Weekly Video Picks

Leave it to Beaver (1997)

Movie studios keep turning old TV shows into features, with mixed results. Leave it to Beaver, based on the series created by Bob Mosher and Joe Connelly, is as corny as the original. But there's still some charm left in its wholesome small-town atmosphere and unapologetic embrace of family values. The time frame is moved from the 1950s to the late 1990s. The 8-year-old Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver (Cameron Finley) wants a bike. Eddie Haskell (Adam Zolotin), the best friend of his older brother Wally (Erik Von Detten), suggests he play football to make his dad Ward (Christopher MacDonald) proud so he'll spring for it.

Beaver's grades plummet and when school authorities recommend counseling, his mom June (Janine Turner) imagines her kid is in a lot of trouble. Director Andy Cadiff and screenwriter Brian Levant deliver the gags and one-liners in a spirit of good, clean fun.

The Summer of Ben Tyler (1996)

The segregated South of the mid-20th century has been a fertile setting for coming-of age stories in which an idyllic childhood is disrupted by racism and other evils. The choices made by adults in these situations present the kids with a moral code that sticks with them for the rest of their lives. The Summer of Ben Tyler, a TV movie, continues this honorable tradition. Temple Rayburn (James Woods) is an idealistic lawyer with a lovely wife, Cecilia (Elizabeth McGovern) and a precocious daughter, Nell (Julie McIvaine). Their position in the community is threatened when they take in Ben (Charles Mattock), the mentally challenged son of their deceased African-American housekeeper.

Temple faces further ethical challenges when he agrees to defend Junius Maitland (Kevin Isola), the son of the town's richest citizen (Len Cariou), who's charged with drunk driving and manslaughter. Director Arthur Allan Seidelman uses this courtroom drama to examine the difference between right and wrong and between the law and justice.

Nowadays it's politically incorrect to say anything positive about Spain's conquest and evangelization of Latin America. Captain from Castile, based on Samuel Shellabarger's novel, is hardly a piece of cheerleading for colonialism or the Spanish Inquisition. But it does give these issues a balanced presentation inconceivable in present-day Hollywood.

The aristocratic Pedro de Vargas (Tyrone Power) saves the impoverished Catania Perez (Jean Peters), from the henchmen and hunting dogs of Diego de Silva (John Sutton), the inquisitor general. De Vargas is unjustly imprisoned, and, after sword fights, intrigues and an escape, he and the peasant girl flee Spain to the New World. The scenery and costumes are spectacular, the action is rousing and Alfred Newman's Oscar-nominated musical score stirs the blood.