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New on Disc: 'Damnation Alley' and more …

11 Jul, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Damnation Alley

Street 7/12
Shout! Factory, Sci-Fi, $19.93 DVD, $26.97 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Jan-Michael Vincent, George Peppard, Paul Winfield, Dominique Sanda.
The story deals with the ramifications of Earth having been tilted on its axis and the resulting precipitous population dip. The few remaining survivors include three U.S. Air Force cronies who managed to be in a Mojave bomb shelter: Jan-Michael Vincent, George Peppard and Paul Winfield. If the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” crew had been allowed access to major studio releases, Alley (adapted from a Roger Zelazny novel) would have been a natural. But even without snarky commentary, the movie and Jack Smight’s direction are so outlandishly ham-handed that Peppard and this D-team always will have an honored place on my DVD shelf.
Extras: In one of the featurettes, co-producer Jerome Zeitman basically says he was in over his head and the filmmakers did the best they could with the available technology. Screenwriter Alan Sharp is the focus of another featurette.
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The Best of The Dean Martin Variety Show: Collector’s Edition

Time Life, Comedy, $59.95 six-DVD set, NR.
The show was a watered-down variation on Dean Martin’s booze-‘n’-broads Vegas nightclub act. The show worked for eight seasons, though it got a little shaky toward the end. Credit infectiously good on-the-set tidings, Martin’s ability to play off almost any guest and his utter lack of pretension (who else began his show by sliding down a fire pole in a tux?). Unlike the old mail-order DVDs that utilized a kind of “snippet” format to present the Martin shows, this six-disc set (smaller and cheaper variations are available as well) consists of 20 individual programs with certain segments and a lot of Martin solos from each edited out. The purist in me balks at this, and I am among the online chorus who would have preferred complete programs. But beyond allowing disc space for a larger show sampling, it’s possible some of the edits were judicious: The shows move speedily, and even some of the obscure guest stand-up comics (who would have been potentially removable) remain and are funnier than expected. In any case, the set makes it clear that Martin was a — and maybe the — transitional figure for changing television times.
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Frontline: Football High

PBS, Documentary, $24.99, NR.
Broadly speaking, director Rachel Dretzin’s reportage deals with the ways in which successful high school football programs now resemble those of their college counterparts. High school players take more hits than college players while their brains are still developing, and doctors are starting to see brain injuries and memory loss identified with NFL retirees in youngsters. This is a very powerful documentary in the low-key “Frontline” style that simply asks that football programs and the public at large keep pace with the current medical knowledge.
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Tortilla Flat

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr, John Garfield, Frank Morgan.
Director Victor Fleming’s moderately weighted but still slightly overlong movie of John Steinbeck’s first bestseller illustrates a lot of what was both slick and snapless — and yet in other ways wonderful — about MGM during the Louis B. Mayer years. The picture casts Irish Spencer Tracy, Viennese Hedy Lamarr, Jewish John Garfield and The Wizard of Oz’s Frank Morgan as Northern California Hispanics — or paisanos — who live, loaf, imbibe wine and pack a lot of fish at the area canneries.
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