`Beast,' short but sweet, was about daring love

Critics' Picks: New Dvds

February 11, 2007

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON -- Paramount Home Entertainment / $49.99

This daring CBS series lasted only three seasons (1987-1990), but it stands as one of the medium's finest hours of romantic drama. If any network series deserves a Valentine's week release, it is this cleverly re-imagined fairy tale for television.

Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman star in the title roles. She plays Catherine Chandler, a young corporate attorney working for her industrialist father at his Manhattan headquarters. Perlman plays Vincent, half man and half beast, living with a tribe of other outcasts in a community of caverns beneath New York City. While his face resembles a lion's, he has empathic powers that make him more sensitive than most human beings.

In an inspired pilot, titled "Once Upon a Time in the City of New York," Catherine is facially disfigured in a nighttime attack and left for dead in Central Park. Vincent finds her and brings her to his underground city where he and his father, a physician, nurse her back to health.

Eventually, she returns to her former life, but she leaves her father's corporate world to work as an assistant district attorney, and she never forgets Vincent. The two regularly meet in darkness above and below ground, and whenever she is in danger on her new job, Vincent rushes to her rescue.

As improbable as that premise might sound, it works like a charm in the hands of creator Ron Koslow, who uses light and darkness, staircases and tunnels to create an otherworldly dreamscape onscreen. Catherine and Vincent often seem more like psychically charged creatures of the collective unconscious (as described by psychiatrist Carl Jung) than characters in a prime-time drama during the era of Dallas and Dynasty. Few TV series have explored love with such wisdom or passion.

"Sometimes it almost feels as if we are one," Vincent tells Catherine, as he confesses his love for her in the pilot.

Not almost, Vincent. And that's the ultimate triumph of Beauty and the Beast.

Special features

None, and it doesn't need any.

DAVID ZURAWIK

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

ALSO ANTICIPATED

BICYCLE THIEVES --Criterion Collection / $39.95

Vittorio de Sica's 1948 masterpiece of Italian neo-realism, revolving around the search for a stolen bicycle in post-war Rome, gets a lavish treatment from the film lovers at Criterion -- who, among other things, correctly translate the Italian title, Ladri di biciclette. In this country, at least, the movie has for years been known as The Bicycle Thief.

The Criterion print looks great. But the real attractions are the extras, including recent interviews with screenwriter Suso Cecchi D'Amico and actor Enzo Staiola.

There's also an engaging 34-minute monologue by film scholar Mark Shiel, who explains Italian neo-realism (a back-to-basics filmmaking approach that had its heyday in the decade after World War II) and how Bicycle Thieves exemplifies the genre.

CHRIS KALTENBACH

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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