This Old Cub, Superman II , Top Hat

Weekly DVD/Video Picks
This Old Cub (2004)

Newly released on DVD, This Old Cub is a heartwarming tribute to Chicago Cubs fixture Ron Santo, who kept his diabetes a secret throughout his distinguished 15-year playing career before moving to the sportscaster’s box. Directed with unconcealed devotion by Santo’s son Jeff, This Old Cub is less a documentary than an out-and-out celebration of Santo’s working-class heroism, good humor amid adversity, life-long devotion to the Cubs and accomplishments on the field.

Not incidentally, it’s also a none-too-subtle amicus brief to baseball’s Hall of Fame, which has yet to induct Santo — shamefully so in the view of Bill Murray and other celebrity fans. In light of his struggles in the days before pocket glucometers and other advances, Santo’s achievements seem particularly notable: a nine-time National League All-Star, he was the first third baseman to hit 300 home runs and win five Gold Gloves.

Now, having lost both legs below the knee, Santo gets around on prostheses, and still manages to throw out the opening pitch in his beloved Wrigley Field. Santo’s buoyant spirit makes This Old Cub inspirational viewing for anyone, though it’s a special treat for baseball fans and those whose lives have been touched by diabetes or similar hardships.

Content advisory: Nothing problematic. Fine family viewing.

Superman II (1981)

Picking up more or less where the first Superman left off, Superman II ups the ante by confronting the Man of Steel (Christopher Reeve) with a challenge more formidable than Gene Hackman’s buffoonish Lex Luthor: a trio of Kryptonian super-villains with powers equal to his own — and an old grudge against Superman’s real father.

Superman II also heightens the romantic complications from the first film, bringing the tension of the strange love triangle of Clark, Lois (Margot Kidder) and Superman to a head and, ultimately, offering the definitive interpretation of why Clark can never have Lois and Lois can never have Superman.

As the maniacal General Zod, Terence Stamp creates one of the all-time great comic-book villains, and the dialogue sparkles with wit.

Content advisory: Much action violence; mild innundo; ambiguous presentation of a non-marital sexual encounter (nothing explicit). Okay for discerning teens.

Top Hat (1935)

Debuting this week on DVD along with other Astaire classics, Top Hat is the quintessential Fred-and-Ginger vehicle, featuring some of the most glorious, memorable dance sequences ever filmed. The Irving Berlin score includes perhaps the duo’s best-known number, “Cheek to Cheek,” as well as Astaire’s signature solo number, “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails.”

Like many of their pictures, Top Hat opens with Fred making a bad first impression on Ginger, then spending much of the film trying to get on her good side. This device seems to fit Astaire’s insouciant, sometimes annoying screen persona, though he’s more sympathetic and likeable here than in some pictures. Their early scenes, especially the sequence in the rain at the park, are appropriately light and charming, with Ginger especially believable as the young woman annoyed but not entirely displeased by Fred’s attentions.

Then the plot takes a turn for farce with a contrived case of mistaken identity, as Ginger confuses Fred with her best friend’s husband. It’s typical Depression-era escapist fare — but when Fred and Ginger are in motion, the magic is timeless.

Content advisory: Romantic and marital complications, including suspicions of infidelity and references to divorce. Teens and up.

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