A TV adaptation of a classic Broadway show leads this look at television programs new to DVD.
"Anything Goes" (eOne, 1954, b/w, $29.98). A remarkably high-quality kinescope marks this episode of the popular variety show "The Colgate Comedy Hour," which was broadcast live and featured rotating weekly stars (most frequently Abbott & Costello, Martin & Lewis, Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante).
On one Sunday night in 1954, the comedy-and-music format was shifted to accommodate a revival of Ethel Merman's 1934 Broadway hit "Anything Goes" (which, coincidentally, is in another Broadway revival right now). As performed here, the Cole Porter musical co-stars Frank Sinatra (just before he won the supporting-actor Oscar for "From Here to Eternity") and Bert Lahr (best known as the cowardly lion in "The Wizard of Oz").
The story has Merman as a nightclub singer aboard a cruise ship during the Roaring '20s. Sinatra stows away to pursue her and Lahr, as a gangster masquerading as a missionary, provides comic relief. The show was truncated to run a scant 50 minutes (sans commercials), but the good news is that it required the emphasis to be put on the songs — and what songs they are.
Each is a classic from the Porter songbook, with Merman belting and Sinatra crooning such memorable hits as "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Just One of Those Things," "You're the Top" and the title tune. There's also a delightful comic duet of "Friendship" with Merman and Lahr.
Again, this was broadcast live, so there are minor glitches and hesitations, but that only adds to the excitement of the show. Merman is in great voice, Sinatra is relaxed and at the peak of his singing game, and it's a real treat to see old-pro Lahr practice his stage-trained comic timing.
Extras: full frame, featurette; 20-page booklet
"Upstairs, Downstairs: Complete Series: 40th Anniversary Edition" (Acorn, 1971-75, 21 discs, $199.99). This is one of the great British television series, with a terrific ensemble cast in the ultimate soap opera about the lives of the upstairs aristocrats and the downstairs servants in a posh London townhouse during the first 30 years of the 20th century.
The various distinctive characters, the changes in political climate, the horrors of World War I, and all sorts of major and minor scandals and life-changing events are shown equally through the eyes of both classes.
Jean Marsh, Pauline Collins, Lesley-Anne Down and Gordon Jackson are among the cast, creating memorable characters the audience comes to care about as if they are family members.
Extras: full frame, 68 episodes, audio commentaries, documentary on the series, retrospective featurettes, text essay by star/co-creator Jean Marsh
"Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Season One" (A&E, 1993, five discs, $29.95).
"Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Season Two" (A&E, 1993-94, seven discs, $29.95).
"Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Season Three" (A&E, 1994-95, eight discs, $29.95). The beloved Western series starring Jane Seymour as a frontier doctor was canceled after six episodes but revived following a huge fan write-in protest, which led to a complete six seasons.
These single-season sets are being reissued at a much better price than in the past, each with bonus features. Guests include Diane Ladd, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers and Tom Poston.
Extras: full frame, "Season One": 17 episodes, A&E "Biography" of Seymour, photo gallery, interactive tour, text biographies/filmographies; "Season Two": 24 episodes, audio commentary, featurette, text biographies; "Season Two": 25 episodes, audio commentary, text biographies
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