IN RESPONSE to 19,000 inquiries from educators and librarians, not to mention a few thousand requests from viewers, PBS-TV will make "The Civil War" nine-part series available on home video.
In fact, all 10,000 of the limited-edition tapes have been ordered by retailers and libraries. Stores will put the simulated-leather-bound sets -- which include an index book for cross-referencing -- on sale Wednesday.
Individual episodes will go for $24.95; the better idea is to get the entire set for $199.95.
Once in a while you take a chance in the video store on something unfamiliar. Sometimes you get stuck with a loser, but there are times when you are rewarded beyond your expectations. Such is the case with the "Discovery Program: A Collection of Award-Winning Short Stories" from JCI Video.
Among the four stories in Vol. 1 (the only volume thus far) is "Ray's Male Heterosexual Dance Hall," which won the Academy Award for Best Short Film in 1987. It deserved the trophy: The wily story is a hoot. Ray's is where businessmen go on their lunch hour to advance their careers by schmoozing with the high and mighty. But this is no place to simply sit and chat: At Ray's you waltz or tango -- with men. Nothing sexual involved, it's just a social custom at Ray's.
The story is told through the eyes of a newcomer who happens into Ray's without knowing what to expect. The sight of the ballroom floor covered in couples of business-suited men dancing hand-in-hand is at first alarming, but eventually it begins to make sense. The film actually has a lot to say about power-brokering and how silly some of our customs are. The humor is subtle and the point is well-taken.
Next up is a film called "Greasy Lake," starring Eric Stoltz, Tegan West and James Spader ("White Palace") as a trio of would-be tough guys who spend a night in danger at a remote lake. "The Open Window" has Barry Neikrug ("Punchline") trying to quiet a banging window in his high-rise apartment building, only to flood the building and set it on fire.
"Hearts of Stone" is the most poignant of the quartet. It features two members of rival Los Angeles gangs locked in a room to play a game of Russian roulette. The winner's gang gets possession of disputed territory. Really a terrific one-act play done as a dark film, the street-wise dialogue is riveting as the two men face their fates and begin to question the idea of dying for such a nebulous cause. "Discovery Program" goes for $79.95 from JCI Video. If you can't find it in a local store, call (818) 593-3600.
A few readers wanted to know what Mary Martin movies were available on videotape. The actress died recently at age 76. "Peter Pan," the 1960 TV version of the story, has been going like gangbusters for GoodTimes Home Video. Some 4 million copies of the tape have been shipped to retailers. You should have no problem getting it at video or department stores for about $25. Otherwise, there is only one other Martin movie on tape: "Main Street to Broadway," also starring Ethel Barrymore, Rex Harrison, Henry Fonda and Tallulah Bankhead. The 1953 film goes for $59.95 from MPI Home Video.
The only full-length theatrical movie starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz comes to tape next week. It's "The Long, Long Trailer," a 1954 slapstick outting directed by Vincente Minnelli. Keenan Wynn and Marjorie Main also star in the film, which has Ball and Arnaz taking their honeymoon in the titular -- and cumbersome -- mobile home. The film retails for $19.95, from MGM-UA Home Video.
Also next week look for the last of the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope "Road" movies when "The Road to Hong Kong" hits video stores. It, too, will cost $19.95. And while you're in the classics section, check out Grace Kelly's "The Swan," a story that has the late actress-turned-princess playing a woman who marries the handsome prince of a fabled country. It was Kelly's last movie. It will also go for $19.95.
Just in time for holiday gift-giving (you'll be hearing that a lot in the coming weeks): "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" ($92.95), Bill Cosby's "Ghost Dad" ($91.95) and, for $89.95 each, the Oscar-winning "Henry V," the disturbing "Last Exit to Brooklyn," the tear-jerking "Silence Like Glass," Lou Gossett Jr.'s "El Diablo" ("Lethal Weapon" in the Wild West), the murder caper "Lisa" (two young girls scare a psycho killer into action) and the very funny "Ernest Goes to Jail" (watch out for that floor waxer!). The spooky B-movie "Serpent of Death" hits the $79.95 shelf in VHS, $29.95 on the Beta shelf, next week. "Kiss of Death," which made bad guy Richard Widmark a star, goes on sale for $39.95.
Home Video columnist Buzz McClain is entertainment editor of the Journal Newspapers in Springfield, Va. 22159.