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DVD Review: ’50s TV Classics

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The Film Chest Company have been specializing in DVD reissues of cool programming from the early days of television for some time now. Their recent ‘50s TV Classics set is a fine example of what they do best. The three-DVD collection is presented as sort of a “something for everyone” prospect. The material on the discs include classic variety shows, dramas, and game shows, which provide the viewer with a genuine feel for what TV was like all those years ago.

The first DVD is devoted to variety shows. Although this format has pretty much been abandoned, they were once a staple of TV-land. Latter-day audiences may be most familiar with Ed Sullivan, by the fact that he presented Elvis Presley and The Beatles to the American public for the first time. But variety shows had been around long before Sullivan. In some ways they harken all the way to vaudeville, with the idea of offering a little something for everyone.

The shows were hosted by a “big” name, and generally featured a few musical numbers, along with some comedy skits. Once in a while a true oddball performer would appear as well, such as Senore Wences. On ‘50s TV Classics we are offered a selection of four different variety shows, each with their own unique qualities.

The first of these is The Bob Hope Show (1957). This was filmed during one of Hope’s famous appearances to entertain the troops, who were stationed near Casablanca. This 53-minute program features a host of stars, including Eddie Fisher, Marie McDonnell, Gary Crosby, Ann Miller, and Les Brown and His Band of Renown.

Bob Hope is a pretty tough act to follow, but Dinah Shore and Art Carney do so with The Chevy Show (1956). This is another 53-minute program (an hour with commercials), with Dinah and Art, plus Betty Hutton and Boris Karloff (of all people!). Especially after watching Ed Wood (1994), and knowing what was really going on in Karloff’s life at this time, seeing him in this environment is pretty wild. Shilling for the new “Shiverolet” is just one of the skits he is featured in.

Two half-hour programs follow Dinah and Art, both from 1950. These are The Ed Wynn Show, and The Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show. The Ed Wynn Show is memorable for having the Three Stooges on as guests. You can never go wrong with the Stooges. Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney may have been a big deal in 1950, but they have not really stood the test of time. Lots of ventriloquism business on this program.

Disc Two offers an interesting mix of programming, with a total of five half-hour shows on it. The first three are from the series Death Valley Days, all from 1953. This was a unique show in that it did not have an ongoing storyline ala Gunsmoke or Bonanza. The “main character” was the Death Valley region itself, and each episode focused on an event that occurred there in the late 1800s. The three shows are “Sego Lilies,” “Little Washington,” and “Dear Teacher.” Rounding out the DVD are an early Lawrence Welk Show (1956), and an episode from “Mr. Television,” himself, The Milton Berle Show (also 1956).

Disc three is mostly filled with game shows. These became very popular in the ‘50s of course. So popular in fact that there was a huge scandal in the latter part of the decade, which was addressed in Robert Redford’s film Quiz Show (1994). None of the programs on this disc were ever involved in any of that business though. ‘50s TV Classics contains three vintage game shows, Beat the Clock (1950), Name that Tune (1955), and the two-part Do You Trust Your Wife? (1957). The set concludes with a 1954 episode of The Red Skelton Show. All of the programs on this disc are a half-hour in length.

There are no bonus features on the set, but with over eight hours of nostalgic fun, who needs ‘em? ‘50s TV Classics offers a fascinating glimpse into a very different world, through the magic of television.

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