Among the thousands of DVDs currently on the market are a handful that truly stand the test of time: movies, documentaries, and classic TV shows that continue to enrich and entertain over repeated viewings. The following belong on anyone's wish list.
The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection This gift set would be worth having if only for the 1933 comic masterpiece Duck Soup, in which President Groucho, sending Harpo off to war, reassures him, "While you're out there amid shot and shell, risking life and limb for your country, we'll be in here thinking what a sucker YOU are." But all five of the Marxes' Paramount productions -- their most unrelenting, surreal, hilarious, and subversive -- are present and accounted for. Extras include an hour of original trailers and vintage television appearances. $56; at several DVD outlets including Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight (at Shrader), 831-1200, www.amoebamusic.com.
Northern Exposure: The Complete First and Second SeasonsNorthern Exposure was unlike any other television series before or since: a loose-limbed yet brilliantly crafted comedy of cultural dislocation that referenced Jack London, Jimi Hendrix, the intricacies of Hunan cuisine, the complexities of human interaction, and the subtleties of single malt scotch, usually in the same episode. The first- and second-season collections include most of the show's finest episodes; extras include deleted scenes and outtakes and a cozy DVD-sized parka. $56; at several DVD outlets including Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight (at Shrader), 831-1200, www.amoebamusic.com.
Jazz Casual Back in the early '60s, Chronicle jazz critic Ralph Gleason hosted a half-hour series on KQED in which touring musicians chatted about their work and made music. Since Gleason's subjects included the likes of John Coltrane, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Mel Torme, the results were extraordinary. Rhino has released over a dozen of these priceless performances on disc, individually and in sets of three; any jazz fan will treasure them, especially Carmen McRae's bitter, haunting version of Cole Porter's "Love for Sale." $14 each; at several DVD outlets including Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight (at Shrader), 831-1200, www.amoebamusic.com.
The War Room This unexpectedly suspenseful documentary about Bill Clinton's 1992 run for the White House should be a welcome tonic for shell-shocked democrats of every political party. Filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus followed ragin' Cajun campaign manager James Carville and smooth operator George Stephanopoulos every step of the way from the primaries to Election Day and crafted a vibrant, visual, unblinking example of cinema vérité that presumes the intelligence of the viewer. $14; at several DVD outlets including Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight (at Shrader), 831-1200, www.amoebamusic.com.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service One of the great unsung holiday movies, and just possibly the best Bond movie of them all. In it, 007 tracks a criminal mastermind to his fortress in the Swiss Alps, where gorgeous women of every nationality are being hypnotized into performing some mischief or other. There's a classic nighttime ski chase, the greatest Bond girl of all time (Diana Rigg), and even a wedding for our hero on Christmas Day. Stop the movie at this point if you want to end things on a warm and fuzzy note. $103. Available in the six-film James Bond Collection, Volume 3 at Borders, 400 Post (at Powell), 399-0522.