Ah, the signs of spring: Bulbs have transformed into tulips, caterpillars into butterflies — and old TV movies into a strange new video species. Unbeknownst to most renters, some of those unfamiliar films on video-store shelves are productions previously shown on broadcast and cable TV, retitled to sound like theatrical releases. Here’s the truth about 10 TV movies whose names have been changed to exploit the innocent.
* For TV: Doing Life (1986, NBC)
* For Video: Truth or Die (Vidmark)
* Why The Change? This docudrama starring Tony Danza as a convicted killer-turned-prison attorney received a spicy new title that video renters could easily mistake for last year’s acclaimed musical documentary about a blonder, bustier, only slightly less muscular Italian-American.
* For TV: Arthur the King (1985, CBS)
* For Video: Merlin and the Sword (Vestron/LIVE)
* Why the Change? The Sword in the Stone cachet conjured up by the retitling would seem to place this fantasy in Disney territory. But instead of cartoony medieval fare, we get flesh-and-blood Malcolm McDowell and Dyan Cannon in a silly retelling of the Camelot legend.
* For TV: Chernobyl: The Final Warning (1990, TNT)
* For Video: Final Warning(Turner)
* Why the Change? Retaining only the subtitle, Turner trashed the historical element from this drama about the 1986 Soviet nuclear disaster. Now, no one will mistake it for a documentary; it sounds just like one of those urban butt-kickers with Michael Paré.
* For TV: Clinton and Nadine (1988, HBO)
* Fox Video: Blood Money: The Story of Clinton and Nadine (J2)
* Why the Change? The added prefix gives this sexy thriller, with Andy Garcia and Ellen Barkin, a vehicle more suitable for their gun-running exploits. No longer does the title suggest a heartwarming, Midwestern domestic drama, which this never was.
* For TV: Where the Hell’s That Gold?!!? (1988, CBS)
* For Video: Dynamite and Gold (Academy)
* Why the Change? The bawdy, excessively punctuated original title of this Western comedy screams, ”Make no mistake — this is a cable-style movie made for network TV!” The decaffeinated new name politely whispers, ”Mid-’70s, good-ol’-boy trucker flick.”
* For TV: Margaret Bourke-White (1989, TNT)
* For Video: Double Exposure: The Story of Margaret Bourke-White (Turner)
* Why The Change? The suggestive retitling manages to inject some tease into this biopic about the late Life magazine photographer. It also cleverly introduces the photo angle for video renters unfamiliar with Bourke-White’s work or name.
* For TV: A Gathering of Old Men (1987, CBS)
* For Video: Murder on the Bayou (Vidmark)
* Why the Change? Out went the feeling of geriatric camaraderie, and in came the image of conspiracy in a dark and exotic locale. Actually, this acclaimed drama is about neither: It’s a serious fictional account of the killing of a white racist by a frustrated black man.
* For TV: Sweet Revenge (1984, CBS)
* For Video: Code of Honor (Arena)
* Why the Change? The rechristening of this military drama avoids confusion with two other videos titled Sweet Revenge, but now invites confusion with many similarly titled Steven Seagal flicks. Also, the box art and reshuffled credits play up the presence of supporting player Alec Baldwin.
* For TV: Solomon Northup’s Odyssey (1984, PBS)
* For Video: Half Slave, Half Free (SVS)
* Why the Change? Solomon who? The more provocative new title tries — dramatically if illogically — to capture the conflict of this fact-based American Playhouse historical saga about a Northern-born black man kidnapped into slavery in 1841.
* For TV: Vendetta: Secrets of a Mafia Bride (1991, syndicated)
* For Video: A Family Matter (Vidmark)
* Why the Change? The “new” name, actually this Italian-made Mafia drama’s original production title, leaves a tonier impression, but makes all this violent business sound less like a feature film and more like an Afterschool Special on teen pregnancy.