For, Jan. 31, 2014

Considering how many wonderful old movies have never been released on home video it's always surprising to see critically drubbed box-office flops somehow manage to find their way to DVD.

A pivotal example is the R-rated Dustin Hoffman film "Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?" (CBS/Paramount), which made its DVD debut last week.

Today Hoffman is a respected veteran, a two-time Academy Award-winner with an impressive array of classic films under his belt — including three of his earliest: "The Graduate" (1967) and "Midnight Cowboy" (1969), both of which earned him Oscar nominations, and "Little Big Man" (1970).

But in the late 1960s and early '70s, Hoffman was an unconventional leading man that audiences were still getting used to — a character actor with his name above the title.

Between "Midnight Cowboy" and "Little Big Man," Hoffman's low-key romantic melodrama "John and Mary" (1969), co-starring Mia Farrow, was a flop. And after "Little Big Man" came "Harry Kellerman," which proved to be a major disappointment, opening to dismal reviews and bombing at the box office.

Directed by Ulu Grosbard ("The Subject Was Roses"), written by Herb Gardner ("A Thousand Clowns") and with songs by humorist Shel Silversein, "Harry Kellerman" is a pretentious dark satire with a stream-of-consciousness narrative that jumps in time, unfolding out of chronological order.

Hoffman is a wealthy and famous rock star who reviews his life while fantasizing about suicide. We see sessions with his unhelpful psychiatrist (Jack Warden), he combats insomnia by having his accountant (Dom DeLuise) read his financial papers aloud, and it is revealed that he has mistreated various girlfriends (Barbara Harris, Candice Azzara), etc.

For the viewer, however, all of this falls flat to varying degrees.

"Harry Kellerman" did have a brief VHS life but it's long been out of print and unavailable — and it's hard to imagine that there's much demand for it. But the television network CBS made a number of films for television and experimented with some that played theatrically, and over the past few months, the studio has teamed up with Paramount Home Video to release many of them on DVD. ("Harry Kellerman" was released along with two Jack Lemmon titles produced by CBS, "The April Fools" and "The War Between Men and Women.")

From this corner, "Harry Kellerman" is recommended only to die-hard, completist Hoffman fans.