Fans have been clamoring for years to have Dwayne Hickman’s 1950s sitcom “Dobie Gillis” on DVD, and this week — some 54 years after it premiered on TV — it’s finally available.
“The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Complete Series” (Shout!, 1959-1963, b/w, 20 discs, $139.99, 147 episodes, original pilot, interview with Hickman, three episodes of “Love That Bob!” (1958), one episode of “The Stu Erwin Show” (1954), excerpt from “The Coke Time Special” (1960), excerpt from “The Dinah Shore Chevy Show” (1960); DVD-Rom applications). Taken from Max Shulman’s short-story collection of the same title, this was the first TV series to center on teenage characters (as opposed to teens in family-centric sitcoms) and also the first to portray a beatnik. If you were in junior high or high school when this show first aired, as I was, it’s a real touchstone.
And watching it again, though the program is undeniably dated, I was surprised at how well the comedy holds up. Funny is funny, whatever the era.
Hickman stars as Dobie, a girl crazy but hapless high-schooler, and his best pal is jazz-loving beatnik Maynard (Bob Denver, who immediately followed this series with “Gilligan’s Island”). Their schemes and hijinks are very funny and their teamwork benefits from great chemistry.
But a lot of other characters also get big laughs, including Sheila James as brilliant but plain Zelda, who only has eyes for Dobie; Florida Friebus and especially Frank Faylen as Dobie’s unhip parents; William Schallert as their wisecracking teacher Mr. Pomfritt; and during the first season as fellow students, Tuesday Weld as money-grubbing Thalia, Warren Beatty as rich and entitled Milton, and late in the season Steve Franken (replacing Beatty) as wealthy, unctuous Chatsworth Osborne Jr. Guest stars include Mel Blanc, Ron Howard, Marlo Thomas, Ryan O’Neal, Don Knotts, Roberta Shore, Rose Marie, Bill Bixby and Sally Kellerman, among others.
The bonus features include appearances by Hickman, Denver and James on other shows, but sadly the busted pilot for a revival series “Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis?” (1977) and the reunion TV movie “Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis” (1988) are not here.
“Into the White” (Magnolia, 2013; R for language; $26.98, featurette, trailer). Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films) is the most recognizable name in this true story of German and British soldiers surviving a World War II dogfight over Norway only to find themselves forced to work together to survive in the wilderness. (Also on Blu-ray, $29.98)
“Inescapable” (IFC/Blu-ray, 2013; R for violence, language; $29.98, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, trailer). This Canadian thriller riffs on “Taken” with Alexander Siddig as a businessman in Toronto who learns that his adult daughter has disappeared in Damascus, causing him to call on talents he left behind 25 years earlier when he was a Syrian military police officer. Marisa Tomei co-stars. (Also on DVD, $24.98)
“Tai Chi Hero” (Well Go/Blu-ray, 2013, not rated, $29.98, in Mandarin with English subtitles/dubbed in English, featurette, trailers). Veteran action star/filmmaker Sammo Hung choreographed the fight sequences for this video game-inspired first sequel in the Tai Chi series about Lu Chan (Jayden Yuan) trying to fit into a village where everyone is a martial arts master. (Also on DVD, $24.98)
“An American Girl: Saige Paints the Sky” (Universal/Blu-ray, 2013, not rated, $26.98; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions). Young Sidney Fullmer is the title character, from the American Girl dolls, a 9-year-old artist that loves horses. Jane Seymour co-stars. (Also on DVD, $19.98)
“Last Resort: The Complete Series” (Sony, 2012, three discs, $38.99, 13 episodes, featurettes). This suspense series has a U.S. submarine commander (Andre Braugher) defying orders to launch nuclear missiles at Pakistan and then discovers the American government has been taken over, “Seven Days in May”-style. The pilot is riveting but as it progresses the show becomes more and more outrageous. Though canceled, it managed to wrap up most plotlines in the final episode. Scott Speedman and Robert Patrick co-star.
“North & South" (Acorn, 1975, two discs, $39.99, four episodes). Nearly a decade before he became Capt. Picard on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Patrick Stewart starred with Rosalind Shanks in this TV miniseries adaptation of the novel by Elizabeth Gaskell about a young woman who moves with her parents from the rural south of England to the industrial north. Unhappy there, she mingles with and encourages the working class while clashing with a harsh mill owner, though, over many years, they warm to each other.
“Falcon” (Acorn, 2012, two discs, $39.99, four episodes). Marton Csokas stars in two feature-length mysteries (two episodes each) about a police inspector in Seville, Spain, looking into a murder connected to his father’s past and an apparent suicide of a businessman with dark secrets. (Contains sex, nudity, violence, drugs, coarse language.)
“Why We Laugh: Funny Women” (Lionsgate, 2013, $19.98). Documentary about female comics, narrated by Joan Rivers and featuring interviews with Kathy Griffin, Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, Kim Wayans, Jeneane Garofalo, Rita Rudner, Kathy Najimy, Sandra Bernhard, etc.Comment on this story
“Death By China” (DBC, 2012, $13.99, audio commentary, director’s statement, short film: “Death By Chinese Junk,” music video, trailer). Documentary narrated by Martin Sheen that vilifies U.S. relations with China. The box has this statement: “all materials used to manufacture DVD and its box are NOT MADE IN CHINA.” (Available at deathbychina.com)
“Legends of the Old West” (Lionsgate, 2013, three discs, $19.98, six episodes). Six History cable channel documentaries on the title figures: “Buffalo Bill & His Wild West,” “Wild Bill Hickock,” “Legendary Cowboys,” “The Law From Behind the Tin Star,” “The James Gang” and “The Texas Rangers.”
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parents Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com