Thursday December 6, 2012

KEENE, N.H.

Carol Burnett -- Following a format much like that of the legendary "Show of Shows," "The Carol Burnett Show" aired 278 episodes that ran from 1967 to 1978. Silva Vista, in collaboration with Time Life, has issued a collection of no less than five sets of DVDs, three of which are devoted to 33 episodes ("Carol’s Favorites," "This Time Together" and "One More Time") and two to bonus sketches and interviews. That comes to 22 DVDs with a total running time of over 62 hours. This is not designed to be seen at one sitting.

The musical numbers are usually quite good. The comedy sketches vary. Some are downright funny from start to end. The "Gone with the Wind" spoof ("Went with the Wind") has become a classic, especially for the sight gag of how Scarlett makes a gown from an old drape. Other sketches start out funny but are stretched out far too long. Others might have looked good on paper but do not pan out when performed.

Some are clever and appeal to the intellect. Not many- -- but they are there. Some depend on slapstick and might have seemed funny a half-century ago. Try and judge for yourself.

The funniest moments come in sketches in which Harvey Korman and Tim Conway share the stage. Without even a facial twitch, Conway knew how to convulse Korman in laughter, making him try to hide from the camera. The audience was set a-roar by Korman’s enbarrassment. Regular Vicki Lawrence adds a more subtle humor to the proceedings.

Of course, it is Burnett who holds it all together. She is a charming hostess and a versatile comedienne. There is always a chemistry between her and the rest of the cast, individually and in ensemble acting. Truly a Queen of Comedy.

I have no room to list all her guest stars, but here are some: Betty White, Steve Martin, Carl Reiner, Joan Rivers, Dick Van Dyke, Bernadette Peters, Sammy Davis Jr., Lily Tomlin, Peggy Lee, Madeline Kahn, Steve Lawrence, Shirley MacLaine, Vincent Price, Jack Klugman, Tony Randall, Jim Nabors, and (as the notes on the cover say), "many more."

While going through this titanic collection, keep notes as to the sketches you want to see again and to show your friends. It is always fascinating to see what made people laugh about 45 years ago!

Stereo Into the 60s -- I’ve simply run out of ways to introduce yet another entry into the fabled "The Golden Age of Light Music" series that now holds 92 CDs on the Guild Light Music label. Having reproduced just about every monophonic LP from Great Britain, they now have released their latest disc titled "Stereo into the 60s."

What I appreciate most about this series is hearing pieces for the first time by composers of whom I know nothing. Next, I love to hear orchestral versions of popular songs from Tin Pan Alley, the British equivalent of TPA, and film scores. On this CD, the last category is represented by "Night and Day," "Bidin’ my Time," "What is There to Say," and themes from "One Eyed Jacks," "Ruby Gentry" and "The Alamo."

Among the orchestras are those conducted by Cyril Ornadel, Frederick Fennell, Mantovani, David Rose, Morton Gould and Billy Vaughn. All in all, the perfect disc for casual listening -- as are all collections from this Golden Age series.

Special Branch -- From 1969 British television comes "Special Branch," a meat-and-potatoes detectives vs. villains format. Thirteen episodes of this series are out in a set of four Acorn Media DVDs.

There are no special gimmicks and at times things do move a little slowly for 2012 tastes. George Sewell as DCI Alan Craven is a low-key actor who seldom loses his losses of self-control. (Lovers of the original "Tinker, Tailor" might recall him as one of Smiley’s assistants.) He is paired, in every other episode, with the brash Irish DCI Tom Haggardy, played by Patrick Mower. A running theme is the clash of their personalities and the gradual mellowing of their relationship.

Black actress Sheila Scott Wilkinson plays Pam, Craven’s special other, who is not quite ready to spend lonesome hours while his sudden cases break dates and promises. 

Each episode is about 50 minutes, the color picture is in 4:3 full screen, and there are much needed subtitles.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.