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VIDEO REVIEW: Films in Sinatra box set are spellbinding

None of the five features in the "The Frank Sinatra MGM Movie Legends Collection" (MGM, $39.98) are new to DVD. But if you somehow built a collection that doesn't include "The Manchurian Candidate" (4 stars) or 1955's "Guys and Dolls" (3 stars), released in a wide-screen "Deluxe Edition " only last year, they're both here.

The first, one of the best political thrillers of all time, provides irrefutable evidence that Sinatra's natural gift for understated drama translated to film; the second gives a reason to regret that the singer never really did Broadway, where many of the titles in the Great American Songbook he made his own were introduced.

What makes the "Legends Collection" box the bargain it is are three far-less essential, yet fascinating relics. "The Pride and the Passion" (3 stars) is a 1957 VistaVision epic directed by Stanley Kramer, that was cast not for logic, but for star power: Cary Grant plays a British Army captain assigned to lead a band of Spanish guerrillas in the 19th century invasion against Napoleon; Sinatra, trying out a bad accent, is a shoemaker who joins the fight, while Sophia Loren is the firebrand with whom both fall in love.

"Kings Go Forth" (3 stars) is a 1958 war flick that looked to capitalize on Sinatra's "From Here to Eternity" intensity. It has Sinatra and Tony Curtis as WWII GIs fighting together against the Germans in France, and against each other for the affections of a French girl played by Natalie Wood .

Jazzbos have a soft spot for the overly melodramatic but altogether watchable film, because of the appearances of Red Norvo, the pioneering vibraphone player who would accompany Sinatra on his small group dates, and Pete Candoli, the trumpeter and ladies' man who was married to Betty Hutton and Edie Adams.

Rounding out the set is Frank Capra's 1959 misfire "A Hole in the Head" (2 stars), with Sinatra as a highball-loving Miami hotel owner struggling to stay afloat and look after his 12-year-old kid (Eddie Hodges) while chasing dames.


Also new this week:

If "Zodiac" (3 stars, Paramount, $29.99) can't quite live up to the expectations attached to a serious drama about the never-apprehended serial killer of late-`60s-early `70s San Francisco, it could be because director David Fincher ("Fight Club") scrupulously avoided exploiting the murders or arriving at definitive answers to the mystery. Instead, he examines the case, one piece of evidence or information at a time, through the eyes of an unreliable reporter (Robert Downey Jr.) and a newspaper coworker (Jake Gyllenhaal) who became obsessed with the case.

A serial killer is also the subject of "Perfume" (3 stars, Paramount, $29.99), directed by Tom Tykwer, and a major hit in Europe. In the United States, this tale of a social castaway (Ben Winshaw) in 18th-century France who becomes a master perfumer and murderer was ignored - even though it is intensely sensual and beautifully made. It's not what we expect, that's why it's so fascinating.


TV on DVD:

You'd have to be a superfan to spring for the elaborately packaged "Land of the Giants - The Full Series: Giant Collection" (Fox, $229.98; look for discounts in the $170 range), but if you are, this 9-disc collection of the cult-favorite TV series about a spaceship crew that crash lands on a planet where everything is super-sized, is all you could ever ask for. It contains all 51 episodes of the special-effects-heavy sci-fi fantasy that starred Gary Conway and Don Matheson, along with a pound or two of supplementary material about the making of the show and other ephemera.

Other new sets :

"A Bit of Fry and Laurie - The Complete Collection ... Every Bit!" (BBC, $79.98).

"Weeds: Season 2" (Lionsgate, $39.98).

"Tales From the Crypt: The Complete Sixth Season" (Warner, $39.98).


Family pick of the week:

Back before it was "animation," there were just cartoons. And back before there was a TV in every home, moviegoers got their cartoons on the big screen, as a prelude to the movie they were about to see. Nearly all of the 75 ` toons that are collected in beautiful, digitally remastered versions in "The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection" (4 stars, Universal, $39.98) were shown in theaters. They feature the antics of the great Walter Lantz's most famous character and the great Chilly Willy (just in time to cash in on the penguin craze), Andy Panda, Wally Walrus and Lucky the Rabbit.

These are mostly the unedited, and often politically incorrect, originals. You might want to watch these with the kids to explain any questionable content.