TV on DVD 07/27/10 – Bilko, Sweeney and Stephen Fry in America

Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show – The First Season (Paramount) – The original title was The Phil Silvers Show but America called the landmark sitcom Bilko, after the scheming, swindling, always on the make Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko, and that’s what it was renamed for its long afterlife in syndication.

Phil Silvers and friends

Phil Silvers had a solid career as a second banana and comic support in dozens of Hollywood films but it was this series, developed for him by Nat Hiken, that made his fame. Hiken made Silvers the reigning conman at Fort Baxter, Kansas, and the most entertainingly conniving officer in this man’s peacetime army. Bilko and his partners-in-hustle (Harvey Lembeck and Allan Melvin) target every fresh recruit that marches through camp, every payday bankroll in soldiers’ pockets and especially the bankrolls of fellow officers on the base. There isn’t a harder working goldbrick in the armed forces. Paul Ford is the camp Colonel, fully aware of Bilko’s reputation and nonetheless his eternal foil, and Elisabeth Fraser is his match as Sgt. Joan Hogan, who makes her first appearance in the third episode of the season. The show took home Emmys for Best Comedy Series, Best Comedy Writing, Best Director and for Best Actor Phil Silvers on its inaugural season.

34 episodes on five discs in a standard case with hinged trays. The episodes are uncut and look quite good but they feature the animated opening titles of the syndication version of the show. The original network opening is included as a supplement. Also features “The Lost Audition Show,” essentially an early, alternate version of the pilot with alternate cast members (including Jack Warden as Henshaw) but essentially the same script from a worn 16mm kinescope print, commentary by co-star Allan Melvin on the series debut “The New Recruits” (a kind of rambling, unfocused remembrance) and guest star George Kennedy on “The Court Martial” (previously featured on the best-of collection “Sgt. Bilko: 50th Anniversary Edition”), and original cast commercials. As an added bonus is “Lucy and the Efficiency Expert,” an episode from The Lucy Show with guest star Phil Silvers as the titular efficiency expert.

The Sweeney: The Complete Season One / The Complete Season Two (BFS) – Britain’s bare-knuckle cop show of the seventies stars John Thaw in his pre-Inspector Morse incarnation as the “gruff copper” DI Jack Regan, the take-no-prisoners leader of the rough and tumble Flying Squad, a unit tasked with talking on the organized crime underworld of London. Dennis Waterman is his partner, Cockney cop DS George Carter who is assigned to help him navigate the gangs of South London in the original pilot telefilm “Regan.” Regan collides with command and fellow officers in his disregard for rules and violent, sometimes deadly tactics. “I don’t like your methods,” Carter tells him in the pilot (and often echoes throughout their partnership) but he does respect his commitment to the job and his tenacity in taking on the villains of the underworld by whatever means are at his disposal. The Complete Series One features the original pilot (with commentary by director Tom Clegg, star Dennis Waterman and writer/producer Ted Childs) and the initial 13 episodes of five discs, plus “Restoring The Sweeney,” and The Complete Series Two features 13 episodes on four discs, along with the featurette “Wild Boys.” Both sets feature commentary on select episodes by writers, directors and various cast members and guest stars, introductions to various episodes, bonus interviews and original mono soundtracks plus optional Dolby Digital 5.1 remix.

Stephen Fry, the actor/author/screenwriter/director and one of the smartest and most accomplished of British comic creators, turns tour guide in Stephen Fry in America (BFS), a cultural journey through America via Fry’s black London taxi. He drops into the primaries in New Hampshire, puts a lobster to sleep in Maine, goes hunting in Adirondacks and even creates his own Ben and Jerry’s flavor: Even Steven. And that’s just the first few minutes of the first episode. It’s a whirlwind road trip through all fifty states and in addition to playing tourist and TV host, he’s an utterly amiable bloke who celebrates the greatness of American culture and history. Leave it to this visiting bloke to become the greatest ambassador we’ve had communicating the beauty and integrity of our country. Six episodes on two discs on DVD and Blu-ray.

Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Movie Collection: Set 5 (Acorn) is a box set of three feature-length mysteries, starring David Suchet as Hercule Poirot, originally made for British TV (and shown stateside on the PBS series Masterpiece Mystery!): Murder on the Orient Express as well as Third Girl and Appointment with Death, plus the bonus featurette David Suchet on the Orient Express.

And don’t forget Minder: Season 3 (BFS), more from I like to think of as British TV’s answer to The Rockford Files.

Looking to stateside TV, the sixties sitcom The Mothers-in-Law: The Complete Series (MPI), with Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard, debuts, and Mill Creek boxes up entire runs of a couple of cult American shows: Hunter: The Complete Series (Mill Creek), which features the DVD debut of the previously unavailable Seasons Four, Five, Six and Seven, and 21 Jump Street (Mill Creek), both in their unique keep case, which holds the discs in separate paper sleeves stacked in a snug holder.

Also new this week: Sabrina The Teenage Witch: The Final Season (Paramount), the TV movie Jesse Stone: No Remorse (Sony) with Tom Selleck and Dog The Bounty Hunter: Crime Is On The Run (A&E).

For more DVD releases, see my picks for the week at my blog and my DVD column at MSN.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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