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A&E Home Video presents
The Sid Caesar Collection: The Fan Favorites (50th Anniversary Edition) (1950-1958)

"You don't question the magic."
- Sid Caesar (on his partnership with Imogene Coca)

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: June 28, 2004

Stars: Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris
Other Stars: Nanette Fabray, Pat Carroll, Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Mel Tolkin, Danny Simon
Director: Greg Garrison, Bill Hobin

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Release Date: June 29, 2004
UPC: 767685959039
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A ABB B-

DVD Review

There's an old musical saying along the lines of "the blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll." Applied to the infancy of television, perhaps it would be paraphrased like this: Comedy and TV cohabitated and out came Sid Caesar.

Though Milton Berle may have been the first comedian to grace the tube, the Yonkers, New York native saw beyond warmed-over vaudeville and going for the easy laugh (like coming out in a dress every week) to more creatively challenging ideas. Thanks to a successful stint on the multi-network (NBC and the short-lived DuMont) broadcast, Admiral Broadway Revue, Caesar and co-star Imogene Coca were given the green light by NBC to star in a weekly 90-minute program to be broadcast from New York called Your Show of Shows. Together with Revue alumnus Howard Morris, the couple soon to be known as the king and queen of sketch comedy were put together with what could only be classified as a dream team of writers and performers whose future contributions to television, films, and Broadway are mind numbing: Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show, Oh, God!, The Jerk), Neil Simon (The Odd Couple and many classic Broadway plays), Mel Brooks (The Producers, Get Smart, Blazing Saddles), Danny Simon (The Carol Burnett Show), Mel Tolkin (All in the Family), and Lucille Kallen (one of television's few women writers in the medium's early, male-dominated age).

After an amazing four-year, multi-Emmy-winning run, Show's curtain fell, but Sid kept going with Caesar's Hour, and included many of the key players from his past two television projects, adding newcomers Pat Carroll and Nanette Fabray. In a testament to its quality, Hour became the first program to sweep all four acting honors for a comedy series, an Emmy first. Ensuing years saw Caesar giving up the weekly grind for occasional, highly rated specials (including a late-'60s reunion with Morris, Reiner, and Coca that resulted in yet another Television Academy keepsake for their respective mantels).

However, mention the name Sid Caesar to today's typical television connoisseurs and the most likely response will be, "Is that a new menu offering from Wendy's?" Lucky for them and those of us who pride ourselves on our knowledge of comedy history, A&E has obtained the rights to two amazing multi-disc collections showcasing this amazing, groundbreaking performer and his troupe of comedy clowns at their history-making finest.

The Sid Caesar Collection: The Fan Favorites brings together 20 of the comedian's best loved moments from his two landmark series as selected by fans. Additionally, recently recorded, smoothly blended interviews with many of the principals (including later contributors Larry Gelbart of M*A*S*H* glory and genius-in-the-making Woody Allen) provide entertaining, informative segues that offer insights into various sketches, remembrances of writers' contributions and the rare combination of comraderie and mutual respect that surely made 30 Rockerfeller Plaza an amazing place to creatively play in the olden days.

What truly amazed me about this "best of" is how well these sketches hold up after over half a century. I'll admit, the pacing to many viewers might be initially off-putting when compared to today's fast-paced, go-for-the-comedic-jugular mentality. But the patiently rendered set-ups hold your attention so well, that when the punchlines and payoffs come, you wind up laughing just as much as you would at a killer segment of Saturday Night Live (a spotty commodity these days).

Among the true high points: A Streetcar Named???, a take-off of the classic Marlon Brando-Vivien Leigh movie featuring Caesar's wicked take on the legendary actor; the breathtaking, letter-perfect silent movie homage A Drunk There Was that will have you thinking you're watching Silent Sunday on Turner Classic Movies (and it's even more amazing, when, like every other performance on television back then, it was done live); The Small Apartment, which hits home with anyone who's had to deal with cramped quarters (featuring a hilarious turn by Howard Morris, the show's truly live wire); the Kurosawa parody U-Bet-U, showcasing Fabray's gorgeous singing voice; and Break Your Brains, one of television's first instances of biting the hand that fed it—a game show parody for the ages with Reiner as your typical hot-air master of ceremonies welcoming back his returning edge-of-a nervous-breakdown contestant (Caesar) for his 25th week in a row! Coincidentally, there's a bit in this sketch where Sid recites what has to be three to four pages of dialogue at Concorde-like speed to provide an answer to one of the quiz questions that I'm sure will move many to utilize the replay button in awe. (He even goes "Geez!" a couple of times himself on the skit's companion audio commentary).

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: Preserved as kinescopes from television's infancy, the set's video varies from almost pristine film-like quality to extremely grainy. Complete Post (the same company that worked wonders with Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback and Aloha from Hawaii specials) have done a very notable job in cleaning up as many of the shortcomings as possible, which merits a very pleasant collective viewing experience. But since this is history-making art, any remaining flaws should be taken well by those interested in content, not visual anomalies.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Listed as a Dolby Digital Stereo mix, these ears perceived it to be twin-channel mono. Still, an impressive clean-up job that takes away much of the pops, hisses, and muddiness that marred similar archival material from this period back in the early days of syndication and home video. All dialogue sounded crisply clear and possessed a very admirable lack of screeching high end (especially during audience applause at the end of a skit).

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 40 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
3 Discs
3-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Sid Caesar Audio Commentaries on Auto Smash-Up, Gallipacci and Break Your Brains Sketches
  2. Bonus Sketches (Pantomime at Coney Island, Continental Express and The Beauty Contest
  3. Bonus Interviews
  4. Photo Galleries
  5. Original Scripts From Selected Sketches
Extras Review: An otherwise grade "A" package is marred by certain extras that promise more than they deliver (very few photos; far-too-brief interview outtakes). But the Caesar commentaries are extremely insightful, fresh, and very entertaining. So much in fact, that you long to hear his take on the other gems included. But we'll take what we can get.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

Whether you're a fan from the early days or you're a newbie wanting to expand you knowledge of comedy history by watching one of the masters of the form in action, backed by an equally amazing array of supporting talent, The Sid Caesar Collection: The Fan Favorites is a remarkable compilation of classic performances serving as a true testament to his invaluable influence. Beyond recommended.

 


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