Weekly Video Picks

Into the Arms of Strangers (2000)

The Holocaust is an example of the worst evil that human beings can inflict on one another. But at times its horrors also gave rise to acts of kindness and bravery. The Oscar-winning documentary Into the Arms of Strangers, directed by Mark Jonathan Harris, chronicles Great Britain's great moment of mercy when it took in more than 10,000 Jewish children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939. (The U.S. government, which could have launched a similar program, refused to do so.)

The exiled youngsters expected their parents would follow in a few years. Their hopes were dashed by the implementation of the Nazis’ “Final Solution.” Harris mixes footage from prewar Germany and the children's odyssey with interviews with a dozen survivors and a few of their rescuers. Each of their stories puts a human face on the tragedy. Most of the children recall with chilling clarity the exact moment when they saw their parents for the last time. Their feelings about their rescue range from gratitude and wonder to guilt and sorrow.

One on One (1977)

Sports films are a popular metaphor for self-improvement and success in American society. The genre's best also emphasize the moral aspects of the struggle. One on One, directed by Lamont Johnson (The Last American Hero) and written by actor Robby Benson and his father Jerry Segal, examines the commercialization of college basketball. Henry Steele (Benson) is a small-town high-school star who's never fully learned to read. When he wins a basketball scholarship to Western University, he's appalled at the “big business” aspect of the way the sport is played. His coach, Moreland Smith (G.D. Spradlin), is a bully who wants him bounced from the team because he won't go along. Because Henry has few other skills, his situation looks hopeless.

Janet Hays (Annette O'Toole) is a graduate student assigned to be Henry's tutor, and her brains and strength of character give him the courage to stand up. Although occasionally predictable, the movie shows how one honorable man can triumph against all odds if he sticks to his principles.

El Cid (1961)

Most Americans don't know much about the West's medieval battles against Muslim conquest and Spain's centuries-long struggle to free itself from the Moors. El Cid is an epic portrait of the 11th-century Spanish hero Rodrigo Díaz de Bivar (Charlton Heston) during these wars. The movie begins by dramatizing Rodrigo's personal problems. He becomes estranged from his fiancee, Chimene (Sophia Loren), because he has killed her father (Andrew Cruickshank), who falsely accused him of treason. She eventually has a change of heart when he proves himself to be a man of honor.

The death of King Ferdinand (Ralph Truman) makes Spain more vulnerable to Islamic attack. Rodrigo forges a coalition between the Christians and some friendly Moors and, in a spectacular battle scene, he lays siege to the enemy in their seaside fortress at Valencia. Director Anthony Mann (The Fall of the Roman Empire) shows us how Rodrigo's courage, compassion and spiritual commitment are transformed into the stuff of legend. Hollywood doesn't make them like this any more.