The Frugal Consumer: Have Friends Over for Dinner with a Side of Suspense


America's uneven economic recovery has prompted belt-tightening in almost every income group, but that doesn't mean couples have to eliminate their entertainment budgets altogether. Here's an idea that will both lower your entertainment costs and allow you to enjoy a superior evening: Host a home-theater dinner party with a classic Hollywood film.

If you own a plasma or LCD big screen TV with a decent sound system, you've already made one of the most cost-effective entertainment purchases of your life.

Listed below are three classic Hollywood suspense films that should please your dinner party guests. All are available on DVD for under $15. So there's no need to spend a bundle on entertainment -- just remember to chill the chardonnay and make plenty of hors d'oeuvres.

Rollover (1981). Genre: Thriller/Drama/Romance. Stars: Jane Fonda, Kris Kristoferrson, Hume Cronyn. Fonda plays Lee Winters, the widow of a corporate chairman trying to find out why her husband was murdered. Banker Kristoferrson grows romantically close to Winters while trying to broker a financing deal for Winters' company, and unbeknownst to them, another banker, played by Cronyn, recklessly and callously puts self-interest ahead of national interest. (This film could easily have been made in 2008 instead of 1981.) Rollover played to small crowds in 1981 because audiences then were less informed about the global financial system and investing, but today's viewers will undoubtedly recognize several stunning parallels to the problems plaguing credit markets and the U.S. and European economies now. Director Alan J. Pakula also deftly deepens the romance/relationship between Fonda and Kristoferrson to give viewers the shelter they need amid the financial and political turbulence.

The French Connection (1971). Genre: Action/Drama. Stars: Gene Hackman, Roy Scheider, Fernando Rey. The winner of five Academy Awards, including Hackman for Best Actor as NYPD detective 'Popeye' Doyle, this masterpiece is based on the real-life efforts of narcotics detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Gross to disrupt drug smuggling between Marseille, France, and New York City. Set in crime-ridden, deficit-plagued early-1970s New York, Hackman's larger-than-life performance is supported by Scheider's street-smarts, and a superior, engaging script that will have you rooting for the pair as they pursue French drug smuggler Alain Charnier (Rey). Director William Friedkin brilliantly intersperses periods of action with analysis and introspection, and also oversees what is the undisputed greatest urban car chase scene in motion picture history: Hackman's frenetic, dangerous drive under one of New York's elevated subway lines to pursue a suspect.

No Way Out (1987).
Genre: Thriller/Romance. Stars: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Sean Young. Based on Kenneth Fearing's novel, The Big Clock, this late-Cold War era film shows the price our nation pays and the harm that occurs when craven, valueless individuals occupy key positions in the Pentagon. Costner plays Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tom Farrell, who is hired by Defense Secretary David Brice (Hackman) to investigate whether the Soviet Union is working on a balance-of-power disrupting submarine, or whether it's myth. Costner is at his best in this fast-paced, twisting thriller, and the movie's on-location Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Va., scenes create a credible, you-are-there atmosphere.