Watching Steven Spielberg's feature debut, "The Sugarland Express" (1974), it's curious to think about how much blame Spielberg has shouldered (along with pal George Lucas) for the spectacle-over-substance state of moviemaking today. Goldie Hawn certainly has plenty of character material to chew on as Texan true crime sweetheart Lou Jean Poplin, a convict's wife who helps her husband (William Atherton) kidnap a state trooper (Michael Sacks) in their dubious bid to reclaim their toddler from foster care. Ben Johnson has some nice moments as the veteran lawman semireluctantly heading up the pursuit, as does the beleaguered Atherton, who pensively sees his own hopeless circumstance in a cartoon clip of Wile E. Coyote plunging off a cliff. True, "Sugarland" also indulges freely, and at times amusingly, in a brand of chase-scene excess that seems to anticipate "The Blues Brothers." But at the same time, Spielberg's depiction of the Poplins' low-speed, cross-state "flight," complete with gawkers, well-wishers, and media lining the way, is vividly surreal, and might as well have provided the script for O.J.'s infamous freeway cruise a full two decades later.
Also being reissued this week (and better remembered) is "Duel" (1971), Spielberg's first TV movie, which lives up to its billing as a terrifically taut thriller. Hapless motorist Dennis Weaver is the target of the ultimate case of road rage as he crosses a faceless big-rig driver and ends up being relentlessly, ferociously pursued for virtually the entire film. You'll laugh at points, but always breathlessly, as intended.
Extras: "Duel" featurettes on Spielberg's TV work, the production, and the work of writer Richard Matheson. (Universal, $19.98 each)
"CONNIE AND CARLA" (2004) Actress and writer Nia Vardalos might never be able to equal the surprise success of her career-making "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." Now, though, after a failed TV spinoff, she returns with another feel-good comedy that ably demonstrates she wasn't just a one-hit wonder. Vardalos and Toni Collette are the gal pals of the title, Debbie Reynolds-worshiping song-and-dance wannabes who witness a murder in their native Chicago, go on the lam to LA, and "hide out" by posing as drag queens in a cabaret revue. Some of the clunky laughs and ham-fisted tolerance messages will make you groan, but much of the time the two stars' energy is infectious. Extras: Commentary by Vardalos; extended musical scenes. (Universal, $29.98)"GODSEND" (2004) The filmmakers want you to think this is a movie about ideas and moral debate, with its premise of grieving parents (Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) who, with the help of enigmatic doctor Robert De Niro, clone their dead son. But as the story follows an obvious path into "Village of the Damned" spooky kid territory, this intriguing if slightly unsettling starting point is lost amid cheap scares. As the film plods along, the main interest lies in watching the seemingly uninterested De Niro being outacted by Kinnear, who turns in a respectable performance, and more notably Romijn-Stamos, who communicates despair fairly effectively for someone who's had to let blue body paint do the talking in the "X-Men."
Extras: Filmmaker commentary; four (count 'em) alternate endings, rarely a good sign. (Lions Gate, $26.98) "HAPPY DAYS": THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (1974) and "LAVERNE & SHIRLEY": THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (1976)Sad, isn't it, that "Happy Days" would inspire the "Jump the Shark" website? This overdue three-disc set takes us back to the beginning, when the series had charm and the Fonz had yet to be deified. The show's search to distinguish itself from "American Graffiti" is evident, but the sillier groove it ultimately settled into is clearly reflected in "Laverne & Shirley." Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams are still fun to watch, and somehow those Lenny and Squiggy entrances never get old. (Paramount, $38.99 each)