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Rhino presents
Best of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In 2 (1969-1971)

"Very interesting!"
- Wolfgang (Arte Johnson)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: March 24, 2004

Stars: Dan Rowan, Dick Martin
Other Stars: Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Alan Sues, Ruth Buzzi, JoAnne Worley, Teresa Graves, Goldie Hawn, Gary Owens, Johnny Brown, Judy Carne, Ann Elder, Jeremy Lloyd, Barbara Sharma, Lily Tomlin, Greer Garson, Lorne Greene, Milton Berle, Danny Kaye, Herb Alpert, Peter Lawford, Jill St. John, Dinah Shore
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mildy suggestive humor)
Run Time: 05h:30m:00s
Release Date: February 24, 2004
UPC: 603497013623
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B C+B+B- B-

DVD Review

Debuting in 1968, and running until 1973, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In stands as one of the more truly innovative variety shows that television has ever unleashed, unveiled during a time of great political and societal upheaval in this country. Developed by George Schlatter, Laugh-In starred the relatively unknown (to television audiences, at least) comedy team of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, and an even larger stable of as-yet-unknowns that would become quickly famous in their own right, names like Goldie Hawn, Arte Johnson, and Lily Tomlin. The show was a fast-paced vaudeville experience, built around corny jokes, video blackouts, rapid editing, flubbed lines, augmented by splashy "flower power" colors and a sanitized counter-culture sensibility.

Rhino has begun issuing "best of" collections, and this second installment is another three-disc set featuring random one-hour episodes (actually :49m each, minus commercials), spread out two per disc. There's no obvious rhyme or reason to the episode selection, and the choices here feature two from December 1969, two from March 1970, and one each from September 1968 and February 1971. As a result, it's a pretty nice cross-section of the Laugh-In experience, including some noticeable variation in some of the supporting players.

The show gave birth to a wealth of memorable characters, skits, and catchphrases (Arte Johnson's leering Nazi, Henry Gibson's forlorn poet; "Sock it to me!", "You bet your bippy", "Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls", "Here comes the judge!"; Ruth Buzzi's purse-swinging old lady, the joke wall, and the cocktail party collection of quick one-liners) all sandwiched between Rowan and Martin's patented back-and-forth Vegas schtick. One of the few ageless things about Laugh-In is watching Dick Martin's delivery and timing, which was casual, relaxed and nearly impeccable. All things being equal, Martin was the without a doubt the lynch pin of the duo, and try as he might, Dan Rowan could just never really match him comedically, but they worked so well together, like two halves of the same whole.

Much of the humor doesn't really hold up so well in hindsight, and much of it is understandably dated, but it is the presentation that matters here, and watching the show 35 years after the fact, this isn't just a simple time capsule, but a daring precursor to the frenetic style that other shows would later emulate. The appeal of the show was always about an abundance of gags—the jokes come nonstop, and some work, while others don't. It's all about quantity over quality.

You bet your bippy.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: I was blown away by the colors on the full-frame transfers in this set, which I'm wagering look brighter than they did on televisions in 1968. Detail is a little soft, but the episodes look remarkably clean, and devoid of any major debris.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in 2.0 mono, and the presentation is tolerable, but unremarkable. Never a problem hearing a punchline, and the music sounds lively enough, but there is noticeable flatness to the mix that is likely simply age-related.

More than serviceable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 66 cues and remote access
3 Documentaries
Packaging: Tri-Fold Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
3 Discs
3-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Three-quarters of the extras from Rhino on this set are worth a look. Disc 1 features an Interview with Alan Sues (19m:03s) in which the flamboyant Laugh-In supporting player recounts some stories about the golden days, and how he was selected to be part of the show. They could have backed the camera up a bit (what's with the closeup?), but the material is good stuff. Disc 2 contains an Interview with Dick Martin (20m:40s), and aside from my initial shock to see an 82-year-old Dick Martin (!), I was pleased to see that the guy has retained his sense of humor and general likability. He cites some great anecdotes about the early days, before Laugh-In, and touches on some fond reminiscences of the show's run. The least worthy piece is found Disc 3, which is an interview with "television historian" Hal Erickson (31m:11s), in which he pontificates a bit too seriously about the role Laugh-In played. Also included is an info-packed 17-page booklet about the show.

Each episode is cut into 11 chapters.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

This was cutting-edge stuff at one time, and Rhino continues their delivery of "best of" sets with this three-disc look back. Who care if the actual jokes are dated?

Laugh-In, which obviously doesn't look as subversive now as it once did, was unpredictable and chaotic. Just like the era that spawned it.


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