings and Daniel Craig (the new James Bond) as the more complex of the two murderers. DVD extras include audio commentary by writer-director Douglas McGrath and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ***

Extras: *1/2

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