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Sunday, June 16, 2013

'Return of the Bevrly Hillbillies:' Return to DVD Retailer

The fact that the March 2013 DVD release of the 1981 made-for-television reunion movie "Return of the Beverly Hillbillies" epically failed to meet very low expectations largely says it all. This is coming from someone who happily owns "Rescue From Gilligan's Island" on DVD and who placed "I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later" on his DVD wishlist after recently watching it.

An especially stressful week that required "genie" therapy resolved the debate regarding whether to pay roughly $15 to get "Return" now or take the chance that it would not be discontinued before its inevitable journey to virtual and physical bargain bins led to this deeply regretted purchase.

Rather than instruct millenials to "Google it," this review will start with a recap of the awesome '60s rural comedy on which "Return" is pants around the ankles loosely based.

"Hillbillies" tells the tales of poor but happy widowed backwoods man Jed Clampett who moves his tomboy daughter Elly May, dim-witted nephew Jethro, and feisty mother-in-law Daisy "Granny" Moses to a luxurious mansion in Beverly Hills after accidentally striking oil while hunting on his Ozarks property.

The series mined some humor from the "simple folks'" inability to understand modern life or the mores of Beverly Hills. The conflicts that arose between the family and "society folk" or just plain ole opportunists who hated "those dreadful hillbillies" and/or wanted to con the Clampetts provided other humor.

One insurmountable problem with "Return" was that transplanting Jed from Beverly Hills back to a simple cabin in the woods removed both the "duck out of water" element and the conflicts that made the series so awesome. Even having a "city slicker" get fully caught up in the Ozarks way-of-life would have improved "Return."

"Return" largely revolved around Clampett friend and former bank executive secretary Jane Hathaway seeking out Jed, Jethro, and Elly May to obtain a sample of the deceased Granny's moonshine.

Hathaway, who had gone to work for the U.S. Department of Energy in the decade since the series ended, wanted to analyze the white lightning so that it could be used as an alternative to traditional gasoline. Not addressing Hathaway's career change or the fate of bank president Milburn Drysdale were among the worst flaws in "Return."

The quest of Hathaway and pathologically uptight and neurotic federal troubleshooter C.D. Medford, played by Werner Klemperer of '60s sitcom "Hogan's Heroes," brought them to Jed's cabin after striking out with Jethro and Elly May.

Hathaway was adequately familiar with, and sufficiently embraced, the hillbilly lifestyle to fit right in with Jed and his fellow mountain folk. Even a scene reminiscent of the series in which Jed offered Hathaway possum, owl, or other "road kill" cuisine would have added some humor.

Not having Medford on the sidelines throughout most of the scenes in the Ozarks and even not actively inserting him in the action when he reluctantly joined the fray wasted good opportunities for the aforementioned "city slicker" humor.

Additionally, the storyline had very little conflict. Jed and his surviving kin fully co-operated with the quest for Granny's "tonic" a.k.a "rheumitis medicine." Having a representative of the Ewing family of hit CBS show of the era "Dallas" or another oil company, such as the Brewster Oil Company that bought the Clampetts' oil in the series, act to sabotage Hathaway's efforts also would have made this vilely putrid production more watchable.

"Hillbillies'" creator and producer Paul Henning, who wrote both the original series and "Return" additionally missed an important element of every reunion special. The audience wants to see what the actors look like today.

Seeing Buddy Ebsen as Jed, Donna Douglas as Elly May, and Nancy Kulp as Hathaway was fun. However, Henning blundered in bringing actor Ray Young to play Jethro when original portrayor Max Baer, Jr., chose to not participate. Jethro played a very peripheral role in "Return" and simply should have been written out.

The special features were a little better. An introduction by Hennings' daughter, and "Petticoat Junction" (millenials Google this one) actress, Linda Kaye Henning was watchable but lacked many insights. Additionally, at least still photos related to points in the introduction would have enhanced that segment.

Seeing the original hillbillies stay in character for commercials that aired during their series was a hoot. Watching them eat corn flakes especially evoked memories of Jethro filling large mixing bowls of that cereal for his breakfast in several episodes.

The first few minutes of an hour-long documentary on the life of Paul Henning and creating the "Hillbillies" was interesting; this one included nice photos of the artist as a young man and even a film clip from the late '20s or early '30s that showed a teen Paul Henning singing like a true pro. The quality of this feature created limited expectations that the remaining 50 minutes would be just as good.

The sad truth is that the commercials and the documentary did not adequately compensate for the horrible feature. The contrast between thinking "its over already" when watching early "Hillbillies" episodes and regularly checking the time counter on the DVD player while watching "Return" showed how the mighty had fallen.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding any incarnation of the "Hillbillies" is welcome to email me. I remind folks with "uncivilized" thoughts regarding this review of the rubber-glue rule.