The Austin Chronicle

DVD Watch

Reviewed by Steve Uhler, December 1, 2006, Screens


20th Century Fox, $19.98

"People ask me how I manage to come up with that 'fine little twist' to my stories," intones the supremely self-confident voice of O. Henry in a rare audio recording made just before his death in 1910 (one of several unexpected bonuses on this DVD). "I always tell 'em that the unusual is the ordinary, rather than the unexpected."

Like countless Austinites before and since, young William S. Porter floundered at just about everything he attempted during his formative years here before finding his true calling: a failed pharmacist, a bored bookkeeper, a bankrupt bank teller, a fledgling publisher, and, most fatefully, a careless embezzler. After skipping town for the Big Easy, he changed his name and his destiny, going on to become the Norman Rockwell of American literature in the process. His popular (and populist) short stories pretty much invited adaptations, a calculated risk that Hollywood decided to gamble on in 1952, when 20th Century Fox released O. Henry's Full House, an omnibus showcasing five of the author's most celebrated short stories.

The studio hedged its bets, stacking the deck with the talents of five different directors (including Howard Hawks and Henry Hathaway), a score of seasoned script doctors (with uncredited input from Ben Hecht and Nunnally Johnson), a semi-all-star cast (including a young Marilyn Monroe as New York's most fetching streetwalker), and topped it all off by recruiting John Steinbeck, gruff and ill at ease in a frumpy wool jacket, for the professorial introductions.

Like most anthology films, Full House yielded a mixed bag, with the episodes running the gamut from the whimsical ("The Ransom of Red Chief") to the maudlin ("The Last Leaf") to the iconic ("Gift of the Magi") – not the first time Hollywood has compromised the power of the pen in favor of the rewrite. This bargain-priced DVD features a digitally restored print and enough bonus features to justify an anthology of its own, including a video tour of the O. Henry Museum on Fifth.

Also Out Now

Star Trek: The Animated Series (Paramount Home Video, $54.99): This long-lost stepchild in the Trek universe – containing all 22 episodes from the Saturday-morning TV series aired from 1973 to 1974 – finally beams down into the marketplace, featuring the voice talents of the original crew.

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