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Monday, May 11, 2020

'Gunsmoke 65th Anniversary' CS DVD: What Becomes A Legend Most

Doing justice to the CBS Home Entertainment May 5, 2020 epic CS DVD release of the complete-series 65th Anniversary Edition of the 20-season "Gunsmoke" is impossible as to the limitations of these posts. As such, these musing are based on the first handful of the 1955 episodes and the Final Four from 1975. An awesome aspect of this is that last are just as sublime as the first.

Hope for a better tomorrow that is slightly easing Covid-related angst include thoughts of watching every "Gunsmoke" episode in a post-pandemic world that is more conducive for properly savoring gems from The Golden Age of Television. 

CBSHE shows its usual overall integrity and its love for "TV Land" shows by simultaneously releasing "Gunsmoke" S20 on DVD on May 5, 2020. A major peeve of your not-so-humble reviewer is home-video companies releasing all but one or two seasons of a series and subsequently releasing that program in a CS set that REQUIRES either buying several duplicate seasons or forgoing the whole enchilada.

Sincere advice as to "Gunsmoke" is to treat yo self to the sturdy and stylish CS gift set and pass along individual season sets either to current fans or to "non-believers" who suffer from the past prejudice of your not-so-humble reviewer as to Westerns. "Gunsmoke" is a prime example of oaters being about so much more than cattle rustlers, saloon fights, and high noon showdowns.

The numerous timeless themes, such as prejudice and the conflict between the law and justice, in "Gunsmoke" evoke thoughts of a fellow TV Land classic. Comedy deity Carol Burnett has said in a recent interview that her eponymous variety show aces the test of time because funny always is funny.

"Gunsmoke" also reflects the wisdom of another couch potato god. The wisdom of Garry Marshall as to "Happy Days" is that a sitcom that is made in the '70s and the '80s that is set in the '50s never will look dated. The expertly digitally remastered "Gunsmoke" episodes that make even the S1 offerings look and sound crisp and clean validates the Marshall Plan.

S1E1, which is in awesomely sharp black-and-white and is 30-minutes. starts with an A-List endorsement that the syndicated version likely omits. The opening scene is of western movies legend John Wayne praising the work of James Arness, who plays U.S. Marshall Matt Dillon in all 20 seasons of "Gunsmoke," in this new series. 

Another twist is that S1E1 next opens in a manner that seems to disappear within a few episodes. We hear voice-over narration of Dillon pontificating as he walks through the cemetery on the hill above his home turf of Dodge City, Kansas. 

S1E1 then sets a tone to which the series remains true for two decades. This one revolves (pun intended) quick-draw Dan Grat facing justice for gunning down a man whom Grat did not know was unarmed when he acted with extreme prejudice. Grat going on to plug Dillon early in their first contact is one of likely hundreds of times that Dillon takes one for the team during the run of the season.

A young but still cranky Doc Adams (Milburn Stone), who is with "Gunsmoke" to the far-from-bitter end, is on hand to patch up Dillon and to fail to persuade him to let his wounds properly heal before returning to work. Long-time saloon owner Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake), who gets out of Dodge in S19, also is on the scene. Watching her pursue a largely unresponsive Dillon is odd from the perspective of their subsequent close relationship with probable benefits. 

Although deputy Chester (Dennis Weaver) is on the payroll, it is surprising to see him be not-so-dedicated and to have a contentious relationship with the boss. Comic relief deputy Festus (Ken Curtis), who is the Barney Fife of "Gunsmoke," is not yet in Dodge. 

The next few S1 episodes further test the value of Dillon and his inner circle. These include convincing "upstanding" citizens that a neer-do-well will receive justice of a variety other than the frontier kind to which he is most deserving. 

The beginning of the end, which is brilliant living color and is a full hour, has Festus front-and-center when a prisoner transfer leads to his contributing sweat equity to the building of a church that an older pastor wants to build for members of a tribe that only recently has made peace with the settlers that oppose that project. 

"Manolo" continues the long history, including an S19 episode about Jewish settlers sticking to their own values, of cultural sensitivity that is a common "Gunsmoke" theme. This time the story centers around a group of Basque shepherds maintaining a coming-of-age tradition that conditions a son becoming a man on administering his father a major beatdown. As we learn, this practice does not make any allowance for pacifists. 

Team Dillon wraps up their saga-length run with the aptly titled "The Sharecroppers." This one also features Festus, who is conned into working the land despite being the injured party as to a duped innocent being tricked into buying the beloved mule of Festus. This truly leaves the audience wanting more and provides a strong sense that life in Dodge continues the same after the production team  rides off into the sunset.

Much of the fun of "Gunsmoke" is akin to watching "The Love Boat" in that virtually every past, current, and future television star  (as well as a few film stars) who is a SAG member during the run of the series guest stars. Bette Davis arguably is the most notable one; we also get Ron Howard, David Wayne, Joan Van Ark, Bruce Boxleitner, etc.

The plethora of special features include the CBSHE staple of episodes promos. We also get a tribute to Arness and  a very special feature that is a discussion with "Gunsmoke" experts Ben Costello and Beckey Burgoyne. 

The bottom line this time is that the truly do not make 'em like this anymore. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

'Alastair Sim's' School for Laughter' BD: Fantastic Four of Classic British Comedies

The Film Movement Classics April 14, 2020 Blu-ray release of "Alastair Sim's School for Laughter" awesomely continues this division of art-house god Film Movement giving timeless British comedies their due. This release also expands the Classics catalog of Ealing Films that are reviewed in the Movement section of this site. 

The scope of "Laughter" is akin to the recent (equally bonus-features laden) Classics BD collection "Their Finest Hour." This reviewed set of five films showcases Ealing WWII- themed productions that include the original version of "Dunkirk." 

The following Classics trailer for "Laughter" expertly schools viewers in each of the films in a manner that showcases the wonderful deadpan humor of Sim, who arguably is best known for his standard-setting portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol." 

The fun begins with the wonderfully titled farce "The Belles of St. Trinian's" (1954). Sim plays the dual roles of the headmistress of the titular girls' boarding school and her neer-do-well brother. The success of Sim in pulling off this feat is one of many examples of this skills in this set.

The overall theme of the "Belles" is that the student body is comprised of a group of feral females that strikes fear in the hearts of the locals. For her part, headmistress Millicent Fritton must contend with both the wolves of Wall Street constantly at her door looking for loan payments and a faculty that is comprised of a highly disgruntled rogues' gallery.

These factors (in addition to the new "Eastland" girls) converge in a perfect comedic storm that drives much of the "Belles" action. A faction that figuratively has a horse in the race is competing with another faction that literally and figuratively has a horse in the same contest.

The central conflict results in there being a dorm resident who is a real nag. 

Next up is the original "School  for Scoundrels" (1960). This wonderfully dark comedy has Sim shining as Stephen Potter, who runs the titular "College of Lifemanship" that teaches decent folks who repeatedly are victimized by "scoundrels" to learn how to get the larger end of the stick.

"Scoundrel" Delauney (Terry-Thomas of "Munster, Go Home" fame) repeatedly being the Bluto (or Brutus) to the Popeye of Henry Palfrey (Ian Carmichael) prompts the latter to engage in continuing education so that he can school his rival and regain the primary affection of "Olive Oyl."

Although the dead-pan classroom aspects of "School" are highly entertaining, the best scenes are the "before" and "after" ones between Delauney and Palfrey. Watching these men alternatively get the upper-hand over the other is timeless classic comedy.

The bonus features include an charming and insightful modern interview with a film critic. 

"Laughter in Paradise" (1951) arguably has the most social commentary in this quartet. Sim plays one of four potential heirs in this variation of both versions of "Brewster's Millions." The right of each named beneficiary in the will to collect his or her share of the loot is conditioned on completing a 28-day task that is directly contrary to his or her nature. 

The mission of secret pulp-fiction novelist Denniston Russell (Sim) is to commit an offense that will make him a guest of the Queen until 28 days later. Watching him question local law-enforcement as to what crime will result in that specific amount of time is amusing. A shoplifting effort that goes comically awry is hilarious. 

Classics aptly wraps things up with "Hue and Cry" (1947), which is the first Ealing comedy. Sim once again plays a paperback writer, whose fiction provides the basis for actual heists by a criminal gang. This tale centers around a teen Hardy boy and his gang that must thwart the bad guys on their own.

The surprise ending truly is that. The less good news is that it involves a serious beatdown of our excitable boy, who already has experienced undue physical and emotional batterings in his quest for truth, justice, and the English way. 

Classics supplements this with trailers and "behind-the-scenes" features on the films. We also get the usual, but far from typical, written essay on the topic du set. ​