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Mike Fontanelli (Sherman Oaks, California USA)

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Sgt. Bilko - The Phil Silvers Show - Complete Collection (20 disc set) [DVD]
Sgt. Bilko - The Phil Silvers Show - Complete Collection (20 disc set) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Phil Silvers
Price: £66.60

41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HOPE FOR THE FUTURE OF CIVILIZATION, and a Darn Good Sitcom, too!, 11 Aug. 2014
I almost cried when I saw this was being released. More to the point, my faith in humanity was restored! The PHIL SILVERS SHOW (also known as YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH; also also known as SGT. BILKO, or just plain BILKO to fans) was voted the greatest sitcom of all time by the Radio Times Guide to TV Comedy in 2003, and no less an authority than Larry David (creator of SEINFELD and HBO's CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM) declared it his favorite television show ever.

BILKO ran for 4 glorious seasons (from 1955 to 1959), garnered 3 consecutive Emmy Awards for Best Comedy Series, and had a healthy life in syndication for decades. It transformed Phil Silvers and Nat Hiken into household names and TV icons, and made overnight celebrities of Paul Ford, Joe E. Ross and Maurice Gosfield to boot. It showcased American sports legends like Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Red Barber, and was one of television's very first shows to feature an integrated, multi-racial cast. Among the stellar writing staff were Leonard Stern, whose impressive TV credits include The JACKIE GLEASON SHOW and GET SMART, and a certain promising future playwright named Neil Simon. BILKO gave TV audiences their first taste of up-and-coming performers like Dick Van Dyke, Paul Lynde, Harvey Lembeck, Allan Melvin, Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis, Charlotte Rae, Dody Goodman, Julie Newmar, Tina Louise, Alan Alda, Bea Arthur, Bill Dana, Larry Storch, Morey Amsterdam, Irwin Corey, Bob Hastings and George Kennedy. (A pre-famous James Earl Jones can be clearly seen in the episode "Operation: Love" from 1958, five years before his 1963 movie debut in DR. STRANGELOVE. An uncredited Robert Morse can be glimpsed as one of the Schmill University linemen in "Bilko Goes to College," long before his breakout roles in The LOVED ONE and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS, and Dick Cavett appears fleetingly as an extra in "Bilko's Godson.") It also served as inspiration for a host of copycat shows, from TOP CAT (aka BOSS CAT in the UK) to McHALE'S NAVY. President Eisenhower numbered himself among the millions of fans who never missed an episode. (Ike reportedly had prints of BILKO delivered from the studio to the White House whenever pressing national business deprived him of catching the broadcast!) In its heyday it was a merchandising bonanza in the US: Bilko's famous dimpled smile adorned comic books, LP records, board games, joke books, coloring books, slide puzzles, holster sets and more, and spawned a truly memorable series of print ads for the show's American sponsors, Camel cigarettes and Amana refrigerators. It was a very big deal, indeed.

There are two long-standing myths concerning this series that really need to be put to bed. First, there seems to be a consensus across the pond that BILKO is forgotten in America and only appreciated elsewhere, particularly in the UK. That's not completely true, however; certainly not among us culturally literate-type Yanks. (We also love vintage Brit classics like The GOON SHOW and STEPTOE & SON!) There may be a few dullards with short memories (and even shorter attention spans) who turn up their noses at it, and many young people have either never seen it or are more familiar with the sorry 1996 Steve Martin rehash. But I've never heard any knowledgeable person deny its status as a classic, occupying the same Golden Age pantheon as Sid Caesar's YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS, The JACK BENNY PROGRAM, The HONEYMOONERS and I LOVE LUCY. BILKO has even returned to local airwaves recently, most notably on MeTV, and Silvers has always been revered as a legendary Burlesque and Broadway star. Not to be judgmental, but he was certainly treated better at home than the shoddy way Benny Hill was in his final years. Silvers' iconic voice and mannerisms are still imitated in animated cartoons to this day. (Silvers was well aware of his popularity in the UK and took great pride in the fact, according to his daughters. As a tip-of-the-hat to his British fans, he would occasionally ad-lib little "Britishisms" into Bilko's dialogue. A self-described Anglophile, Silvers was reportedly delighted that his official Appreciation Society was based in the UK.)

Also, according to popular legend, The PHIL SILVERS SHOW supposedly jumped the shark in the 3rd and 4th Seasons when Nat Hiken left the series for health reasons (and to create CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?) and the platoon relocated from Kansas to California. This is rubbish, however. I just rewatched the later seasons, back-to-back and in sequence. It's true there's an illogical character arc/role-reversal concerning Cpl. Henshaw, but that's virtually the ONLY misstep in an otherwise sure-footed and outstanding series. The show remained to the end as sharp and fast-paced as ever, with MANY classic episodes characterizing its final years.

Personally, I've been waiting for this one for a long time. (My own favorite episode is #44, a gem from Season 2 called "Doberman's Sister." Fair warning: you'll never forget the ending - no matter how hard you try!) Thank you, Mediumrare Entertainment and Shout! Factory, for making this permanently available to longtime fans, and to a whole new generation to discover and savor. There IS hope for Mankind after all!
Comment Comments (14) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 4, 2015 11:30 AM GMT

This Land Is Mine [DVD]
This Land Is Mine [DVD]
Dvd ~ Charles Laughton
Price: £9.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Undeservedly Obscure WWII Gem..., 5 Feb. 2012
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This review is from: This Land Is Mine [DVD] (DVD)
Often dismissed today as flag-waving wartime "filler," this underrated 1943 drama builds to an emotional finale that's as understated as it is compelling. Modern charges of preachiness, datedness and propagandistic are not only unfair, but ultimately pointless. Almost every character is "shaded." None are simplistic or caricatured, not even the villains. Indeed, the film makes a point of showing that everyone is, in reality, "two people." Made during a time of worldwide chaos and upheaval, the thoughtful and intelligent screenplay by Dudley Nichols is just as relevant today as it was 70 years ago.

The film asks an audacious, unflinching question: Is it worth the lives of the innocent to combat tyranny and oppression? THIS LAND IS MINE doesn't pretend to have easy answers - but it does have a point of view, and makes its case convincingly. I found the final scene in which a transformed schoolmaster bids farewell to his young class of future citizens both honest and unexpectedly moving. Never has a reading of The DECLARATION Of The RIGHTS Of MAN sounded more eloquent, carried more conviction or packed such an emotional wallop. This film deserves to be better known. Forget what the "experts" say, and give it a chance. Lastly, the stellar quality of the film's celebrated stars, director and supporting cast of veteran character actors goes without saying.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 6, 2013 7:36 PM GMT

Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Laurel & Hardy: The Essential Collection [DVD] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Stan Laurel
Price: £55.84

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WELL WORTH THE WAIT (but Jerry Lewis' commentary is revisionist nonsense)!!, 17 Nov. 2011
I've been viewing the new Laurel & Hardy discs at length, and comparing them to the laserdiscs and the UK PAL set with an analytical eye. My verdict is a resounding "thumbs up" in all departments. The only real drawback is the absence of the silent classics. (These may well be on their way, in a future companion set.) I'm not exactly impartial in these matters. I guess I've derived more pleasure from Laurel & Hardy than from any other movie personalities in history. Their charm never seems to fade - for me, anyway.

The films themselves - all from the Hal Roach Library and long cherished by at least three generations of fans - surely need no further validation. Owning them in uncut, restored editions has been a lifelong dream for devotees all over the world. Some of the early shorts, particularly NIGHT OWLS, BRATS and ONE GOOD TURN, are only marginally improved. (Apparently the original elements are in pretty bad shape. As with the Chaplin Keystones and Essanays, the producers did the best restoration possible with the prints available.) But most are pristine, comparatively; it's like watching them for the first time.

In addition to ALL the talkie shorts and most of the features (more about that later), you also get some rare foreign language versions. These fascinating oddities often feature gags and business not seen in the more familiar domestic releases, and I STRONGLY encourage fans not to skip them. Who knew, for instance, that POLITIQUERIAS (CHICKENS COME HOME) included priceless footage of Hardy ballroom dancing, and singing in Spanish - as well as an extended magic act with a Spanish-speaking James Finlayson? Even better, statuesque Anita Garvin ("Mrs. Laurel" in BE BIG and BLOTTO) is even more smoking hot when she's speaking French (in LES CAROTTIERS)! More rarities: both LAUGHING GRAVY and PARDON US include "lost" outtake footage deleted from the North American theatrical releases. (The former features a bonus alternate ending, and the latter adds a lengthy sequence where Stan and Ollie rescue June "Miss Crabtree" Marlowe from a burning building.) Wisely, the set does not waste valuable space by including "colorized" versions.

Due to vagaries of copyright ownership, some features in the canon are missing from the set: FRA DIAVOLO, BONNIE SCOTLAND, BABES IN TOYLAND, The FLYING DEUCES (not a Roach production) and HOLLYWOOD PARTY. However, ALL of these are readily available on DVD from other sources. There's a 10th disc with miscellaneous items, including the team's cameo appearances with Charley Chase, Our Gang and Thelma Todd/ZaSu Pitts - but it doesn't include The STOLEN JOOLS. An "extras" feature takes the viewer on a tour of L&H shooting locations around modern Los Angeles, including the iconic MUSIC BOX steps in Silver Lake. (All true L&H buffs in America have made at least one pilgrimage there!)

This last disc also features appreciative commentaries by Dick Van Dyke, Penn & Teller (the latter is characteristically silent), Tim Conway, Chuck McCann, Super Dave Osborne and - perhaps unfortunately - Jerry Lewis. One major quibble with the Lewis interview is his bizarre "when Laurel met Hardy" story which, as many fans have pointed out, is pure science fiction. No one can dispute Lewis' megawatt talent, but he seems to have gone a bit dotty lately. Lewis loves Laurel but basically dismisses Hardy, claiming he was a "construction worker" on the lot when Stan saw him one day and asked Roach if he could "use" him. Of course, this is complete drivel. Oliver Hardy had a long and versatile career in silent films prior to the teaming, appearing in literally hundreds of comedies - as heavies and/or comic foils, in "character" parts, etc. His film roles stretch back to 1914, even preceding Laurel's 1917 screen debut. (Hardy had even been teamed before - in a series of "Plump and Runt" comedies with Billy Ruge.) These films are not only documented, but many still survive. It may be news to Jerry Lewis, but Hardy was already an established comedy veteran by the time he arrived at Roach, as any film historian could easily attest.

In Jerry's defense, he MAY have been thinking of Charlie Hall - who actually DID do carpentry work on the Roach lot between supporting roles, to supplement his income. I'm guessing - I don't know this - but it's entirely possible that Stan "discovered" Hall, sensing some comic potential in his diminutive but feisty persona. (The L&H creative team, which once featured director Leo McCarey, was always looking for fresh new foils - since Finlayson and Edgar Kennedy were in such high demand elsewhere on the lot.) Perhaps Laurel relayed the anecdote about Hall, and Jerry Lewis simply got confused. Like I said, I don't really know for sure. Charlie Hall is SO good that it's hard to believe he was just a day laborer who inadvertently happened to be effective onscreen.

L&H fans are understandably upset by Lewis' belittling implication that Oliver Hardy was some amateur that Stan trained, like a monkey. Make no mistake; Hardy is brilliant. No less an authority than John Cleese considers Hardy one of the best, if not THE best American screen comic. Stan Laurel himself revered Hardy, listing him second only to Chaplin. Laurel was indisputably the creative genius behind the scenes, but Hardy was (arguably) a shade the more nuanced performer. (That's open to debate, of course. I agree with William K. Everson, who believed it was ultimately pointless to compare the two.) Jerry Lewis considers himself Stan's protege, and is fiercely loyal to him. That's entirely understandable, even commendable - but it doesn't give him the right to rewrite history.

Li'l Abner Volume 1
Li'l Abner Volume 1
by Al Capp
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £28.06

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SPLENDID, WELL WORTH THE UPGRADE..., 16 April 2010
This review is from: Li'l Abner Volume 1 (Hardcover)
The never-before reprinted, full-color Sundays make this a no-brainer, really. With all due respect to Denis Kitchen, this IDW LI'L ABNER series promises to be THE definitive edition of what is arguably the greatest American comic strip of all time. The Sunday pages are big and bold, and feature vivid color reproduction, (MUCH better than the limited Dark Horse series). Each panel was meticulously restored by editor Dean Mullaney. The dailies are printed slightly smaller than the old Kitchen Sink volumes - but they're perfectly sharp, crisp and detailed, sourced from original syndicate proofs. Plus an informative, comprehensive essay by the invaluable Bruce Canwell (including excerpts from a newly-discovered manuscript written by Capp's father) make this a superb job all around.

The material itself surely needs no introduction by now. Capp painted with broad strokes of genius, and LI'L ABNER is a bona fide, 100% authentic American masterpiece. It's fascinating to see the familiar characters, settings and situations blossoming before our eyes in its formative years, before Capp fully ramped up to speed. Capp was still feeling his oats as a storyteller in 1934-36, but the literary and visual explosions were just around the corner. While there are still youthful missteps evident at this stage, his was a talent too real to be held in check for long. The verve, wit and energy of this strip in its heyday - with its proudly subversive, take-no-prisoners approach to satire, its brilliantly absurd character concepts and breakneck pace as it barreled along - have never been equalled.

IDW is certainly shaping up to be a force to be reckoned with in the Classic Comic Strip reprint department. An absolute must.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 8, 2010 7:24 PM GMT

Monty Python's Flying Circus: Terry Jones' Person [DVD] [1969] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Monty Python's Flying Circus: Terry Jones' Person [DVD] [1969] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Graham Chapman
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £11.93

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All Hail "Mr Creosote", and bon apetit!, 22 Dec. 2009
The rabid "quality control" terrier of Monty Python was Terry J., who (according to the other members) cared about, and/or had a creative hand in absolutely everything - including preservation. There wouldn't be any Python reruns if it hadn't been for Jones, who saved the master tapes from being "wiped" by the geniuses at the BBC. (Just in time, apparently - so you can add "hero" to his impressive list of credits, along with writer, director, comedian, historian and satirist.)

Think of THAT, no Flying Circus episodes - and no subsequent movie franchise either, because the popularity of the TV program in the U.S. powered the financing of the feature films. A life without Python? The mind boggles...

Here's a collection of Jones' personal best writing and sketch performances, as judged by TJ himself. Those who may not immediately identify Jones will be able to recall him as the loony nude organ player, the obsessively anal "Spam" waitress, or as the rattiest of the many rat-bag "pepperpot" housewives that the boys loved to impersonate, (for whatever Freudian reasons.) Many of Jones' favorites were collaborative efforts with Jones' writing partner Michael Palin, and are certified, imperishable classics. The "Funniest Joke in the World", "Bicycle Repairman" and the Olympic finals of the Hide and Seek championship are among them, all included. Some other gems, like "The Bishop", "Spanish Inquisition" and "Killer Sheep" appear in part - which is why the complete set of all 45 episodes is absolutely essential. However, the "Personal Best" series is more than worth the price for the hilarious, newly filmed introductions alone.

Don't like Spam? Well, you will after this! Enjoy.

H.L. Mencken on Religion
H.L. Mencken on Religion
by S. T. Joshi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £25.35

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NOW MORE THAN EVER..., 8 April 2006
The brilliant editorialist H. L. Mencken, gone now for half a century, shines again in vintage newspaper columns that are just as relevant now as ever. In this day and age, a full 80 years after Scopes, when it's barely legal to teach actual science in Kansas classrooms, Mencken shows what intelligent folks have known about him all along: that he was decades ahead of his time.
What would he have had to say about extremist militant theocracies like the Taliban? Or about so-called "Intelligent Design" creationist theories? Or about science textbook "disclaimers" in Mississippi schools, Trinity Broadcasting, the "Left Behind" series, the Moral Majority, and the Psychic Network? We'll never know, but we can guess!
Buy this indispensable collection for your neighborhood Fundamentalist. He could use it! I'd give it 6 stars if they'd let me. Henry, where are you now that we really need you?

W. C. Fields: A Biography
W. C. Fields: A Biography
by James Curtis
Edition: Hardcover

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE LIFE AND ART OF A COMIC GENIUS, 8 April 2006
Finally, THE definitive biography of one of the most revered figures ever to appear on the world stage or step before a motion picture camera. While there've been almost two dozen books about Fields published already (mostly filmographies, quote books, picture books or screenplays), this collection is essential for several important reasons. First of all, it's one of the best biographies of a film personality ever written. Head and shoulders above Simon Louvish's sluggish MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE, more ambitious than Ronald J. Fields' collection of letters and radio scripts (W.C. FIELDS BY HIMSELF), on a literary par with Robert Lewis Taylor's brilliant W.C. FIELDS: HIS FOLLIES AND FORTUNES (but without that author's fictional flights of fancy), James Curtis turns out to be the ideal biographer of the iconoclastic comedian.

Setting the record straight regarding volumes of Fieldsian apocrypha, the legend remains intact whilst the enigmatic man behind it emerges for perhaps the first time in print. Full of nostalgia, fascinating revelations about Fields' working methods and creative approach to filmmaking, scandalous professional behavior, revealing personal data, heretofore unsuspected alliances (it comes as no surprise that Fields was a fan and drinking pal of his temperamental soulmate, H.L. Mencken), and many, many wonderful anecdotes. The ideal book to curl up with on a winter's eve (when it ain't a fit night out for man nor beast), with the necessary pitcher-full of your favorite "snake bite remedy," as Fields would say. (He'd also recommend you always carry a small snake...) A worthy tribute to a giant of American comedy. ***** 5 stars, easy.

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