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Kultur presents
Judy Duets (2005)

"Let's face it, we're the last of the big belters!"
- Ethel Merman

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: January 17, 2006

Stars: Judy Garland
Other Stars: Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Mickey Rooney, Mel Tormé, Lena Horne, Count Basie, Ethel Merman, Tony Bennett, Jack Jones, Mickey Rooney, Peggy Lee, Vic Damone, Liza Minnelli
Director: Bill Hobin, Dean Whitmore

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:01m:14s
Release Date: November 22, 2005
UPC: 032031244597
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Ever since she died in 1969—and even before—Judy Garland's life and legacy has been plagued by scores of misconceptions and half-truths, many of which a host of incompetent and opportunistic biographers have happily perpetuated. One of the most popular—and erroneous—is that her weekly 1963-64 television variety series, The Judy Garland Show, was a failure. True, the highly sophisticated, ahead-of-its-time series lasted only a single season on CBS, but it nevertheless earned hearty critical praise and a slew of Emmy nominations. Hampered by an impossible time slot (opposite the top-rated western, Bonanza) and sabotaged by constant network interference (resulting in several format and personnel changes and disastrous directives), the show never got a chance to find either its rhythm or an audience. Yet through all the backstage sturm und drang, Judy performed week after week—often brilliantly—with a galaxy of guest stars thrilled to be in her legendary presence and rightfully awed by her talent and aura.

Judy Duets culls 13 marvelous performances from Garland's series (and one from a 1962 TV special), and proves just how stylish, entertaining, and enduring this celebrated "failure" was and is. The buoyant compendium of medleys showcases Judy as, simply, Judy—relaxed, happy, energetic, enthusiastic, and able to be totally, utterly herself. She playfully interacts with her guests, cheers them on, and affectionately supports them through many complex, thrilling routines. Garland arguably gave more to her audiences than any other performer, often stirring them into a bona fide frenzy, but she was equally generous to her fellow singers. Never does she play the diva or try to grab focus. On the contrary, when belting out standards with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Ethel Merman, and Lena Horne, Judy—always the perfect hostess—makes sure the spotlight is on her guests.

The Streisand duets have achieved iconic status in the entertainment world, and thankfully both are included here. The first is a high-spirited medley of love songs (terrifically interpreted by both ladies), but that's just the warm-up for their incomparable pairing of Get Happy and Happy Days Are Here Again. The soaring vocals are sure to provoke a rush of spinal chills, as well as a wistful feeling that we'll never see such raw, unbridled talent again.

Other highlights include the Goin' Home Medley with Bobby Darin (in which the duo climaxes with a no-holds-barred rendition of Lonesome Road), the I Like Men Medley with sultry songstress Peggy Lee, a cavalcade of familiar Cole Porter tunes with Merman, a reunion with former co-star Mickey Rooney, the debut of 17-year-old Liza Minnelli (singing a standout version of The Best Is Yet to Come with Mama), and a powerhouse rendition of You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Any notions of "poor, tragic Judy" dissipate the moment the program begins (with a dynamite one-two punch of The Sweetest Sounds and Strike Up the Band, accompanied by the Count Basie Orchestra), and her demeanor throughout the hour-long program is so sunny, one would swear Garland must have been the happiest woman in show business.

Though the disc concentrates on music, Garland's peerless humor and warmth still shine through. Few singers fluff a line with such panache, or so fully capture a song's emotional essence. Most of the melodies included here are sprightly, upbeat affairs, but on the rare occasions when the mood turns romantic or melancholy, Judy seizes the moment, and interprets the lyric with her trademark sincerity and vulnerability.

One medley, however, should have been omitted from the lineup. Vic Damone appeared on Judy's show three times during its run, and the pair prerecorded two of their duets in the hope they might be included on a joint album. (The project never materialized.) Yet as a result, it was decided Judy and Vic should lip-sync their exquisitely sung West Side Story medley when taping it before the cameras. In her films, Garland handled this chore with aplomb, but the slapdash nature of TV during the early 1960s left her, in this instance, a bit unprepared. She badly blows a lyric, which exposes the fact that she's lip-syncing, and kills the medley's spell. (Astoundingly, the sequence was never reshot before it aired.) Its inclusion here not only disrupts the disc's flow, but might possibly lead to yet another Garland misconception—that she lip-synced all her songs on the series. Hopefully, those viewing Judy Duets will be intelligent enough to determine this is definitely not the case, but why another medley from one of Damone's other appearances on Judy's show—such as the breathtaking Kismet set (which was sung live)—couldn't have been substituted remains both a mystery and disappointment.

That's the only hiccup, though, in this otherwise dazzling compilation. Those who only know Garland from her movies will be delighted to see her in a concert setting in which she flaunts her considerable personality and magnetism while performing with a once-in-a-lifetime array of musical talent. There's no one in the world like Judy, and she proves time and again in Judy Duets why she was dubbed "World's Greatest Entertainer."

She has yet to relinquish the title.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: All 26 episodes of The Judy Garland Show were lovingly restored and released by Pioneer Artists over the past several years, but the transfers used by Kultur for Judy Duets rarely match that exquisite standard. Image quality fluctuates from segment to segment, and ranges from crisp and clean to soft and hazy. The better scenes enjoy marvelous clarity, rich black levels, and good contrast, while the weaker ones look like second generation dupes bought from collectors on eBay. Thankfully, not much video noise afflicts any of the medleys, and the black-and-white photography lends a glamorous accent to the show.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby stereo track lacks any of the surface defects often associated with early TV, and provides clear, well-modulated audio. Judy and her guests sound warm and robust, and even the brassy, lung-busting finales resist distortion. All the lyrics are easily understandable, as well as the bits of scripted chatter.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Music/Song Access with 15 cues and remote access
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only supplement is an eight-minute, rather sloppily edited excerpt from the excellent 1985 documentary, Judy Garland: The Concert Years. Garland's daughter, Lorna Luft, narrates brief sequences about her mother's childhood, appearance at New York's famed Palace Theater, and return to the screen in A Star Is Born four years after she and MGM parted company. Luft also addresses Garland's devastation over the assassination of President Kennedy, and how the event inspired her to sing Battle Hymn of the Republic in tribute to the fallen leader on her weekly TV series—despite CBS's vehement objections. Her spectacular rendition of that hallowed song, brimming with passion, strength, and conviction, then follows, and packs the same emotional wallop today that it surely must have upon its original airing in early 1964. Battle Hymn remains unquestionably the apex of Garland's series, and a defining moment in the singer's career. If you watch nothing else on the entire disc, watch that, and learn what Judy Garland is all about.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

That's entertainment! Judy Duets showcases the incomparable Garland crooning a multitude of American standards with a glittering array of guest stars. Though all of the included material is more meticulously presented in Pioneer's complete collection of The Judy Garland Show, this is a nice "greatest hits" grouping that also serves as a fine introduction for those unfamiliar with Garland's magic. Video quality may be spotty, but after a few notes from these legends, we forget all about it. Recommended.


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