Vintage programs dominate this week's TV shows on DVD
Posted May 16
Bob Hope Christmas specials (it is May, right?), and full-season sets of “Have Gun — Will Travel” and “The Untouchables” have been released on DVD this week.
“Bob Hope: Entertaining the Troops” (Time Life, 1951-71, color and b/w, three episodes; four-page booklet). Over time, Bob Hope’s legacy has been a bit tarnished, but whatever one may think of the late comic’s politics or his personal life, or the sadly unfunny TV specials and movies he made toward the end of his career, he was nonetheless a hugely popular comedian for some eight decades. When he was at the top of his game, no one was better, and this disc provides plenty of evidence to prove that case.
Hope conquered the stage, movies, radio and television, but he’s best remembered as “Santa with a golf club” by thousands of military veterans he entertained in various war zones during his annual USO Christmas tours. And this disc is a perfect representation, with three TV specials that were filmed during his tours in 1951 during the Korean War, and in 1970 and ’71 when the Vietnam conflict was in full bloom.
The two color 1970s specials (one over an hour in length and the other just under an hour) have an array of guest stars, including Connie Stevens, Romy Schneider, Ursula Andress, Lola Falana and a pair of Miss World pageant winners. And Hope’s monologues and skits are amusing (if sexist). He’s at his best interacting and ad-libbing with soldiers (men and women) in the vast audience, but astronaut Neil Armstrong steals the show, taking impromptu questions from the troops and providing quick, amusing and informative responses.
However, it is the black-and-white 1951 special (clocking in at less than half an hour) that is the real keeper here. Hope is younger and sharper (his writers include future “M*A*S*H” creator Larry Gelbart), and Connie Moore is a good foil. But the showstoppers are two dance numbers by the fabulous tap-dancing Nicholas Brothers, with Hope joining in for the finale and proving himself to be a first-class hoofer.
“10 That Changed America” (PBS, 2016, three episodes). These three PBS specials explore America’s architectural and geographical treasures, and one, “10 Towns That Changed America,” includes Salt Lake City. It’s a five-minute segment (not much time for more when 10 cities are featured in an hourlong program) but it’s an interesting look at how Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith laid out plans for a city grid (suggested to have been inspired in part by a similar Thomas Jefferson plan). Joseph Smith’s plan was, of course, carried out after his death — and after the exodus west — by Brigham Young. The other episodes are “10 Homes That Changed America” and “10 (City) Parks That Changed America.”
“Have Gun — Will Travel: The Complete Series” (CBS/Paramount, 1957-63, b/w, 35 discs, 225 episodes, text production notes/biographies). Back in the days when Westerns ruled the airwaves, this one was a regular top 10 hit for most of its six seasons. Richard Boone is perfect as cultured gentleman gunslinger-for-hire Paladin, based in a ritzy San Francisco hotel and whose business cards are embossed with a white chess knight. The compact half-hour stories are smart and fun, and an array of familiar guest stars include Charles Bronson, Angie Dickinson, George Kennedy, Lee Van Cleef, James Coburn, Vincent Price and future stars of “Star Trek,” “Bonanza,” among others.
“The Untouchables: The Complete Series” (CBS/Paramount, 1959-63, b/w, 31 discs, 119 episodes, episode of “The Lucy Show”). For those who like their drama a bit more contemporary, this series is based on the exploits of real-life Roaring ’20s Chicago crime-fighter Eliot Ness (Robert Stack). Vilified in 1959 for being way too violent for television, the show is actually pretty tame today. Stack is famously stiff but the stories are solid and a lot of future stars are among the guests here, too: Robert Redford, Charles Bronson, James Caan, James Coburn, Robert Duvall, George Kennedy, Lee Marvin and Lee Van Cleef, among many others.
“The Jim Gaffigan Show: Season One” (TV Land/Paramount, 2015, two discs, 11 episodes). Amusing sitcom for fans of the stand-up comic. He plays a fictional version of himself, a stand-up comic with a wife and five children in a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. The setup is recognizable to those familiar with Gaffigan’s stand-up routines and the show is very much in the off-center milieu of his comedy. Ashley Williams plays his wife, with Michael Ian Black and Adam Goldberg in support.
“Beauty and the Beast: The Third Season” (CBS/Paramount, 2015, four discs, 13 episodes, deleted scenes, featurettes, bloopers). This is the 2012 reboot of the 1980s series that updated the classic fairy tale to contemporary New York. This time, Catherine (played here by Kristin Kreuk) is a police detective instead of an assistant district attorney. Season 3 finds Catherine and the Beast, Vincent (Jay Ryan), coming out as a couple, but, of course, they learn that doing so doesn’t make things any easier for them.
“Manson’s Lost Girls” (Lifetime/Lionsgate, 2016). Yet another unnecessary retelling of the Charles Manson saga and the gruesome Tate-LaBianca murders, this one is unique only because it’s told from the viewpoint of one of the women involved, Linda Kasabian (MacKenzie Mauzy). The acting is good, the directing is agitated and there’s too much reliance on mini-music videos set to ’60s pop-rock. Many better versions are out there, the best still being the chilling 1976 TV movie “Helter Skelter,” based on prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s book.
“The Travel Detective: Season 2” (PBS, 2015, eight episodes). “Ecuador: The Royal Tour” (PBS, 2016). CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg, who publishes travel books as “The Travel Detective,” hosts Season 2 of that eponymous series with episodes on boating safety, touring Egypt and airline safety, among others. He also hosts “The Royal Tour” episode along with Ecuador president Rafael Correa.
“NOVA: Iceman Reborn” (PBS, 2016). Hour-long “NOVA” episode about Europe’s oldest-known natural mummy, preserved in glacial ice along with evidence that he was murdered more than 5,000 years ago.
“Frontline: The Fantasy Sports Gamble” (PBS, 2016). This hour-long episode of “Frontline” is about the big business of fantasy sports, with fans betting some $3.1 billion in 2015.
“Lego Scooby-Doo!: Haunted Hollywood” (Lego/Warner, 2016, featurettes, three cartoons: 2003’s “Knight Time Terror,” 1976’s “The Headless Horseman of Halloween” and 2005’s “Fright House of a Lighthouse”; Scooby-Doo toy figure). Scoob goes Lego in this straight-to-video feature-length cartoon (75 minutes) that has the Mystery Inc. gang looking into sightings of a ghost on a movie lot.
“Alpha and Omega: Dino Digs” (Lionsgate, 2016). This sixth cartoon in the wolf-pack franchise has wolves Kate and Humphrey, and their three pups, coming across a friendly raptor that came to life after being uncovered in an archaeological dig. But the dig is about to uncover a T-Rex, which would lead to dire consequences.
“Bubble Guppies: Fun On the Farm” (Nickelodeon/Paramount, 2011-15, five episodes). The Bubble Guppies go on field trips in the episodes “Have a Cow!,” “The Cowgirl Parade!,” “The Spring Chicken Is Coming!,” “The Bubble Bee-athlon!” and “Bubble Kitty!”
“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Daniel Goes to the Doctor” (PBS Kids, 2012-15, eight episodes, bonus story). More educational episodes for preschoolers of this animated spinoff of a puppet character from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
“Wild Kratts: Wild Animal Babies” (PBS Kids, 2011-12, four episodes). This animated show for preschoolers offers stories that teach biology, zoology and ecology.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.