VIDEOSCAN. A selection of new releases for sale or rental
THE LAST HURRAH (1958. Directed by John Ford. RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video.) - After more than 20 years of steering away from contemporary material, Ford took on the world of urban politics in this celebrated drama: It chronicles the last campaign of an old-time mayor in a city that's uncertainly shaking off a long heritage of ethnic favoritism and corruption. One commentator has described the picture's mood as ``a dark despair of dissolved traditions and social orders,'' but the movie isn't as bleak as all that. Ford peppers the action with broad Irish humor, etches his portrait of Mayor Skeffington with clear sympathy and affection, and tempers a potentially off-putting cynicism with heady doses of sentimentality. Still, the film only comes vibrantly alive in its most stylized moments, as when the defeated Skeffington marches in lonely counterpoint to an ironic victory parade, or when his friends plod somberly toward his deathbed in the shadow-filled finale. These are quintessential Ford scenes, at once cinematically concise and visually eloquent. By comparison, the rest of the action seems loosely constructed and haltingly paced. Ford himself was reportedly displeased by the final editing, and few of the performances are memorable, except for Spencer Tracy's larger-than-life turn as the hero. Also on hand are Jeffrey Hunter, Pat O'Brien, Basil Rathbone, Donald Crisp, James Gleason, and John Carradine. Frank Nugent wrote the screenplay from an Edwin O'Connor novel. THE LOST WEEKEND (1945. Directed by Billy Wilder. MCA Home Video.) - This ferociously filmed portrait of an alcoholic still packs an emotional wallop, and still offers a strong warning about the prevalence of liquor in American society. Ray Milland plays the protagonist, a would-be novelist who drowns his weaknesses in booze and finds he can't stop once he gets started: ``One is too many, and 100 isn't enough,'' as his bartender friend clinically puts it. The performances are too keyed up and the visual style is too expressionistic for the drama to be taken as true realism. But director Wilder never fails to devise ingenious cinematic metaphors for his hero's tortured state of mind, and the ending is upbeat without being sentimental. Jane Wyman and Philip Terry aren't so hot as the main character's girlfriend and brother, but there are marvelous performances by Frank Faylen as a nurse and Howard Da Silva as the bartender. Few dramas of the '40s stand up better to the test of time. SON OF DRACULA (1943. Directed by Robert Siodmak. MCA Home Video.) - The plot isn't scary, but the low level of filmmaking will have you shivering in your seat. This sequel came out a dozen years after the original ``Dracula,'' and the old Count had lost a lot of his zip by then. It is the old Count and not his son, incidentally. He tries to fool everyone by using the name Alucard for a while - try spelling that backward - but every old Universal picture has at least one good-guy character who knows enough to cast a suspicious eye on a new neighbor who sleeps in a coffin and never pays a call in the daytime. So the Count's evil schemes fail once again. The acting does, too. The villain is played by marshmallowy Lon Chaney Jr. instead of goggle-eyed Bela Lugosi, and the supporting cast is uniformly forgettable. But if you hang a chain of garlic around your VCR, maybe this cassette will stay away.