Running Scared and the Tennessee Williams Collection

Paul Walker: surprisingly okay. Carroll Baker in Baby Doll: a revelation.

Running Scared

New Line, $27.98

I never thought I'd find myself saying this about anything starring Paul Walker, but Running Scared is a pretty awesome movie and a good DVD. Not for the faint of heart, this brutal crime drama follows low-level mobster Joey (Walker) trying to recover a hot gun used to kill a corrupt police officer. Any movie where the entire family (including a 10-year-old boy) murders someone seems destined for an unrated DVD release. Surprisingly, Scared is seen here in its original R-rated theatrical form. Trust me: It doesn't need any more graphic content.

This DVD features a great storyboard-to-film featurette that deconstructs the movie's two over-the-top shoot-out set pieces: the opening massacre in a hotel room, and an unflinching torture scene involving a hockey puck. Running Scared is full of long, complex shots that are well explained by writer-director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) in his feature commentary. The making-of documentary is a fun 20 minutes that basically shows how much the actors enjoyed beating up one another all day. Walker's never looked more excited. As an added bonus, there's a short comic-book adaptation of the hockey puck scene included, realized by artist P.J. Loughran. This should help ease some viewers into the extreme violence and profanity to come. FRANK PAIVA

Tennessee Williams Film Collection

Warner, $68.92

This seven-disc set—the movie versions of six plays, plus an antic CBC potpourri titled Tennessee Williams' South—gives us a showy look at the bad old days of the Production Code and a front-row seat for that electric moment that changed realism in movies forever: Marlon Brando's pleading "Stell-uuuuuhhhhhhh!," anguished enough to lure his wife back to their bed in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Streetcar (1951) was the second Williams play to reach the screen (The Glass Menagerie, missing from this group, was filmed in 1950). Although this 1997 "director's cut" restores three "crucial" minutes taken from Elia Kazan by the Code's censors, putting them back still doesn't explain why the young Blanche DuBois would suddenly tell her young poet-husband that he revolted her, triggering his suicide moments later. As one of the bonus disc's commentators, Eric Lax, dryly asks, "Because he was a poet?" Not quite.

For the answer, go to the 1973 CBC documentary by Harry Rasky. Skip past his excruciating interview with Williams as they stroll the French Quarter, to the scenes from other Williams plays, regrettably also staged by Rasky. There you'll find the theater's great, original Blanche, Jessica Tandy, in her monologue that Explains It All for You. (Blanche blundered onto young husband and his older male friend.) Tandy's style, closer in its naturalism to Brando's, makes Vivien Leigh's Blanche seem stagy and artificial—her Oscar notwithstanding.

Streetcar's separate rich bonus disc has two prizes: recently discovered footage of 23-year-old Brando as we've never seen him (eager, ingratiating during a camera check); and two scenes from his 1947 screen test for Rebel Without a Cause. Even better is Richard Schickel's riveting full-length doc, Elia Kazan: A Director's Journey, which lays bare the man and The Method behind the next 40 years of great acting by (to name a few) Brando, Paul Newman, Carroll Baker (spectacular here in Baby Doll), Karl Malden, and Eli Wallach (ditto), Kim Hunter, Warren Beatty, Shirley Knight, Geraldine Page, and Rip Torn, all found here.

Baby Doll (1956) is the set's revelation: Williams' sole original screenplay fits Kazan's description of it as "slapstick gothic" perfectly. Although the times have caught up with the idea of a virginal nymphet of 19 (Baker) who's holding her husband (Malden) at bay until her 20th birthday, nothing has staled Wallach's full-on innuendo as the rival Sicilian pursuing the breathtaking Baker. It won Wallach the British Academy Award, but Baby Doll brought a condemnation from the Legion of Decency—enough box-office pressure for Warner Bros. to pull the picture soon after its release.

The Code worked its usual mischief on 1958's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, although Williams himself muddies the waters as to exactly why Paul Newman has been spurning wife Elizabeth Taylor. Frankly, her lustful performance (in that artfully constructed slip) is enough for another look at big-studio Williams. While Code cuts (explained in the accompanying featurette) saved Newman from castration in 1962's Sweet Bird of Youth, they also made a mystery of why his former sweetheart's father was so vengeful toward Newman (VD left his beloved daughter sterile). As the piece's sacred monster, Geraldine Page plays both qualities memorably; blame the studio for the hilarious upbeat ending.

Ava Gardner's surprisingly relaxed sensuality is enough to recommend John Huston's 1964 The Night of the Iguana (that and the camera work of Gabriel Figueroa), but I can't think of one reason except masochism to revisit The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961), in which age (about 47) forces suddenly widowed actress Vivien Leigh to flee New York for Rome—and the attentions of young men pimped by Lotte Lenya. Warren Beatty, with dyed black hair, is one such Roman. Draw the veil. SHEILA BENSON

Other Releases

From SIFF '05 comes the acclaimed bio-doc Gram Parsons: Fallen Angel. The Russian Night Watch has two sequels in the works. The Hills Have Eyes is merely a remake, on which subject, check out the original 1976 The Omen on two discs (including director Richard Donner's commentary). Unlike Running Scared (above), Paul Walker turns to wholesome fare in Eight Below. Also look for Anthony Hopkins in The World's Fastest Indian, The Syrian Bride, and Syriana (for which George Clooney gained weight and earned an Oscar). Oddity of the week: Peter Sellers joins the hippies in 1968's I Love You, Alice B. Toklas.

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