View from the Cheap Seats

Laugh-In, Pink Panther & More Recent Classic Blu-ray/DVD Releases… plus Busey

July 27, 2017 - 1:50 pm   |   by
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Since the earliest days of American television, some programs thereon have become phenoms by lancing through public consciousness at the right time and place in popular culture.

You know the list – The Texaco Star Theater, starring Milton Berle, was the first show to become “must see.” The same moniker could also be used for I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners or The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or even Saturday Night Live.

While these programs and a few shows like them, say All in the Family, breathed rarefied air, none caused a change in the public stratosphere like a comedy sketch show which started airing on NBC Monday nights in 1967, opposite The Lucy Show and Gunsmoke, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In.

Now, to celebrate Laugh-In’s 50th Anniversary, Time Life Home Video has released Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Series – including every episode from all six seasons along with exclusive new bonus features and a free DVD. That’s 140 episodes on 38 DVDs. [Read on here...]

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Series

This package also has never-before-released episodes, the pilot, which originally aired September 9, 1967, an exclusive bonus DVD and other features, including the 25th anniversary cast reunion, bloopers, and interviews with Lily Tomlin, executive producer and creator, George Schlatter, Dick Martin, Gary Owens, Ruth Buzzi, and many others. Also included is Laugh-In Memories, a collectible memory book filled with jokes, pictures from the show, behind-the-scenes photos, and a note from producer and creator, George Schlatter.

Actually, we were warned that something like Laugh In was on its way – The Smothers Brothers Show was breaking political and social barriers left and right and was hilarious in the process, however it was still tied to the same old variety format that had already become a tad stale – think Bob Hope in the late sixties and early seventies with dumb skits and stale jokes wrapped around a musical interlude by someone like John Davidson. The Smothers Brothers were light years ahead of those shows, but it wasn’t Laugh In.

Laugh In crashed into American homes like a comet and both young and old audiences found something about which to laugh. Its comedy was political and mod and yes, naughty. The cast, save for the show’s comedy team hosts, were all new faces, representing a total change of the guard regarding who was making viewers laugh.

However, for those of us who have paid attention all these years, it’s amazing how Laugh In’s premise was anything but modern – watch Olson and Johnson, a vaudeville comedy team whose antics were lightning fast and fall down funny. Laugh In was totally based on their shtick, with bikinis.

I’ll add a caveat here – this stuff was and is much funnier than it reads.

Dan Rowan, actually born here in Oklahoma, and Dick Martin were a longtime comedy team who played Vegas and TV variety shows like The Dean Martin Show. They were funny. They’d already made a movie in the late 50s called Once Upon a Horse. As an aside, Rowan was actually a deep thinker who later published a book of thoughtful, literate letters between himself and popular author John D. MacDonald.

It’s ironic, however, that when one thinks of Laugh In today, the hosts aren’t who necessarily comes to mind – it’s those self-same newcomers who went on to have long and distinguished careers.

Let’s start with the only Oscar winner out of the bunch. Goldie Hawn had been in a few pictures – most notably Disney’s The One and Only Original Family Band before becoming a national treasure as a bikini clad, darling, dumb blonde. Few who know her today after an enviable run as a leading lady in movies could imagine her trying and not succeeding to read cue cards, while giggling like an idiot. She was quickly America’s darling and went almost straight into movies, winning her Academy Award for Cactus Flower.

After a couple of years, Laugh In added to its cast a genius of such comic magnitude that not only did she become an immediate superstar but still, some 50 years, Lily Tomlin’s name is spoken with reverence. Lily had characters which continue to endure – whether the nitpicky telephone operator Ernestine (she called an imaginary Gore Vidal “Mr. Veedle”); the bratty five-year-old Edith Ann, who ended her sketches “And That’s the Truth” with very audible raspberries and a character named “The Tasteful Lady.” My favorite Lily Tomlin character from the show was an obnoxious grocery store check-out lady who allowed no distractions from her work.

There are others – Arte Johnson was a comic character actor who played either a dirty old man or a Nazi who played off a riff that started with “Verrrrry Interesting…”; Ruth Buzzi, who won a Golden Globe for playing an old bag lady and other characters; Alan Suess, who was “Big Al the Sportscaster”; Judy Carne, Burt Reynolds’ first wife, who spouted “Sock It To Me” before bring doused with a water bucket; Jo Ann Worley who induced laughs by saying she hated “chicken jokes” and Henry Gibson, who brought an obviously drug induced poem to each episode.

Gibson and Tomlin would, of course, act together in Robert Altman’s masterpiece Nashville.

Here were the sketches that made me bust – “The Farkle Family,” with their neighbor Ferd Burfle; Dick Martin and Ruth Buzzi playing drunks at a bar called “The Swizzlers” and the weekly “Laugh In Looks at the News.”

Based on the unprecedented success of Laugh In, there was a monthly magazine, comic books and trading cards and View Master reels, a spin off daytime show, Letters to ‘Laugh In’ and original cast LPs.

And based on Dick Martin’s “You Bet Your Bippy” joke, Rowan and Martin starred in yet another movie – The Maltese Bippy.

There’s been nothing before or since like Laugh In – get your box set today. Go to this link at www.timelife.com.

Actually let’s talk about film comedy – isn’t it pitiful?

When was the last time there was a sustained, clever character driven comedy and, while we should never take him for granted, let’s eliminate our yearly valentine from Woody Allen.

Nothing. Well, there’s Veep on TV.

It’s difficult not to sound like an old crank, one not unlike I would have ridiculed when I was young, but film studios have lost the spark that made generations laugh at the theaters. Where’s the next W.C. Fields or Laurel and Hardy or Preston Sturges or The Marx Brothers? Even film students today don’t know who are these essential components of American culture.

The Pink Panther Film CollectionHow about this? How many of this generation know Inspector Jacques Clouseau or The Pink Panther? And, while Steve Martin is an American comedy treasure, his reboot of his franchise was a major disappointment.

So that leaves us with Peter Sellers, a singular presence in film comedy. While Sellers’ chameleon-like talent is evidenced by his work with Stanley Kubrick (Lolita, Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb) or the first rate Being There, Sellers’ most accessible work comes from his fruitful collaboration with director Blake Edwards, and now Shout! Factory is releasing the 6-disc Blu-ray set The Pink Panther Collection as part of its Shout Select line.

Included in this brilliant set is The Pink Panther, A Shot In The Dark, The Return of the Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Revenge of the Pink Panther and Trail of the Pink Panther. With Sellers’ passing in 1980, Trail of the Pink Panther (released in 1982) features footage of Sellers (he and Edwards were working on another Panther film before he passed) that’s interwoven into the movie.

The collection comes with a 24-page book with an essay from film critic Jerry Beck plus new interviews with cast and crew, audio commentaries, still galleries and TV spots. Though it would have been great to have included 1983’s Curse of the Pink Panther, which centered on the disappearance of Clouseau, the franchise will always be known as Edwards and Sellers’ creative journey, so the omission is definitely understandable.

Go to this link at Shout! Factory.com.

Good Lord, Twilight Time has once again brought a batch of exclusive, rare, treasured titles, some never available in home video at all, much less in Blu-ray.

Included in the recent releases are Sam Fuller’s Hell or High Water, a Jackie Chan disc with both Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Drunken Master, Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1958 adaptation of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, the Charles Bronson mob thriller The Valachi Papers, directed by Terence Young and The Bridge at Remagen, a World War II adventure starring George Segal and directed by John Guillermin.

Each are pristine copies and have loads of extras.

Go to this link at Screen Archives Entertainment.

Westerns are on the menu at Warner Archive – and not just any oaters but the top of the food chain – Ride the High Country and The Ballad of Cable Hogue – both directed by Sam Peckinpah. They’re splendid additions to the Archive catalog and as essential as the day they were released.

Also from Warner Archive is a fun mid 70s picture called The Gumball Rally, most certainly inspired by the Smokey and the Bandit craze, which stars Oklahoma’s own Gary Busey. (By the way, Busey recently came to Oklahoma City to receive an award from our film festival – he’s a friend so I took him as my charge for the weekend – he’s just a great, funny, smart guy.)

Go to this link at the Warner Archive.

Film noir seems to always be at the forefront of the Criterion Collection and, in August, director Michael Curtiz brings a master skipper’s hand to the helm of The Breaking Point, Hollywood’s second crack at Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not.

In this version, the great John Garfield takes over from Humphrey Bogart as Harry Morgan, an honest charter-boat captain who, facing hard times, takes on dangerous cargo to save his boat, support his family, and preserve his dignity. Left in the lurch by a freeloading passenger, Harry starts to enter­tain the criminal propositions of a sleazy lawyer (Wallace Ford), as well as the playful come-ons of a cheeky blonde (Patricia Neal), making a series of compromises that stretch his morality – and his marriage – further than he’ll admit.

The Breaking Point is closer to Hemingway’s novel than Howard Hawks’s Bogart-Bacall vehicle and it charts a course through daylight noir and working-class tragedy, guided by Curtiz’s effortless visual fluency and a stoic, career-capping performance from Garfield.

Go to this link at The Criteron Collection.

I’ll end this month with an unbelievable find from the company Cult Epics. The obscure film Obsessions (aka Hole in the Wall) was directed by Dutch artsploitation auteur Pim de la Parra This gritty, psychedelic Hitchcockian mystery, which is notable for being the first Dutch film shot in the English language, is a minor masterpiece.

And, get this, Obsessions offers amazing credits – its co writer was a young Martin Scorsese, who was in Amsterdam at the time filming scenes from Who’s That Knocking At My Door and its score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, Hitchcock’s composer on such films as Vertigo and North By Northwest and, coincidentally, Herrmann later composed the timeless score for Scorsese’s movie Taxi Driver.

Obsessions began the auteur cinema movement in Holland and inspired such talents as Paul Verhoeven to make their own start in the industry. Originally distributed in over 100 countries, the film remained unreleased in the United States until this Blu-ray.

Go to this link at Cult Epics.

Sorry I look so awful with Busey. I was drunk.

Bud Elder and Gary Busey

See you at the flix!

- Bud Elder

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