The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles has been reissued as basically the same two DVD set distributed by the now-defunct GoodTimes Entertainment in 2003. This time the SOFA Entertainment production is being distributed by Universal Music Enterprises. The packaging and DVD menus have been changed. A few minutes of marginal bonus material have been added. Otherwise, the new release isn't an "upgrade," but it's nice to see this material readily available again.
While there is some value in seeing the variety show as originally presented, the obvious draw are the performances by The Beatles. For many viewers this will be a nostalgia trip. The Beatles' performances from these shows have been excerpted in various lengths and presented over and over again in various documentaries. Here they are seen in the exact context in which audiences first experienced them.
The Ed Sullivan Show was quite unlike contemporary programs that feature musical acts promoting their latest releases. It was a variety show where the level of hipness veered wildly, from the inclusion of cutting edge musical acts to puppet shows. Even for those who weren't born when these originally aired, it's worth watching all the way through to appreciate (and probably laugh at) what was presented.
There are a few gems amongst these four programs that have nothing to do with The Beatles. The third episode features a knockout appearance by Cab Calloway, who performs a medley of "St. James Infirmary" with a madly uptempo "Ol' Man River." Future Riddler Frank Gorshin delivers a funny routine in the first episode. Beatles' associate Cilla Black turns up in the fourth episode to sing a pair of songs, "September In the Rain" and "Goin' Out Of My Head." Also standing out amongst the acrobats and magicians is the English comedy duo Morecambe & Wise, whose sketch from the third episode holds up well.