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DVDs tell tales of priest, sport, New Testament

Isn't today the first day of spring? Is it sunny out? Are the birds chirping and the flowers blooming? Or is that just the picture on my calendar?

Well, it is officially spring, so here are some new DVDs that are supposed to reflect the season.

Well, some of them anyway.

"King of Kings" (Warner, 1961, not rated, $19.98). In terms of "Hollywoodizing" the New Testament, this is perhaps second only to "The Greatest Story Ever Told." Here, Jeffrey Hunter plays Jesus as intense but compassionate, and in general acquits himself nicely.

And though the film is told with the cast-of-thousands spectacle — and occasional bombast — that you might expect, there are some nice sequences: a memorable Sermon on the Mount, reverent depictions of several miracles and the choosing of the apostles.

A most enjoyable film version, if you can put aside your personal interpretation of the scriptures and go with it.

Look for a very young Rip Torn playing Judas; that's Orson Welles narrating.

To help young people get an idea of what it was like to wrangle thousands of extras on a movie set — rather than putting them in digitally — show them the black-and-white featurette that was shot on-site.

Extras: Widescreen, making-of documentary, newsreels, trailer, etc.

"The Cardinal" (Warner, 1963, not rated, $26.99, 2 discs). Thomas Tryon, who eventually gave up acting to become a prominent novelist ("The Other"), has the lead role in this overwrought, yet highly entertaining adaptation of the novel of the same title.

The film is episodic, told in flashback, and bites off a whole lot more than it can chew, taking the story of a young priest on the rise through Depression-era America, Nazi Germany and back to America for a civil-rights battle.

Some are more effective than others, and the civil-rights episode seems to belong in another movie.

But the film boasts terrific supporting performances from John Huston, Burgess Meredith, Ossie Davis and Romy Schneider. And the second disc has a two-hour 1991 documentary about director Otto Preminger that is full of interesting information, although it skips some history and is rather poorly edited.

Extras: Widescreen, making-of documentary, feature-length documentary "Preminger: Anatomy of a Filmmaker," trailer, etc.

"Talent for the Game" (Paramount, 1991, PG, $19.99). This little-seen baseball movie is a wonderful vehicle for Edward James Olmos, who stars as an aging baseball scout.

When he stumbles onto a young, naive pitching phenomenon (Jeff Corbett) from Idaho, Olmos brings him to a California club and tries to protect him — and his own integrity — from the corrupt world of baseball politics.

Cheerful and nicely played.

Extras: Widescreen, etc.

"Bang the Drum Slowly" (Paramount, 1974, $19.99). Before he hit it big with "Godfather II," Robert De Niro got rave notices for this heartfelt melodrama about a simple-minded baseball catcher with no talent who is taken under the wing of a star pitcher (Michael Moriarty). The kicker is that De Niro's character learns he is dying.

Great performances from a wonderful cast give this a major boost.

Extras: Widescreen, etc.

"Fear Strikes Out" (Paramount, 1957, b/w, $19.99). As if he was auditioning for "Psycho" (which came two years later), Anthony Perkins nails the mental breakdown of real-life baseball pitcher Jimmy Piersall. And Karl Malden, as Piersall's pushy dad, is even better. But the film isn't quite up to their standard.

Pretty good, but not the home run that was obviously hoped for.

Extras: Widescreen, etc.


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com