This indiscriminate three-disc DVD package from Film Chest Media Group offers 14 copyright-free television episodes from the 1950s that are fascinating as broadcast and cultural history. Unfortunately, the programs are presented without any editorial or historical comment, and the product seems a hastily produced set of DVDs, similiar to the one dollar copyright-free videos that once flooded bargain bins at places like Wal-Mart.
Given the impossibly poised and artificially mannered contestants on the game shows offered here, and the crude editorial removal of a racist segment from a 1956 episode of The Lawrence Welk Show (the edited song looks like it was cut out with scissors), 50's TV Classics would benefit from a higher regard for this era of television history and a brief but concerned commentary.
Most of the programs here were originally broadcast live, and the frantic immediacy of the productions and hyper pacing of the performers still offer an entertainment that is as forgotten as gas station attendants who clean the windshield. Commercials are incorporated directly into the programs and often serve as a comedic element of a sketch or monolog. Camel Cigarettes, for instance, are hawked as if they are hot dogs at the ballpark in a sketch in The Ed Wynn Show (1950), that dubiously boasts Camel to be "less irritating to the throat as other brands".
Surprisingly, what would seem to be the blandest and most cliched offering here, the Chevrolet sponsored The Chevy Show with Dinah Shore (1956) a then popular musical variety hour with celebrity guests and comedic bits, is a jewel of television history. It's an Emmy-worthy blueprint of the variety show format, so prevalent in the 1950s, with elements of the fiercely dominating new musical wave - rock 'n roll - neatly fitted into the traditional style of Shore's soft and safe crooning. Guest star Betty Hutton, a largely forgotten movie star with an enormous music and comedic talent, provides ample zing and swing to this exceptional hour of programming.
The three game shows included on the disc - two episodes of Do You Trust Your Wife (1957), and one each of Name That Tune (1955) and Beat The Clock (1950), are artificially contrived and seem only an arm's length away from the quiz show scandal of the 1950s. One suspects such cheating was an industry standard. The contestants recite obviously scripted verbal interplay with the host as if they were just yanked off an actor's unemployment line. Of these, Beat The Clock is the most genuine and the most fun with amiable host Bud Collyer, guiding at break-neck speed, contestants performing simple stunts for cash.