Just in case you thought Stalinism had an upside, Hungarian director Péter Bacsó’s Stalin’s Bride (1991) arrives on DVD, via Facets, to disabuse you of the idea. Raw in form and content, Stalin’s Bride unfolds in a mud-strewn, ramshackle peasant village in a late-1930s Soviet Union where misery flows as plentifully as the homemade vodka. (A canned, syrupy score, rough camerawork and some rather poor dubbing deepen the film’s sense of poverty.) At its outset, Soviet officials are confiscating what few possessions the villagers still own, some of which reappear later decorating said officials’ quarters. Into this sad scene steps Paranya, a snaggletoothed simpleton dressed in sackcloth who emerges from a boxcar to become the target of the villagers’ anger and mockery. Paranya turns the tables, however, when, in messianic fits, she begins denouncing her tormentors as spies and traitors to the delight of the local secret-police agent who dutifully rounds them up. Bacsó plays this cycle of repression, recrimination and revenge for all its grim irony where an absurdist touch might have accomplished more. For a lighter take on the follies of Marxism-Leninism, look to Mel Brooks’ The Twelve Chairs (1970), the least known of the eight titles in Fox’s recently released Brooks box set. A borscht-belt treasure hunt set in post-revolutionary Russia, it’s Brooks’ most underrated comedy, perhaps because it’s the only film in which Brooks risks a Chaplin-esque blend of yuks and pathos. Ron Moody stars as the former aristocrat who learns a touch of humility at the hands of Frank Langella’s smooth-operating con man, as the unlikely pair track down a Soviet-confiscated dining-room chair that conceals a fortune in gems. As an Orthodox priest who sheds his vestments to join the hunt, Dom DeLuise gives the best performance of his career.
Other recommended new releases: Greenway: The Early Films (DVD). Also released this week: DVD: The Adventures of The Little Prince; Billy Graham Presents: The Climb; Billy Graham Presents: The Hiding Place; The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Third Season; Bratz: Genie Magic; Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo; Cyber Wars; The Dark; Dave Attell Insomniac Tour Presents: Sean Rouse, Greg Giraldo & Dane Cook; David Copperfield; David Spade: Take the Hit; Deep Blue; Dog Boys; Ellie Parker; Farscape: Season 3: Collection 3; Fun With Dick and Jane; The Greatest Game Ever Played; The Great War; In Living Color: Season Five; Jeff Dunham: Arguing With Myself; Jimi Plays Monterey/Shake! Otis at Monterey; Laurel and Hardy Giftset: The Big Noise, Great Guns, Jitterbugs; Lord Mountbatten: The Last Viceroy; Maburaho, Vol. 7: Wizard of Ahhhs!; The Merv Griffin Show: 40 of the Most Interesting People of Our Time; Monterey Pop Mortuary; Nicholas Nickleby; The Old Curiosity Shop; Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin; Running Red; The Scorned; Seven Beauties; Shaquille O’Neal: Like No Other; Spymate; Swept Away; Take Me; Triumph of the Will: Special Edition; An Unfinished Life; Walt Disney’s Classic Cartoon Favorites, Volume 10: Best Pals Mickey and Minnie; Walt Disney’s Classic Cartoon Favorites, Volume 11: Best Pals Donald and Daisy; Walt Disney’s Classic Cartoon Favorites, Volume 12: Best Pals Mickey and Pluto; Wolf Creek; Woman Thou Art Loosed: Collector’s Edition.