National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Weekly Video Picks

BY Jim Cosgrove

August 26 - September 1, 2001 Issue | Posted 8/26/01 at 2:00 PM


Emma (1996,1997)

One of the surprising counter-cultural trends of the past decade has been the number of movie and TV productions of Jane Austen's novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Clueless, etc.).

Austen's carefully constructed morality plays have neither the overt sexuality nor the emotional excesses that characterize most contemporary pop-culture romantic stories.

Her ironic portrait of early 19th-century English society encourages modesty, reason, psychological balance and a kind, forgiving heart.

Emma has been the subject of both a highly praised feature film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and an A&E cable-TV minis-eries. The longer version is more faithful to the original, with skillfully drawn characters and fully developed subplots.

Emma (Kate Beckinsale) is a young, wealthy busybody who fancies herself a matchmaker, but some bad choices maker her question her judgments. She is also surprised to discover that a man (Mark Strong) whom she had previously considered just a friend may prove to be a suitable lifetime partner.

All Creatures Great and Small (1974)

Country living has its virtues, and they're often are ignored in the hurly-burly of present-day life. All Creatures Great and Small, based on James Herriot's autobiographical novels, is set in England's picturesque Yorkshire farming country at the beginning of the last century. Herriot (Simon Ward) is a young veterinarian just out of college who joins the established practice of the Farnon brothers. He must learn to cope with the demanding, dedicated Siegfried (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and his irresponsible younger sibling Tristan (Brian Stirner).

British director Claude Whatham and screenwriter Hugh Whitmore use droll humor and an eye for period detail to tie together Herriot's varied adventures. The tone is set in the very first scene when the young vet, just down from London in his perfectly pressed suit, must follow Siegfried into the stables to treat a messy horse injury. But the filmmakers pause long enough to present Herriot's courtship of the lovely Helen (Lisa Harrow) whom he eventually marries.

Champagne for Caesar (1950)

Quiz shows and other audience-participation contests are once again grabbing top TV ratings. This film directed by Richard Whorf and written by Hans Jacoby and Fred Brady, is a deft satire on the subject that still has relevance. Beau-r e g a r d B o t t o m l e y (Ronald Colman) is an “independent scholar” who can't find a steady job.

A confirmed bachelor, he lives in Los Angeles with his sister (Barbara Britton) and a parrot named Caesar.

After an unpleasant employment interview with Milady Soap, he decides to get even by becoming a contestant on the “Masquerade for Money” radio quiz show, which is sponsored by the company.

Bottomley wins big money on every program and becomes a national celebrity, so popular the producers don't dare kick him off the air. Milady's president, Birnbridge Waters (Vincent Price), hires a female spy (Celeste Holm) to uncover Bottomley's weaknesses, but she falls in love with the contestant. The show's host (Art Linkletter) also has designs on Bottomley's sister.