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Classic Coming Attractions by Barrie Maxwell

Barrie Maxwell - Main Page

Classic Reviews Roundup #13 - November 2004

Television shows on DVD have taken off over the past year and a week doesn't pass now without some new announcement of another series coming out. Classic television has not been completely lost in this deluge of discs and it's been nice to see the likes of I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, Have Gun Will Travel, and a few others appear. We all have our favourites among those yet to be announced. Personally, I'd love to have Perry Mason, The Untouchables, Maverick, and Gunsmoke in my collection for starters. Anyway, that's all by way of introduction to this edition of the Classic Reviews Round-Up which focuses on some of the classic television discs that have just become available. Here for your enjoyment are reviews of The Andy Griffith Show: The Complete First Season, I Love Lucy: The Complete Second Season, Make Room for Daddy: The Complete Fifth Season, The Joey Bishop Show: The Complete Second Season, and as a bonus review in keeping with the spirit of the column, Bobby Darin's last television special - Bobby Darin: Mack Is Back!.

The Andy Griffith Show: The Complete First Season (1960-1961)
(released on DVD by Paramount on October 12th, 2004)

There are a handful of shows that really catch the public's imagination and whose popularity only seems to grow after their original television run. In syndication, they seem to go on forever, with fans delighting in seeing their favourite episodes over and over again. Such a show is The Andy Griffith Show, a comedy that debuted in the fall of 1960 on CBS after a successful pilot episode had previously been shown on The Danny Thomas Show. The show lasted for eight seasons and was broadcast in black and white to begin with, eventually changing to colour for the last few years. The programs focused on Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) of the small town of Mayberry, North Carolina. Andy had a young son named Opie (Ron Howard) and a cousin as his deputy, Barnie Fife (Don Knotts). Andy's Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) kept things running on the home front. Among the numerous recurring town characters were garage operators Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) and his cousin Goober, Floyd the barber, and Helen and Thelma-Lou, Andy and Barney's girl friends respectively.

The Andy Griffith Show: The Complete First Season

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The success of the show can be attributed to the wonderful chemistry between the various characters and the well-written scripts which gently but lovingly poked fun at small-town life. The relationship between the (almost) ever-patient Andy and his earnest but bumbling deputy Barney (so inept that he had to keep his gun unloaded and was allowed to carry only one bullet in his breast pocket) was the key driving force for many of the episodes and after Don Knotts left the show in 1965, it never quite attained the same level of entertainment again.

The show proved to be quite a springboard for many of the performers. Andy Griffith applied the folksy ways of his Sheriff Taylor character to numerous later films and television roles culminating in the successful series, Matlock. Don Knotts found success in feature films while Jim Nabors saw his character spun off into a successful series of its own, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Ron Howard became the most successful of them all with his career as a film and television actor, and then a major Oscar-winning director.

During the show's first season, there were 32 half-hour episodes. Most of the regulars mentioned above were present except for the Pyle boys and Helen. Andy's girl-friend was the town's new pharmacist, Ellie (Elinor Donahue). Among the more memorable episodes were: The Manhunt (Andy and Barney outwit the state police as everyone tries to catch an escaped criminal); Andy the Matchmaker (Andy and Ellie stage a fake robbery in order to make Barney look good); Mayberry goes Hollywood (all the townsfolk get stirred up by the possibility of a Hollywood producer starring their town in his next film); Those Gossipin' Men (the men of the town turn out to be just as big at spreading gossip as the women); Andy Saves Barney's Morale (Barney manages to put all the townsfolk in jail when Andy is called away for a day); and Barney Gets His Man (Barney accidentally manages to catch a dangerous criminal).

Paramount has now made this first season available on DVD. The packaging consists of four discs in slimcases contained in a cardboard slipcase. The 32 episodes are spread evenly over the four discs. The full frame (as originally broadcast) presentations look very good and each episode appears to be complete in terms of opening and closing credits. The black and white images are sharp and nicely detailed on the whole. Only occasionally does the picture look a little soft. There are a few instances of colour shimmer popping up when the disc has problems with tight line patterns. The source material appears to be in good shape as there are only minor instances of dirt or speckling. The mono sound is clear. There are no sub-titles. Unfortunately the package contains no supplementary material to speak of other than listings of the various episodes giving their titles, original airdates, and brief plot synopses. Given that most of the principals are still around (only Frances Bavier is no longer alive), it's shame that no commentaries nor any of the existing cast reunion programs were included. Perhaps Paramount will be more forthcoming in this regard for future season releases (assuming this one sells well enough to justify them).

Available on the market are a few DVDs with episodes of The Andy Griffith Show that have managed to fall into the public. Avoid those ones and go for this season set from Paramount. It looks good and it's reasonably priced. You can't go wrong with over 15 hours of this sort of entertainment. Recommended.

I Love Lucy: The Complete Second Season (1952-1953)
(released on DVD by Paramount on August 31st, 2004)

When TV shows on DVD were just starting to generate some interest, Paramount (in conjunction with CBS DVD) started doling out the first season of I Love Lucy four episodes at a time on individual discs. By the time the ninth and final one of those appeared, the presentation of entire seasons all at once in box sets was well established and it was anticipated that such a format would be utilized for future seasons. That has now occurred with the recent release of the complete second season of the series. What hasn't changed, however, is the fine quality of the DVD transfers and the nice selection of supplements that characterized the first season discs.

For anyone who somehow has managed to never hear of I Love Lucy, the show was a television staple of the 1950s that related the weekly amusing tribulations of Ricky and Lucy Ricardo, a bandleader and his talent-challenged but persistent wife (Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball) and their landlords and best friends, Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance). For several decades after it went off the air, so popular was the program that it was reputed to be showing somewhere in the world in syndication every single day. That may still be true.

I Love Lucy: The Complete Second Season

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The second season comprises 31 episodes, including one of the most popular ones - Job Switching - the season opener in which Lucy and Ethel find themselves working in a chocolate factory and at the mercy of an accelerating conveyor belt carrying chocolates to be wrapped. Other highlights are Redecorating (Lucy sells all their furniture after she thinks she's won a contest offering a complete set of new furniture as the grand prize), Sales Resistance (Ricky and Fred are just as susceptible to a good sales pitch as Lucy and Ethel are), The Handcuffs (Lucy handcuffs herself to Ricky as a joke, but she can't find the key to unlock them), and Ricky and Fred Are TV Fans (the boys are oblivious to everything when the fights are on TV). Also included are the series of a half-dozen shows surrounding the announcement of Lucy's pregnancy and the birth of little Ricky. The series easily maintains the momentum of its first season, and even fifty years after their first airing, the individual episodes remain fresh, funny, and very repeatable entertainment.

Paramount/CBS's DVD packaging consists of five discs in slimcases all contained in a cardboard slipcase. Each disc contains either six or seven episodes complete with original beginning and end titles and mid-episode animated graphics, and a selection of supplements. As a consequence of the episodes' restoration by CBS, the full frame images (correctly presented in line with their original transmission) look great. They're crisp and clear with very good detail and but minor bits of age-related debris. The only issue is some occasional colour shimmer associated with tightly-patterned clothing and the like. The mono sound sounds very good and is free of hiss or distortion. Spanish sub-titles are provided as is Spanish mono sound on most episodes. Each disc contains a brief synopsis of each episode contained on it and a selection of supplements of the following types: episodes of Lucy's radio show (My Favorite Husband), flubs, lost scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted footage, production notes, and guest cast information. Highly recommended.

Make Room for Daddy: The Complete Fifth Season (1957-1958)
(released on DVD by Questar on September 28th, 2004)

The comedy series Make Room for Daddy began in 1953 on ABC and lasted for 11 seasons. In 1957, it moved over to CBS and changed its name to The Danny Thomas Show although it later reverted to its original title when released to syndication. In 1970-1971, the show was revived for one season on ABC as Make Room for Granddaddy with the same principal cast members. Make Room for Daddy starred the popular comedian and singer Danny Thomas as Danny Williams who must balance his career as an entertainer with his family life. His family consisted of his wife Kathy (Marjorie Lord) - Kathy was actually Danny's second wife in the series, his daughter Teri (played first by Sherry Jackson and later Penny Parker) and son Rusty (Rusty Hamer) from his first marriage, and his daughter Linda (Angela Cartwright) from his second marriage. There were a number of other recurring characters including Hans Conried as Uncle Tonoose, Sheldon Leonard as Phil Arnold, and Sid Melton as Uncle Charley Halper.

Make Room for Daddy: The Complete Fifth Season

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Make Room for Danny, as with most of the best situation comedies, succeeded because of a superior ensemble cast and uniformly fine writing. Danny Thomas allowed the other cast members to shine often at Danny Williams's expense and the mix of arrogance and frailty that his character thus demonstrated gave the show enough reality that many viewers could closely relate to the show's family problems if not its show business setting. The two young children were two what-would-become sitcom stereotypes - the smart aleck son and precocious daughter. Rusty Hamer managed to leaven his snappy comebacks with enough genuine emotional reactions that Rusty never became objectionable while Angela Cartwright always seemed to be winking at the audience out of the corner of her eye when speaking some funny line, as if to say 'sure Linda is supposed to be precocious, but we all know better including myself so don't take it too seriously'. This defused any audience malice towards her character.

The series is less well-known today than some of its contemporaries, but DVD allows us to appreciate its high entertainment value once more. The series' fifth season and first at CBS is the first full season for Marjorie Lord as Kathy. As a consequence a number of the year's 33 episodes deal with the tribulations of a new marriage and its impact on a combined family. Episode titles such as Kathy is Approved, Danny Meets His Father-in-Law, and Parents are Pigeons are indicative. There are guest appearances from the likes of Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Dinah Shore, Peter Lind Hayes, Morey Amsterdam, and William Demarest.

This fifth season collection is being released by Questar on behalf of Danny Thomas Productions which owns the rights to the Make Room for Daddy programs. Why the fifth season is being released ahead of earlier seasons is not stated, although it may be because it's the season that first features the family portrayals that most people associate with the series (i.e., with Marjorie Lord and Angela Cartwright). The packaging takes the form of six discs each with its own plastic platter mounted like the pages of a book between cardboard end covers. There are six episodes on each of the first five discs and four on the last combined with several supplements. Sharp readers will note that this totals to 34 episodes. The extra episode is the final one of season four in which Danny proposes marriage to Kathy. It appears as the first episode on the first disc, providing a nice lead-in to the fifth season. Unfortunately there are only listings of the episodes by title (on the DVD menus) and no synopses or original air dates are given. The episodes lack their opening credits although the end credits with the series' trademark Danny Boy theme are intact. The image is correctly presented full frame and is pleasing in quality. It lacks the sharpness demonstrated on the I Love Lucy and Andy Griffith Show sets, but is generally clear with decent detail. There is noticeable grain from time to time and ample scratches and speckles. The mono sound is quite adequate. There is no sub-titling provided. The supplements are highlighted by the complete episode from the seventh season in which Danny meets Andy Griffith, effectively the pilot episode for the Andy Griffith Show. Also included are footage of Danny Thomas on a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis telethon and a featurette on Danny Thomas's role in the building of St. Jude's hospital. Recommended.

The Joey Bishop Show: The Complete Second Season (1962-1963)
(released on DVD by Questar on September 28th, 2004)

The Joey Bishop Show is one of those television sitcoms that managed to survive for four seasons in the early 1960s, but subsequently slipped from the consciousness of all but diehard classic television fans. The unofficial pilot for the show had previously aired as an episode of The Danny Thomas Show. The Bishop show appeared on NBC for its first three seasons and moved over to CBS for 1964-1965, its last season. Joey Bishop, who specialized in deadpan humour, starred as a television talk show host named Joey Barnes and the series revolved around the constant juggling of his job and his family life. The first season (1961-1962) was filmed in black and white, but switched to colour for the second one with a number of cast changes occurring then too. Abby Dalton came on as Joey's wife Ellie, as did Joe Besser as Jillson the apartment building superintendent, Guy Marks as Joey's manager Freddy, and Corbett Monica as comedy writer Larry Corbett.

he Joey Bishop Show: The Complete Second Season

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The second season of the show was probably its finest one, as the addition of colour gave it a novelty value at the time and the new characters were at least fresh if not possessed of much enduring entertainment value. Jillson and Feddy quickly became more irritating than anything else. Joey Bishop himself was the main reason to watch as his dry wit remained effective and it was always interesting to watch for him beginning to break up at some of the funnier bits despite himself. There were 34 episodes aired during the second season. As one might expect, the stereotypical issues of early married life were the main themes of many episodes with the final quarter of the season largely dominated by the impending arrival of Joey and Ellie's first baby. Some of best episodes included: The Fashion Show (Ellie works as a model on the sly in order to buy Joey an anniversary gift), A Woman's Place (Ellie decides to run for office when she gets annoyed over Joey's jokes about women in politics), The Honeymoon Is Over (Joey's planned night out with the boys gets Ellie all steamed up), The Masquerade Party (Joey's vanity means a costume change for an upcoming party), and My Buddy My Buddy (Buddy Hackett makes a guest appearance and wreaks havoc in Joey's life).

Questar's DVD release of the Joey Bishop material is similar in format to its efforts on Make Room for Daddy. There are six discs each in its own plastic platter mounted like the pages of a book between cardboard end covers. Each of the first five discs contains six episodes of the show, while the sixth disc contains the season's final four episodes and several supplements. The episodes are identified by title on the DVD menus, but there are no air dates or synopses provided. Each episode lacks its opening credits. The full frame video is workable, but suffers from noticeable colour fidelity problems, generally appearing either too pink or too orange in tone. The image is reasonably sharp with decent detail. Age-related speckles and scratches are in evidence, but not distracting. The mono sound is clear enough, but there are a few instances where minor synchronization problems exist (e.g., in The Fashion Show). There is no subtitling. The supplements consist of the pilot episode from The Danny Thomas Show (in rougher shape than the rest of the episodes on the discs), a short featurette on the Rat Pack (of which Joey Bishop was a member), and theatrical trailers for three films that Joey Bishop appeared in - Ocean's 11, Texas Across the River, and Sergeants Three. For ardent Joey Bishop fans only!

Bobby Darin: Mack is Back! (1973)
(released on DVD by Questar on August 15th, 2000 and recently reissued)

The impending release of Kevin Spacey's theatrical film ode to Bobby Darin - Beyond the Sea - has prompted the re-release on DVD of Bobby Darin: Mack is Back! It's the live show that Darin taped at NBC nine months before his death in December 1973 at 37 years of age. Darin had had a history of a weak heart dating from a bout with rheumatic fever at age seven. The song "Mack the Knife" will always be associated with Bobby Darin (1959 Grammy Award winner), but he was successful across many music genres as well as for several good supporting roles in films of the early 1960s (Pressure Point, Captain Newman, M.D.).

Bobby Darin: Mack is Back!

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The NBC concert, a one-man show, is an excellent example of Darin's commanding on-stage presence and his abilities as a singer, musician, and monologist. He sings 14 songs: "Once in My Life", "Help Me Make It Through the Night", "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", "Bridge Over Troubled Water", "Beyond the Sea", "Higher and Higher", "Midnight Special", "If I Were a Carpenter", "Lonesome Whistle", "Simple Song of Freedom", You Are My Sunshine", "Oh, Bo Diddley", "Splish Splash", and of course "Mack the Knife". The show runs 70 minutes and represents the pre-cut version. Presumably 15 minutes or so were trimmed for its actual television airing, although no details are provided on the disc that has been issued by Questar.

The colour, full-frame image (correctly framed) is very good looking - quite sharp with no edge effects. Colours are natural and reasonably bright. The mono sound conveys the songs well. Darin's singing is strong and clear, and the support of the back-up band and accent singers is well-defined. The disc's supplements comprise an interesting package. There's a 12-minute, black and white featurette on Darin's return to the concert stage in 1966 that includes some good behind-the-scenes footage, a short overview of his recording career including a listing of his hits and their highest level on the record charts of the day, about 25 minutes of excerpts from three previous television appearances (Bobby Darin and Friends - 1961, The Andy Williams Show - 1965, The Flip Wilson Show -1970), and finally a summary of Darin's movie career including trailers for Come September and Pressure Point. The disc is hardly definitive of Darin's career, but does serve as a good starting point. Recommended.

Barrie Maxwell

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