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DVD-R Reviews: Two Red Skelton Films

DVD-R reviews by Barrie Maxwell of The Digital Bits

Half a Hero (DVD-R)The Great Diamond Robbery (DVD-R)

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Half a Hero
1953 (2012) - MGM (Warner Archive)
Released on MOD DVD-R on June 12th, 2012

Dolby Digital

Film Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B-/D

The Great Diamond Robbery
1954 (2012) - MGM (Warner Archive)
Released on MOD DVD-R on June 12th, 2012

Dolby Digital

Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B-/D

In the waning days of his film contract at MGM, Red Skelton was already a presence on early TV bringing creations like Clem Kadiddlehopper into millions of living rooms. Those late MGM productions were 1953's Half a Hero and 1954's The Great Diamond Robbery, both tidy little comedies clocking in at about 70 minutes each.

In Half a Hero, Red is a magazine writer who manages to snag a job from an employer (Charles Dingle) who approves of Red's lifely virtues - a cramped Manhattan apartment rather than a house in the burbs or "the slums of tomorrow"; a modest savings level; life insurance; and a working wife (Jean Hagen - just a year after her work in Singin' in the Rain) who helps out with the family's finances. But when the family moves to one of the dreaded housing developments, keeping the secret from the boss offers plenty of scope for comic situations. The film delivers a 1950s Americana time capsule well-suited for Skelton's carefully-observed portrayals of ordinary Americans as well his more obvious slapstick-like comedy takes. The result is a very entertaining film throughout. In addition to the main cast support to Red from Dingle and Hagen, look for such familiar faces as Mary Wickes, Frank Cady, Polly Bergen, Dabbs Greer, and Kathleen Freeman.

Not quite as effective a vehicle for Red Skelton is The Great Diamond Robbery, his final MGM film. The story has him playing a diamond cutter named Ambrose C. Park (the "C" stands for Central Park where he had been left on a park bench as an infant) who gets tied up with a shyster lawyer (James Whitmore) and a gang. Complications involve his apparently missing long-lost family and a delicate task of cutting a very valuable diamond. The story seems forced at times and only occasionally suited to Red's talents. Harry Bellaver and Reginald Owen are recognizable support players.

Both Half a Hero and The Great Diamond Robbery have been remastered for release by the Warner Archive. The 1.37:1 images offer strong transfers that are sharp and clean, with fairly pleasing gray scales. Some modest film gain is appropriately maintained. Both titles deliver DD mono tracks that offer clear dialogue that appears free of hiss or distortion. There are no subtitles. The only supplements consist of the title's theatrical trailer on each disc.

Half a Hero is recommended while I'd just go for a rental on The Great Diamond Robbery.

Red Skelton fans will also be glad to know that four other of his titles (not reviewed at this time) are being made available on the Warner Archive at this time - A Southern Yankee (1948), Watch the Birdie (1950), The Yellow Cab Man (1950), and The Clown (1953).

Barrie Maxwell

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