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Fletch, Prince of the City, Scarface, Sergio Leone box set

FLETCH (1985). Back in the 1980s, MAD magazine ran a humorous article citing locations where the U.S. government could hide its arsenal of nuclear weapons without fear of discovery. One of the places cited was a movie theater showing a Chevy Chase film festival, especially amusing to those who recall how many bombs this actor starred in throughout the course of his career. Fletch, however, remains a bright spot, a genial comedy adapted from Gregory McDonald's best-selling novel. Chase stars as the title character, an investigative reporter who eventually discovers that his latest assignment, an expose of the drug trade flourishing on the local beaches, neatly dovetails with the bizarre request made by a local millionaire (Tim Matheson), who has asked that Fletch murder him for insurance reasons. Before cracking the case, though, Fletch must don a series of costumes in order to pass himself off as wacky characters with names like John Cocktoastin, Baba au Rum and Ted Nugent. In true '80s style, there are the "big hair" women (played by Dana Wheeler-Nicholson and an up-and-coming Geena Davis), a Harold Faltermeyer score that basically rips off his own Beverly Hills Cop theme, a trendy cameo by a sports star (here, L.A. Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and plenty of choice quips ("You using the whole fist, doc?") tossed off with panache by one of the original Not Ready for Prime-Time Players.

DVD extras include a making-of featurette and a look at Fletch's various disguises.

Movie: ***

Extras: **

PRINCE OF THE CITY (1981). In 1973, director Sidney Lumet helmed Serpico, a based-on-fact film about an honest New York cop (played by Al Pacino) who stands tall in the face of police corruption. Eight years later, Lumet returned to the territory with another true-life movie about an NYC cop who testifies against police corruption; only this time, the waters are more muddied. In a standout performance, Treat Williams plays Danny Ciello (based on a real cop named Robert Leuci), a lawman who for various reasons (including a crisis of conscience) decides to turn informant and expose the corruption that exists within the NYPD. Ciello agrees to help the D.A.'s office nail anyone except his trusted partners (one played by Jerry Orbach), but when it's exposed that Ciello himself isn't that clean, the rules of engagement change on all sides. Even with a running time approaching three hours, Prince of the City never experiences any lulls, as Lumet and co-scripter Jay Presson Allen (adapting Robert Daley's book) expertly keep track of Ciello as he weaves and bobs his way through scores of ancillary characters: cops, lawyers, mobsters, drug addicts and even family members. Released during a strong year for cinema, this proved to be a box office bust, and its sole Oscar nomination was for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Extras in the two-disc DVD set include a making-of feature and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ***1/2

Extras: **

SCARFACE (1932). A Molotov cocktail of a movie, Scarface was one of the most controversial films of its era. Loosely based on the mob activities of Al Capone and other Chicago hoodlums, this film so agitated the Hays Office censorship board that they insisted producer Howard Hughes and director Howard Hawks make numerous changes; when those edits failed to satisfy the censors, the two Howards opted to go back to their original cut and release the film without official approval. Paul Muni gives a dynamic, animalistic performance as Tony Camonte, a natural born killer who rises from mob flunky to crime kingpin. Unlike the gangsters played by Cagney, Bogart and Robinson, Muni's Camonte isn't particularly smart, brave or self-aware; instead, he's a simple-minded ape who succeeds by pure force and is eventually exposed as a coward when the chips are down. The film's violence drew the bulk of the protests, though it's difficult to believe anyone could have missed Tony's incestuous feelings toward his teenage sister (Ann Dvorak). George Raft, who counted numerous gangsters among his real-life pals, is effective as Tony's coin-flipping henchman, while Boris Karloff, a year after attaining stardom in Frankenstein, pops up as a rival crime lord.

DVD extras include an alternate ending and an introduction by Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne.

Movie: ***1/2

Extras: *1/2

THE SERGIO LEONE ANTHOLOGY (1964-1972). The three films in director Sergio Leone's "Man With No Name" trilogy -- the trio of features that created the "spaghetti Western" and made Clint Eastwood a superstar -- are already available on DVD, though it's nice to have all three packaged in this elaborate box set.

Yet the real news here is the DVD debut of Duck, You Sucker (1972), a nice addition to the library of all Leone completists. Eastwood's not on hand for this Western set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution, but you do get Rod Steiger as a Mexican bandit (a suitably hammy turn, even if his accent often slips into the Southern twang he employed in In the Heat of the Night) and James Coburn as the Irish explosives expert who awakens the self-centered bandido's anarchic spirit and sense of national pride. As with most Leone works, this one (which also made the rounds under the title A Fistful of Dynamite) is full of sly humor and startling camerawork, and it also finds Ennio Morricone contributing one of his most offbeat scores.

As for the films in the "Man With No Name" trilogy, A Fistful of Dollars (1964) is a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, with Eastwood as the stranger who plays both sides in the squabble between two warring clans; For a Few Dollars More (1965) casts Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef as rival bounty hunters who team up to stop a psychotic outlaw (Gian Maria Volonte); and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), the best in the set though not the best in Leone's career (that would be Once Upon a Time In the West), finds the Good (Eastwood), the Bad (Van Cleef) and the Ugly (Eli Wallach) all striving to get their hands on buried gold.

Extras in the eight-disc DVD set, many carried over from previous editions of the films, include audio commentaries by film historians, making-of features, pieces on Leone and Morricone, interviews with Eastwood, and a look at film restoration.

A Fistful of Dollars: ***

For a Few Dollars More: ***

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: ***1/2

Duck, You Sucker: ***

Extras: ****

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