Co-created by Stephen Bochco (Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue) and Terry Louise Fisher (Cagney & Lacey), LA Law was one of the most critically acclaimed series of the mid 1980’s and early 1990’s. Bochco and Fisher took us out of the precincts they had explored so well, and into the going on of Los Angeles law firm Mackenzie-Brackman. Edgy for the era, the series wasn’t afraid to explore subjects like rape, murder, and racism while discussing the sordid sex lives of the series main characters.
Mackenzie-Brackman was made up of an eclectic cast of characters. Founding partner Leland McKenzie (Richard Dysart) always has one eye on the balance sheet, but manages to act as father figure of sorts, offer advice when needed; Douglas Brackman Jr. (Alan Rachins) is his late partner’s hawkish son, and the two oversee the office together. Other partners at the firm included the slick, yuppie, womanizing divorce lawyer Arnold ‘Arnie’ Becker (Corbin Bernsen), cuddly, nebbish tax lawyer Stuart Markowitz (Michael Tucker), do-gooder attorney Ann Kelsey (Jill Eikenberry), Ann’s intern Abby Perkins (Michele Greene), and idealistic trial attorney Michael Kuzak (Harry Hamlin). Fiery public defender Victor Sifuentes (Jimmy Smits) is brought in as an associate during the pilot episode. Grace Van Owen (Susan Dey) introduced in the second episode, is a driven lawyer from the D.A.’s office who soon becomes Kuzak’s love interest. The cast is rounded out by Roxanne (Susan Ruttan), Arnie’s ever patient secretary, who puts up with his never ending frat boy antics.
The regulars were characters who seemed to have it all—successful careers, wealth, smarts—everything that the yuppie culture of the 1980’s stood for. However, where LA Law succeeded most was its ability to show these people as flawed; plagued with insecurities and personal problems just like everyone else. The first season’s scripts—including the excellent pilot—do an excellent job of humanizing the characters, and showing that while they may be sure, almost cocky in the courtroom that rarely transfers to their personal lives.
Freed of the episodic structure that constrained dramas of the past, LA Law a particular storyline might run for several weeks, others could be solved within the structure of a single episode. That freedom allowed the writers to expand stories, and provide details about characters and situations that made audiences care what happened to them.
This is not to say that LA Law didn’t have its flaws. Watching the first season now, there are a few things that haven’t aged well. In the pilot, a trans woman is revealed as having been the lover of a dead man, and thus described as a “gay man.” Cue the snickering about her genitalia—though in the end, time show is empathetic to her plight. While there are certainly moments when LA Law shows itself to be a product of its time, few shows—St. Elsewhere comes to mind—dealt with issues of homosexuality and AIDS quite as openly as LA Law did.
The most talked about episode of the first season, “The Venus Butterfly,” handled both sensitive and topical subject matter in a serious and funny way. Grace found herself going up against a man on trial for the mercy killing of his AIDS-afflicted partner, while Arnie and Stuart represent he estranged wives of a chiseling bigamist who kept the ladies happy with a certain sexual position. LA Law may not have aged perfectly, but even after all these years, it still males for fun and interesting viewing.
LA Law: Season One consists of 22 episodes, spread over six discs.
Presented in 1.33:1 widescreen, the video quality here isn’t the greatest. Like much of 1980’s television, he original 35mm prints of LA Law were transferred on to videotape so that credits could be added. These video dupes likely represent the best surviving sources available. The episodes themselves lack any real color vibrancy, and look a bit dim on occasion. Though props are due to Shout!, as it’s great to finally see this series on DVD!
The mono soundtrack provided here sounds slightly muffled throughout, and dynamic range is very limited. Thankfully, the dialogue is understandable at all times.
No subtitles or closed captioning are provided.
The following extras are included:
- The Lawyers (103:08) The actors who played the following characters—Arnie Becker, Roxanne (Secretary), Douglas Brackman, Jr., Victor Sifuentes, Michael Kuzak, Grace Van Owen, and Stuart Markowitz and Ann Kelsey—are interviewed, and discuss what being on the series was like. It’s clear that it was definitely a highpoint in their careers.
- The LA Law Story (128:37) An extensive and detailed look at how the show came to be, production and reception. Interviews with various cast and crew are included. As a longtime fan of the series, this was a very interesting watch.
I’ll always remember Laverne & Shirley fondly. They were both shows I really liked a lot, and never missed. I remember having a poster of Laverne (Penny Marshall) on my bedroom wall. She was my favorite. Loud, bawdy, and funny with a heart of gold, she guzzled Pepsi and milk, and wasn’t afraid to wear a big “L” on all her shirts; that took chutzpah, and she had it in spades. On the other hand, Laverne’s friend and roommate Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) was rather shy and conservative.
For those unfamiliar with the show, the seventh season found the two women in Hollywood, their second year on the West Coast after spending five seasons “in Milwaukee.” Joining them in California were their friends Lenny (Michael McKean) and Squiggy (David Lander), Laverne’s father Frank (Phil Foster), and Shirley’s on-again, off-again boyfriend Carmine (Eddie Mekka), who dreams of stardom.
While the series had ‘jumped the Shark” with the move to California, there was still some fun to be had. In the season opener, “The Most Important Date Ever,” Laverne and Shirley are up to their usual crazy antics when they perform in a in a Latvian acrobatic act in an attempt to save Lenny and Squiggy’s fledgling talent agency. In “Some Enchanted Earring,” Laverne’s hot date with a Hollywood producer is ruined when one of her mother’s diamond earrings turns up missing. As always, sometimes the show mixed it up a bit and made Lenny and Squiggy the focus of that weeks hijinks. In “Night at the Awards,” Lenny and Squiggy decide to crash an awards show, only to find themselves on stage, on live TV, next to entertainer Joey Heatherton!
Over an eight year run, Laverne & Shirley occasionally delivered a serious episode, but mostly, the goal was to have fun. Week after week, the girls would find themselves in a sticky situation and have to wiggle their way out of it. The move to Hollywood did give the series a chance to add in some interesting guest stars including: Joey Heatheron, Charles Grodin, Carole Cook, Jeff Goldblum, Julie Brown, Harry Shearer, Harry Dean Stanton, Anjelica Huston, Paul Wilson and Noah Hathaway. Aside from that though, longtime fans will clearly notice that the show was running out of gas. This would be the final full season for Cindy Williams, who would leave the show just a couple of episodes into the eighth and final year. Laverne & Shirley stopped becoming appointment television for me after season six.
The show’s twenty two-episodes are spread over three discs and presented in 1.33:1, consistent with their original broadcast format. The episodes look as good as they are going to, with accurate color reproduction and film grain throughout the viewing experience. Some minor fading of the image is present in spots, but it’s not severe.
The mono audio does its job, offering a clear and balanced delivery of dialogue and ambient sound. There are no significant dropouts or hiss to worry about. For a thirty-year-old series, this is fine.
In terms of extras, we get promos which accompany each episode, and a two-minute gag reel that has a couple laughs.
20th Century Fox released the fourth season of NYPD Blue way back in June of 2006, nearly eight years ago. Many fans wondered if the remaining seasons of the series would ever get the DVD release they deserved. Shout Factory, the company that has rescued countless television gems for the consumer, will release NYPD Blue: The Complete Fifth Season on DVD, January 21, 2014.
Controversy surrounded NYPD Blue even before it debuted in 1993. It would seem a bit tame by today’s standards, but the amount of profanity and nudity on the show was far more than had ever been allowed on network television before. Various protests sprung up around the country, and as these things often do, likely helped to attract more viewers than would have otherwise tuned into the first couple of episodes. What viewers quickly discovered was that nudity or not, NYPD Blue was simply one of the best dramas on television.
By the fifth season, the series had won several Emmy and Golden Globe Awards, and established itself as a permanent fixture in the top twenty of the Nielsen ratings. One thing NYPD Blue was known for was its multi-episode arcs, at a time when cop shows still generally focused on “crime of the week” plots. In the fifth season opener, “This Bud’s for You” Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) and Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) are forced to deal with the implications of the season four cliffhanger. Simone finds himself suspended, and Sipowicz a potential murder suspect. However, as NYPD Blue occasionally had a tendency to do, the season four issues are wrapped up quickly, only to be presented with fresh set of problems for the new season.
The usually tough-as-nails Sipowicz finds himself dealing with real fear as he faces surgery for prostate cancer. In one of the season’s most powerful episodes, “Weaver of Hate,” Bobby and Diane’s (Kim Delaney) relationship faces a whole new set of challenges as she suffers a miscarriage. Also a teenager is thrown to his death, but Lt. Fancy (James McDaniel) is so distracted by the victim’s father’s use of racial slurs, he can’t concentrate on the investigation. James McDaniel delivers a powerful scene that will stay with viewers for awhile; he reveals a side of Lt. Fancy’s personality I hadn’t thought was there until I saw that episode.
Fifteen years after season five aired, there are still several moments throughout the twenty-two episodes that created anxiety and sent shivers down my spine. It’s been a few years since I’d sat down and watched an episode of NYPD Blue, but it took watching just a few minutes of the season opener for me to remember what a groundbreaking show it truly was.
This 6-disc set includes all 22 episodes from the fifth season, including two longer episodes which originally ran 90 minutes when they premiered:
- This Bud’s For You
- All’s Wells that Ends Well
- Three Girls and a Baby
- The Truth is out There
- It Takes a Village
- Dead Man Talking
- Sheedy Dealings
- Lost Israel – Part 1
- Lost Israel – Part 2
- Remembrance of Humps Past
- You’re Under a Rasta
- A Box of Wendy
- Twin Petes
- Weaver of Hate
- Don’t Kill the Messenger
- The One that Got Away
- Speak for Yourself, Bruce Clayton
- I Don’t Wanna Dye
- Prostrate Before the Law
- Hammer Time
- Seminal Thinking
- Honeymoon at Viagra Falls
Presented in full screen, Shout Factory’s presentation is on par with the previous releases from 20th Century Fox. There are still a few specks of dust to be found here and there, but they don’t affect the viewing experience. The colors accurately represent the series—rather muted and gritty—quite well. Shout Factory has placed a chapter after the “previously on,” and opening credits of the episode, as well as a “PLAY ALL” function to each disc.
The Dolby Surround track is fairly solid for a standard DVD release. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, while ambient effects are always discernible. No subtitles are included, though the set is closed captioned for the hearing impaired.
No extras are included.
Certainly one of the most unusual television shows in the history of the medium, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman blended the daytime soap opera (than at the height of their popularity), with biting social satire. Produced by Norman Lear, who had already changed the television landscape earlier in the 1970’s with All in the Family, found he couldn’t sell Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman to any of the networks, who deemed the series “too controversial.” Instead, he placed the show in first run syndication with 128 stations in January of 1976, where it ran in 30-minute segments five-nights-per-week, Monday through Friday, typically at 11:00 or 11:30 at night. In just a year-and-a-half, 325 episodes were produced.
As the series opens, Fernwood, Ohio housewife Mary Hartman (Louise Lasser) is disturbed because her longtime husband Tom (Greg Mullavey) seems to have no interest in tending to her marital needs. Maybe she just wants it too much? She attempts to cope with this frustration by trying to deal with the waxy yellow buildup on the linoleum in her kitchen. And why can’t she brew a decent cup of coffee? All the while, trying to keep Grandpa (Victor Kilian) from flashing children on the playground and protect her daughter from the next-door mass murderer who gunned down a family of five, two goats, and eight chickens.
Addicted to soap operas, Mary is dissatisfied with the state of her life, and is attempting to fill the emotional void by living up to the societal and corporate middle class expectations set forth by the media. Mary, and even her friends and family are strangely desensitized to local murder. Intrigued instead, by what they see as the senseless slaughter of the animals. The murdered people are secondary.
Mary’s best pal, Loretta Haggers (Mary Kay Place) is a sexy housewife, and aspiring country singer. Despite her questionable talent, Loretta’s much older husband Charlie “Baby Boy” Haggers (Graham Jarvis), believes in her ability to make it big. Though Charlie is remarkably ordinary looking, he and Loretta enjoy a healthy and satisfying sex life that leaves Mary envious.
Martha Shumway (Dody Goodman), Mary’s mother, is an often clueless eccentric who talks to her plants, and generally tries to keep the piece around the house, even as her husband (and Mary’s father) George (Philip Bruns and for a few episodes, Tab Hunter), and their youngest daughter Cathy (Debralee Scott) plot to do things against her wishes. Cathy has no real direction in her life; sexually promiscuous, she’s just enjoying life as it comes, and attending beauty school when it fits into her schedule.
Bruce Solomon plays police Sgt. Dennis Foley, the desk cop who makes Mary’s acquaintance after her grandfather is arrested for being the “Fernwood Flasher.” It’s not long before it becomes clear that the good police officer pines after Mary, and Mary just might be feeling something as well…As the series progressed several other characters joined in on the fun: wife beater Garth Gimble (Martin Mull), Garth’s twin brother Barth (also Mull), who hosts the Tonight Show-patterned local talk show, Fernwood 2 Night, Dabney Coleman as Merle Jeeter, Fernwood’s deceitful mayor; Gloria DeHaven as Annie “Tippytoes” Wylie, a bisexual CB radio fan who has an affair with Tom, among others.
A fundamental part of watching Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman is understanding that it’s both set in 1976, and ahead of itself. When Tom and Mary go to the Capri lounge on a date, he is wearing a stylish leisure suite. But it’s obvious that that the show recognizes that Tom looks foolish. Essentially, the writers were smart enough to know that a lot of things that were popular in the era would pass, before they actually did.
The difficulty of producing two-and-a-half-hours of new material a week, with just over three months off, eventually wore Louise Lasser down who decided to leave the series after 325 episodes, but not before an amazing 11-minute performance where Mary suffers a nervous breakdown on a live television show. Widely considered one of the best performances in the history of the medium, I have seen the episode three times, and her performance never fails to impress.
After Lasser’s departure, the series continued as Forever Fernwood for an additional 130 episodes. While most of the rest of the cast was aboard, without Mary as the central character, the show didn’t pack the same punch. It’s worth noting that the set doesn’t include Forever Fernwood, but one can hope Shout! will be delivering that to fans in the near future.
Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman‘s 38 single-sided DVDs come in a solid cardboard box containing six standard-size DVD cases, one thin-case DVD, and a 40 page, full-color booklet. While the discs are simply numbered by episode, the book contains a nice episode guide with show numbers, airdates, and brief synopses. Shot on tape, the widescreen transfers have held up quite well, while it would be going overboard to say the colors are vivid, nothing looks particularly washed out. There are no real digital issues.
While the audio is nothing special, the included mono sound offers clear dialogue throughout.
No subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Inside the Funhouse Mirror: Produced in 2008, executive producer Norman Lear and stars Louise Lasser and Mary Kay Place discuss the making of the show. Their comments are interspersed with various clips from the series.
- On the Verge Of…Also produced in 2008, Lear and Lasser discuss the famous “Nervous Breakdown” episode.
- 10 Complete Episodes of Fernwood 2 Night: A spinoff that ran from July 1977 to September 1977. Martin Mull stars as Barth Gimble, the host of the parody talk show, and Fred Willard plays his clueless sidekick, Jerry Hubbard. The assortment of episodes includes one from July, and the remainder is from August and September. It would be great to see a complete series set.
- Booklet: The 40-page booklet contains a full episode guide as well as an essay by Norman Lear, an appreciation for the series by TV critic Tom Shales.
In eleven years, and 278 episodes, The Carol Burnett Show never did a standalone Christmas special. In hindsight, that seems pretty amazing, given that the 1970’s was the era of annual yuletide greetings from the likes of Bob Hope, Perry Como, Andy Williams, and more. However, following in the spirit of the season, Carol and the gang always seemed to find time for some holiday themed episodes, and sketches. Just in time for the season, StarVista and Time-Life have released The Carol Burnett Show: Christmas with Carol, bringing together three hours of some of the series most memorable odes to Christmas. Like the show itself, some of the skits are funnier than others, but for fans, it’s wonderful to have them all available again.
The first episode, show #813 originally aired on December 21, 1974. Things begin at the always ‘interesting Higgins residence. With her younger brother Larry (Alan Alda) visiting for the first time in years, Eunice is determined to have a great Christmas? Decked out in a festive apron, refreshments and gifts ready; heck, Ed even has a red tie on. What could go wrong? As it turns out, once Mama and Ed arrive, everything!
No matter the situation, it seems like any involving “The Family” is funny. This holiday sketch isn’t warm and fuzzy by any stretch of the imagination, but the stress and tension the Higgins’ feel is likely something every one of us has been able to relate to at least once in our lives. There’s something real about it.
The next sketch, “Nobody Does It Like Me” is a complete change of pace. Alda is a soon-to-be unemployed department store Santa, while she’s all thumbs over in the gift-wrapping section. Yet even in the midst of last minute holiday hustle and bustle, the two are able to find peace, and remember the true meaning of the season.
“Morton of the Movies” moves away from Christmas, as Carol’s geeky, but seemingly suave date, uses lines from classic movies to woo her. Also featuring Vicki Lawrence and Harvey Korman as characters in movies playing on television, this skit will likely convince you that Alan and Carol have some serious chemistry! It’s obvious right from the first skit to the finale—a musical tribute to Manhattan, the place Alan called home even during those years, which found him back and forth to Los Angeles to film M*A*S*H—that the two actors enjoyed working together.
The second episode, show #1113 originally aired on December 18, 1977. Things begin with “Mrs. Wiggins Gets Bombed on Christmas.” Mrs. Wiggins (Burnett) and her exasperated boss Mr. Tudball (Tim Conway) are two of the funniest character to come out of the series, and this sketch is definitely a highlight of the disc. Mr. Tudball suggest the two share a drink to celebrate the holidays. They end up having a merry ol’ tome, and getting a buzz. When Mrs. Wiggins points out the presence of mistletoe, her boss is feeling no pain. Unfortunately for Mr. Tudball, his wife (Vicki) picks just that moment to pay him a visit…
Next, comes a performance from Helen Reddy. I suppose if your under thirty-five or so, Helen Reddy is one of those names that’s a potential head scratcher. One of the biggest recording stars of the 1970’s, by 1977 she had scored 10 top #20 hits (including the #1 “I Am Woman), was a frequent guest on variety shows, and had lent her voice to Pete’s Dragon, released theatrically by Disney that year. Here, she sings “Blue,” a single off her 1978 album, “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.” The way she actually performs the song is very sweet, and shows her versatility.
Once again, we move away from the holidays with a skit entitled “German Water Inspector.” Do I have to write anything else except to say that Tim Conway plays the German water inspector, to convince you that this one is hilarious? I thought not. Moving on…
Ken Berry proves himself to be much more than a comedian with this song and dance number, “Song and Dance Man.” Prior to seeing this sketch, I had no idea, that Ken Berry was such a strong tap dancer. The things you learn!
“Person’s Weekly Magazine” consists of two mini-sketches. Vicki plays a fast-talking stewardess aboard the Concorde; a senate ethics committee calls a witness, played by Ken Berry who wants to clear his conscience, and a Senator (Tim Conway) on the committee accepts a payoff. If you put this sketch in the context of the Watergate hearings, which weren’t in the too distant past at the time, this skit has a little bite.
There’s a nice “Strike Up the Band” musical finale featuring Carol, Helen Reddy, Vicki Lawrence and Kenny Berry. However, one can’t help but think something a little more seasonal would have been nice, given the vocal talent available.
Each episode contains a disclaimer at the beginning stating that some material may have occasional flaws in the image and sound quality, but the best materials were sought out in the making of this DVD. Given the series age, quality is too much of an issue. Presented in 4:3, the color isn’t what you would call vivid, but it’s not faded either. I did notice a few scratches here and there, but nothing that distracted from the overall viewing experience.
Presented in mono, the audio provides clear and rather concise dialogue throughout. The singing portions of the disc won’t give your set up a workout—very pedestrian stuff here—but the music sounds fine if a tad flat in a few spots. While not perfect, fans should be pleased to have this set available.
The following extras are included:
Show #017, Original Air Date: December 25, 1967
- Q&A – Jonathan Winters: Always funny, Winters had his own show set to debut on the network in the new year.
- Christmas Night Quarrel: Carol and one of comedy’s legends, Sid Caesar squabble over when to take the tree down.
- Charwoman: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Carol offers a wonderful rendition of this Christmas standard.
Show #114, Original Air Date: December 30, 1968
- The Twelve Days After Christmas: In prim and proper fashion, Carol sings a diddy Scrooge would be proud of.
- Booklet: A four page episode guide is included inside the case.
I have to admit, before checking out this DVD, I had never seen Disney’s Gravity Falls. What was my general reaction? This is one strange, sometimes funny show. Pre-teen twins Mabel (voiced by Kristen Schaal) and worry wart dipper (Jason Ritter) have been to the small town of Gravity Falls, Oregon to spend the summer with their stern but loving great-uncle, “Grunkle” Stan (series creator Alex Hirsch) and work at his business, a tourist trap called the Mystery Shack.
The twins quickly befriend the Mystery Shack’s only other employees, the obese, somewhat odd Soos (Hirsch, again) and friendly teenager Wendy (Linda Cardelini). Nothing seems particularly exciting or out of the ordinary until Dipper finds a journal full of the town’s secrets, and the cryptic warning: “trust no one.” Being 12, the twins are understandably intrigued. The book suggests the town is inhabited by some weird creatures. Mabel immediately begins hoping for vampires. You see, she’d really like to find her first boyfriend, and having read a lot, believes that’s her best hope of finding one (Twilight, anyone?). It makes perfect sense.
While she does find a boyfriend, he’s not exactly a vampire. I will say this though, Mabel is do bubbly and self assured, she’s probably just the kind of girl most tweens would want to meet. While some of the things found in the journal are definitely a bit weird, Gravity Falls succeeds on the strength of its humor and creativity. At just 27, creator/executive producer Alex Hirsch clearly isn’t afraid to try new things. It really appears as if each of the half dozen episodes presented here were created with his friends in mind, rather than trying to specifically cater to the tastes of today’s children. As a result, some adults will likely find some things to enjoy about Gravity Falls.
The series first six episodes contained on this set, are as follows:
- “Tourist Trapped” (21:04) Initially, Dipper worries that Mabel’s new boyfriend is a zombie. As it turns out, “he” is a quintet of gnomes.
- “The Legend of the Gobblewonker” (21:32) Dipper and Mabel abandon Grunkle Stan on Family Fun Day in an effort to win $1000 by snapping a photo of a monster.
- “Headhunters” (21:55) After Stan reopens the wax museum, a murder mystery unfolds when Mabel’s sculpture of him is found beheaded.
- “The Hand That Rocks Mabel” (22:19) Mabel finds it difficult to turn down the advances of Lil Gideon, Grunkle Stan’s rival psychic.
- “The Inconveniencing” (20:27) While hanging out with Wendy and her friends, Di[[er and Mabel break into an abandoned convenience store that just might be haunted.
- “Dipper vs. Manliness” (22:34) Minotaur’s help Dipper uncover his manly side. And Mabel helps Stan get the attention of his crush, waitress, Lazy Susan.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, you’ll notice some slight ringing around the edges, but it’s nothing that affects the viewing experience. Colors are very good, bringing a definite vibrancy to the proceedings. For a standard definition animation title, this transfer is more than acceptable.
In terms of audio, we are given a basic, but workable Dolby 2.0 presentation. Dialogue is clear and intelligible throughout. English SDH subtitles are provided.
There are no extras on the disc, but inside the case there is a replica of Mystery Book Journal #3. It features scribblings, illustrations, and a Gravity Falls reference map.
Inspired by the 1948 film of the same name, Naked City centers on the detectives of NYPD’s 65th Precinct, but the criminals, and the city of New York itself often played as big a role as anything else in an episode. Running for four seasons from 1958-63, the first season ran under the title The Naked City, as a half-hour series starring James Franciscus and John McIntire playing, respectively, Detective Jimmy Halloran and Lt. Dan Muldoon—the same characters in the 1948 film. When McIntire decided to leave the series midway through the season, his character is dramatically killed off when his car bursts into flames. Certainly a rarity for 1950’s television! In that same episode, Horace McMahon was introduced as Lieutenant Mike Parker, who would stick around for the duration.
Initially cancelled after its first season, ABC brought the show back in 1960 in an hour long format. This revamped version featured Horace McMahon as Lieutenant Mike Parker, and Paul Burke as Detective Adam Flint. The hour long episodes are really the strength of the show; given the extra time, the stories are able to truly develop and come to satisfactory conclusions without feeling rushed.
While modern audiences might view the acting as melodramatic, the stories are steeped in the noir tradition that pervaded Hollywood during much of the 1940’s and 50’s. Stark in its appearance, and straightforward with its dialogue, “Sweet Prince of Delancey Street” which aired in 1961, and considered by many to be one of the best television episodes of all time, is a great example of the series’ style. The story revolves around a robbery and murder at a warehouse where both father and son are suspects. The detective work it takes to piece together various versions of the story, along with notable performances by Robert Morse, James Dunn, and a very young Dustin Hoffman makes for a riveting hour of television.
While Naked City gave much of the focus to lawbreakers, my favorite episodes, “Prime of Life” turns the spotlight on Paul Burke. Detective Flint attends the execution of a man helped put away. Fellow officers and members of the press join him as they watch the man die. Flint’s discomfort while waiting for the man to die leads to flashbacks that not only shed light on the man being executed, but also help us to understand Flint in some unexpected ways. For the first time in the series, we are given an unfettered glimpse at the moral code that makes Burke the man he is.
Naked City is the precursor to the Law & Order franchise. Watching it, I couldn’t help but wonder if Dick Wolf had been a fan. Like Wolf’s popular shows, Naked City is a police procedural where the city is just as important as any of the characters, the criminals are different every week, and no matter how hard, the police keep fighting the good fight.
The acting is top notch in every episode. That’s not surprising since the list of the guest stars reads like a who’s who of Hollywood: Alan Alda, Michael Ansara, Ed Asner, Martin Balsam, Barbara Barrie, Orson Bean, Robert Blake, James Caan Joseph Campanella, Diahann Carroll, James Coburn, Michael Constantine, William Daniels, Sandy Dennis, Bruce Dern, David Doyle, Keir Dullea, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, James Farentino, Peter Fonda, Harry Guardino, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Hopper, Diana Hyland, Richard Jaeckel, David Janssen, Jack Klugman, Shirley Knight, Piper Laurie, Diane Ladd, Audra Lindley, Jack Lord, George Maharis, Nancy Marchand, Sylvia Miles, Vic Morrow, Barry Morse, Robert Morse, Lois Nettleton, Leslie Nielsen, Carroll O’Connor, Suzanne Pleshette, Robert Redford, Doris Roberts, Telly Savalas, George Segal, William Shatner, Martin Sheen, Jean Stapleton, Maureen Stapleton, Rod Steiger, Rip Torn, Cicely Tyson, Jon Voight, Christopher Walken, Deborah Walley, Jack Warden, Tuesday Weld, Dick York and more. There’s really some amazing talent here!
Canceled the final time after 138 episodes, Naked City is a police procedural still capable of provided riveting entertainment fifty years after it left network television. Hopefully, Image Entertainment’s recent release of this Complete Series box set will spark new interest in the show, because Naked City deserves to be rediscovered.
Framed in 1.33:1, the Black and white transfers look pretty good. A couple of episodes from the first season look like the source material might not have been as good as the rest, but all-in-all this is fine stuff.
Audio wise, we are presented with a simple, yet effective Dolby Digital mono mix. Dialogue is clear throughout.
The set contains all 138 episodes on 29 DVDs.
The following special features are available
• Commercials (12:06) are a dozen of the sponsors from the run of Naked City; there’s a lot of cigarettes and over the counter medicine. Peter Lorre endorses a flexible watchband.
Many Three Stooges fans will welcome this five-disc (four DVDs and one CD) deluxe set, new from Image Madacy Entertainment, The New Three Stooges Complete Cartoon Collection. This marks the first home video release of all 156 animated shorts produced for the The New Three Stooges, originally aired from 1965-66. As an added bonus, the shorts are enhanced by ‘wraparounds’ featuring the ‘real’ Stooges—Moe Howard, Larry Fine, “Curly” Joe Derita, and Emil Sitka—performing some of the skits that made them famous.
The animation shorts were produced by Cambria Studios, and Moe Howard’s son-in-law, Norman Maurer, served as executive producer on the 41 live-action shorts. By the mid-sixties, the Three Stooges were well past their prime and it shows. The original Curly had died in 1952, he had been replaced by a game ‘Curly’ Joe Derita, but it just wasn’t the same. Larry and Moe were aging and dealing with health problems, and it was obvious. The slapstick humor that team is famous for has been heavily watered down; you might say they were a kinder, gentler version of the Three Stooges. To make matters worse, in an effort to avoid legal issues, the familiar theme songs used in previous Stooge shorts (“Three Blind Mice, “Listen to the Mockingbird”) were discarded.
The cartoons themselves are aimed at very young viewers. As such, this set will primarily appeal to those who have watched the original series on television, and the hardcore stooge fans among us. If you are new to the Three Stooges, and interested in starting a collection, don’t start here. It’s nice to have The New Three Stooges: Complete Cartoon Collection available, but it’s more of a curiosity for diehard fans than a true example of the Three Stooges at their best.
Each episode of The New Three Stooges: Complete Cartoon Collection is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame. The transfer quality is best described as mediocre. The colors look washed out, and dirt and other small defects are evident throughout. Nonetheless, this is probably the best this series is ever going to look.
The soundtracks for each episode are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 in English. They’re nothing special, but do the job well enough. Dialogue is occasionally muffled, but generally understandable. Music and effects sound fine. There are no alternate subtitles or audio tracks on this four disc set.
Image Madacy has delivered this set in a nice package. It’s a nice sturdy box, with a thick cardboard fold-out tray housing the discs. The fifth disc is an audio CD containing two Stooges music albums. The first dozen tracks are from Sing-a-Long with the Three Stooges and the second eleven are from Christmas Time with the Three Stooges. It makes for a nice little extra.
A spin-off from a recurring series of comedy sketches on The Carol Burnett Show called The Family, which ran from 1974 to 1978; Mama’s Family was finally launched after the success of the 1982 made-for-TV movie, named after Mama’s daughter Eunice (played by Carol Burnett). One of the most popular series in syndication during its run, Mama’s Family: The Complete Collection is now available on DVD. For the time being at least, it’s only available online exclusively at MamasFamilyDVDs.com.
Given its variety show beginnings, it’s no surprise that Mama’s Family has the feel of a sketch comedy show—particularly during the first two seasons—than a traditional sitcom. Never taking itself or life too seriously, Mama’s Family was the kind of show teenagers and adults alike could watch to get a few laughs, yet still relate to. The atmosphere is warm, and the humor is consistently goofy.
Thelma Harper, aka Mama (Vicki Lawrence) a widow and lifelong resident of Raytown, lives with her never-married sister Fran (Rue McClanahan), a writer for the local paper who dreams of publishing a novel. One day, Thelma’s son Vinton (Ken Berry), down on his luck, and divorced, convinces Mama to let him and his two children, Sonja (Karin Argoud) and Buzz (Eric Brown), move in with her. Not particularly ambitious, he content to work at at Kwik Keys as a locksmith, while waiting for one of his get-rich-quick schemes to pan out. Cantankerous, pesky and full of wisecracks, having her son and grandchildren under the same roof worked well for Thelma, it allowed her to comment on everything they did, and be in the center of all the chaos!
Several episodes into the first season, Vinton marries next door neighbor, and a woman Thelma considers a tramp, Naomi Oates (Dorothy Lyman), who also moves into Mama’s house, when the happy and affectionate newlywed’s plans to invest in, and live at an Arizona trailer park go belly up.
For a season and a half, this incarnation of Mama’s family ran on NBC from 1983-1984, with Carol Burnett turning up in six episodes as Thelma’s daughter Eunice Higgins in six episodes and Harvey Korman as Eunice’s husband Ed, on three occasions. For me, those times when Carol Burnett would show up are just comedy gold. She and Vicki Lawrence clearly know each other very well, and their timing is impeccable. The way Burnett’s Eunice screeches, “Mama!” just gets me every time. Unfortunately, the show was getting beaten pretty handily by Magnum P.I. in the ratings, and NBC cancelled the show.
I suppose fans should have known that pesky Thelma Harper would go away that easily! The show was revived for first-run syndication in 1986 by Carol Burnett’s now ex-husband Joe Hamilton’s production company and Lorimar-Telepictures. Gone was Rue McClanahan, now riding high as Blanche Deveraux on NBC’s The Golden Girls (though her The Golden Girls co-star Betty White would make a couple more appearances on the series as Thelma’s wealthy, egotistical daughter, Ellen), Carol Burnett as Eunice, who’d gone through a bitter divorce from Executive Producer Joe Hamilton in 1984, Harvey Korman, Eric Brown, and Karin Argoud. Mentioned briefly in the opening episode of third season, Buzz and Sonja were never brought up again, quickly replaced by Allan Keyser as Bubba Higgins, Ed and Eunice’s son. Recently released from juvenile hall, he’s forced to move in with Mama after his parents move to Florida without telling him. A true dimwit, Bubba was a great ‘straight man’ for Mama. The regular appearances of well-meaning , yet obnoxious neighbor Iola Boylan (Beverly Archer) was always worth a chuckle, especially since she had a crush on Vinton, which leads to a somewhat icy relationship between her and Vint’s wife, Naomi.
Like most StarVista Entertainment and Time Life series releases, Mama’s Family: The Complete Collection will take up some space on your shelf, but look great doing it. The full color box measures a hefty 9-and-a-half inches tall by 7-and-a half-inches wide and 4-and-a-half inches deep. It closes via a fairly sturdy magnetic flap. The front is cut out, allowing you to see Mama’s face, part of the full cover picture that graces the cover of the enclosed booklet. Inside are individually shrink wrapped DVD sets of all six seasons, and another two DVD set that houses the plentiful extras.
Each DVD case provides a nice summary of the season, and episode guide, complete with air dates. As a long time fan of television, I love watching shows that feature appearances by Hollywood legends and big name celebrities. I freely admit that one of the reasons I initially started watching The Carol Burnett Show so many years ago, is because she had some truly awesome guest stars. While Mama’s Family didn’t quite measure up in that department, the list of guest stars is fairly impressive nonetheless: Lewis Arquette, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Imogene Coca, Richard Dawson, Jack Gilford, Anne Haney and more. For those who might be wondering, the introductory segments starring Harvey Korman as Alastair Quince, absent from previous releases, have been restored here.
Presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, these transfers are typical of the broadcast era. Colors aren’t what could be considered vibrant, but they aren’t faded. StarVista Entertainment says that all 130 episodes were transferred from their original masters, and there’s no reason to doubt that claim.
Audio is provided via a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track, which is fine for this dialogue centered series. Voices are clear throughout; no hisses or pops are evident.
The extras spread across the six individual seasons and on that two-disc special bonus features DVD set are impressive. With over ten hours of goodies, fans get a good look at the history of Mama’s Family, and ample opportunity to here the cast reflect on their time doing the show. I’ve broken them down by season:
- Mama’s Family Tree: The Branches (All About Eunice and Ellen) (16:45)
- The Family sketch from an episode of The Carol Burnett Show aired on December 11, 1976. (15:50)
- The made-for-TV movie Eunice, which aired in 1982. (113:55)
- Mama’s Family Tree: The Roots (Mama and Fran) (19:53)
- Vicki Lawrence Interviews Mama (4:26)
- Vicki Lawrence and Carol Burnett Interview (20:01)
- Betty White interview (12:33)
- The Family sketch from an episode of The Carol Burnett Show aired on November 16, 1976. (14:46)
- Mama’s Family Tree: The Sprouts (All About Bubba) (11:04)
- Mama Knows Best: A Mama’s Family Cast Reunion (24:43)
- Allan Kayser Interview (13:15)
- Mama’s Family Tree: The Neighbors (All About Iola) (16:00)
- Beverly Archer Interview (10:28)
- Under One Roof: A Mama’s Family Cast Reunion 27:45)
- Vicki Lawrence Interview (20:40)
- Dorothy Lyman Interview (10:23)
- Ken Berry Interview (9:07)
- Executive Producer Rick Hawkins Interview (27:26)
- Writer/ Producer Jim Evering Interview (20:26)
- Writer Manny Basanese Interview (21:38)
- Vicki Lawrence and Executive Producer Rick Hawkins Interview (19:26)
- Interview with Costume Designers Bob Mackie and Ret Turner. (31:55)
The Bonus Discs (available only with the Mama’s Family: Complete Series)
- The first appearance of The Family, on The Carol Burnett Show, March 16, 1974 (12:35)
- Mama’s Family Tree: The Lovebirds (All About Vint and Naomi) (13:53)
- Family Business: A Mama’s Family Cast Reunion (33:43)
- Family Scrapbook: Classic Mama’s Family Bloopers (13:54)
- Beverly Archer Interview (10:53)
- Allan Kayser Interview (10:25)
- Vicki Lawrence Interview (19:23)
- Dorothy Lyman Interview (10:36)
- Ken Berry Interview (12:34)
- Mama’s Family Tree: The Seeds (from The Family to Mama’s Family) (17:37)
- Family Style: Creating the World of Mama’s Family (25:21)
- Family Fun: Game Shows and Showdowns on Mama’s Family (11:49)
- Family Secrets: The True Stories Behind Some Classic Mama’s Family Bloopers (13:55)
- Mama’s Family Tree: A Little More About Vint and Naomi (20:14)
- Mama’s Family Tree: The Hometown (All About Raytown) (8:35)
- Family Folklore: The Gang Remembers Some Special Episodes (14:24)
- Tim Conway Interview (12:57)
- Ret Turner Interview (27:15)
- Rick Hawkins Interview (27:04)
- Jim Evering Interview (17:20)
- Manny Basanese Interview (19:45)
Like most of Ingmar Bergman’s best films, Autumn Sonata is so masterful in its presentation that the intense, emotional world of its characters—in this case an isolated, roomy parson’s house in the south of Norway—overwhelms our senses and becomes the total focus of our attention.
Charlotte, played beautifully by Ingrid Bergman, is a renowned concert pianist who spent weeks and even months at a time practicing and touring while her daughters were raised by her father. Visiting her daughter Eva (Liv Ullmann) for the first time in seven years, Charlotte is chatty, vital and obviously vain. The visit starts of friendly enough, with Eva eager to make her mother comfortable and Charlotte apparently wanting to here all about Eva’s life. However, tensions soon begin to surface when Charlotte learns that her other daughter, Helena (Lena Nyman), stricken with a crippling disease is living with Eva and her husband Viktor (Halvar Bjork). Helena’s presence makes Charlotte visibly uncomfortable, which brings up feelings of childhood neglect for Eva.
It becomes clear over the course of the film that Charlotte was ambivalent about motherhood. She has a look of utter contempt as she looks on after having pressured Eva into playing what she’s been learning, Chopin’s second piano prelude. She pretends not to want to come in and rescue everyone from Eva’s intense but clumsy hands by playing it correctly, beautifully, and therefore humiliating her daughter. After not seeing each other for so many years, the ease with which Charlotte interrupts her daughter’s impromptu piano recital is a hint of a well established pattern.
When Charlotte is awakened by a horrific nightmare and Eva is experiencing insomnia the two meet for what soon becomes a confrontation. Eva sternly blames her mother for the fearful, damaged woman she’s become. Charlotte is shocked by her daughter’s hysteria, but initially won’t allow herself to come down from her egotistical heights. Cinematographer Sven Nykvist does a great job of framing Ullmann and Ingrid Bergman in a way that allows us to watch each woman experience a range of emotions in the most intimate way possible. It is especially fascinating to watch Bergman, as Charlotte is finally forced to let down a wall that has been in place for years, and admit she doesn’t know how to truly express love.
Ingmar Bergman’s writing is superb, but it’s the acting the truly stands out here. Ingrid Bergman is a revelation. Unable to rely on the beauty of her youth and forced to abandon the sweeping hand motions of her stage training, the actress takes us into her world largely through her facial expressions and body language. Liv Ullmann is equally effective in the role of Eva. A far more poignant part, she confronts her mother about their past in a brutal, unforgiving manner. Ullman matches Bergman line for line and is truly a great actress. Considering all of Liv Ullmann’s collaborations with Ingmar Bergman, Autumn Sonata is certainly one of the best.
Framed in 1.66:1, this new 2K Digital restoration looks as good as any standard DVD ever can. The many close-ups are clear and show a nice level of detail. The sets are beautiful, showing off strong colors including a dark red painted stairway hall. There are no scratches or anomalies to be found. Nice work from Criterion.
The mono audio track is a solid one. The soundtrack includes utilizes various piano pieces, which come across very nicely. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. There are no anomalies present. An English-dubbed track is present.
English subtitles are included.
The following special features are available:
- Audio Commentary by Peter Cowie: This is the only extra carried over from the 1999 release, though back then it was dubbed an “audio essay.” Either way, it’s interesting and informative.
- Film Introduction by Ingmar Bergman (7:52) Taken from footage shot for Swedish Television in 2003 for what would become the documentary Bergman Island, the director recalls how the film came about, after an earlier promise to Ingrid Bergman that the two would work together.
- The Making of Autumn Sonata (3:26:33) The gem of the set, this feature-length documentary takes us behind-the-scenes for a look at the production from the initial meeting of cast and crew through table readings, line and blocking rehearsals, make-up and wardrobe tests, and fifty shooting days. Shot by still photographer Arne Carlsson, this documentary isn’t to be missed.
- Liv Ullmann Interview (18:54) Shot in 2013, Ullmann discusses many tense moments between Ingmar Bergman and his star Ingrid Bergman. Apparently, some of their disagreements nearly shut down production even before it began.
- Ingrid Bergman at the National Film Theater (39:24) In a 1981 interview with John Russell Taylor and question and answer session, the actress discusses everything from her early Swedish films through her Selznick-Hollywood years, the Rossellini period, and her international film and stage career.
- Theatrical Trailer (2:30)
- Booklet: A 20-page booklet with a new essay on the film by critic Farran Smith Nehme.
Boasting the largest home video library in the world, it should come as no surprise that Warner Bros. is celebrating its 90th birthday in a big way. Beginning in January with the release of two massive box sets—Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection on DVD and Best of Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection on Blu-ray—the studio made it clear they would be opening up their massive catalog to entice movie collectors and casual film fans alike, to beef up their personal movie collections.
In January, Warner also started releasing a series of smaller DVD 20 film collections divided into genre—Best Pictures, Musicals, Romance, Comedy and most recently Thrillers—these sets, consisting of previously released titles, are perhaps best suited for collectors looking to consolidate shelf space, or a new collector looking to grab a handful of films at a very reasonable price (20 films at an SRP of $98.92 works out to slightly less than $3:50 per film, and several online retailers have the sets for less.
While Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Thrillers can’t possible provide everything in the genre the studio has to offer, the set includes some of the industry’s biggest stars, working with renowned directors on some truly great films. Here are the included titles: The Public Enemy (1931), The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Big Sleep (1946), Strangers on a Train (1951), North by Northwest (1959), Dirty Harry (1971), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Lethal Weapon: Director’s Cut (1987/2000), Batman (1989), Goodfellas (1990), The Fugitive (1993),
Natural Born Killers: The Director’s Cut (1994), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Seven (1995), Heat (1995), L.A. Confidential (1997), American History X (1998), The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), The Town (2010).
It is interesting to note that 70% of the films were released from 1971 on, and nearly half the titles were released theatrically in the ‘90s. Some classic film fans are bound to feel a bit slighted. With that said, there are plenty of highlights: The Maltese Falcon, Strangers on a Train, North By Northwest, Dog Day Afternoon, Goodfellas, The Shawshank Redemption (which may or may not be a thriller), LA Confidential, and The Dark Knight are all must-haves for any serious film fan.
All twenty films are presented in their original theatrical aspect ratios (or a close approximation) and the sixteen made in widescreen are enhanced for 16:9 displays. As you might expect, results vary from disc to disc. Suffice to say that in general, a majority of the transfers are good to superb when considering they are in standard definition. Most viewers should be pleased, though those used to high definition may want to seek out their Blu-ray counterparts.
The lossy Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono on Public Enemy, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Strangers on a Train and Dog Day Afternoon aren’t bad, considering their age, but do exhibit some weak spots. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes on the rest of the DVDs are fine, but some (Dirty Harry, Lethal Weapon, North by Northwest, GoodFellas and Batman (1989) are not originally 5.1 films and it shows.
All twenty films are accompanied by some of the special features that can be found on their original DVD releases. There are hours of audio commentaries and featurettes to keep viewers busy for hours.
Spreading across an entire New York City block, Bergdorf Goodman is a veritable shrine to the best fashion has to offer. Still overseen by the descendants of the same family that began it back in 1901, Bergdorf’s has inspired awe from its workers, customers and the fashion designers lucky enough to have their products available there.
The epitome of luxury, spending $6,000 on a pair of boots is expected. Director Matthew Miele’s Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s is a gloriously vain documentary about a place where the best fashion designers in the world sell their wares to drape the nouveau and old money riche. One female interviewee remarks that yes, while these are expensive things; it gives the dreamers “something to aspire to.” While her statement does come off sounding a bit pompous, in this capitalist society we live in, she has a valid point. None of us knows what we would do with it if we had a lot of disposable income. Perhaps we would become fashionista’s like the celebrities featured in this documentary. Heck, we are told that on Christmas Eve many moons ago, Yoko Ono dropped $400,000 on furs (in 1970’s money), while John Lennon looked on approvingly.
Though Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s was partly funded by a descendent of one of the founders, Matthew Miele has made a lively film that’s not overly reverential to its subject. It takes a look at the store’s legendary personal shoppers, with particular focus on Betty Halbreich, who at 85 has shopped for countless celebrities and has reportedly had her life story optioned to HBO. It also examines the creation of the display windows, which I have to admit, are impressive.
We get to look on as fashion director Linda Fargo decides whether young designers are ready to have their clothes in the store. Charming, yet decisive she knows what’s appropriate for the store and will accept nothing less. I’ll admit though, when young designer Ally Hilfiger, the daughter of Tommy came in, I couldn’t help but wonder if a little nepotism was at work.
Fashion fans are bound to love the faces that show up here. Miele has gathered 175 interviews. Karl Lagerfeld, Mark Jacobs, Vera Wang and Jason Wu serve to reinforce designer Isaac Mizrahi’s statement that clothes that aren’t at Bergdorf’s are clothes going nowhere. It’s fascinating to watch these fashion heavyweights discuss their passion, but if you’re looking for a critical analysis of Bergdorf Goodman, look elsewhere.
The special features are inconsequential but amusing. There is an alternate introduction and interview outtakes.