TV classics from '40s, '50s out on DVD

Movies

November 22, 2007|By Diane Werts | Diane Werts,NEWSDAY

TV history is now being written to DVD. Fans -- and future historians -- will have no problem studying every nook and cranny of The Sopranos, Seinfeld, Dallas, All in the Family and Hogan's Heroes.

Yet go back before the 1960s, into the black-and-white era, and the picture gets considerably less complete.

But early TV is finally beginning to have its partisans, and they're making up for lost time with a recent (relative) flood of impressive releases. These are authorized sets, painstakingly restored.

Infinity Entertainment has quite a few offerings.

The video couldn't be crisper or the collection more complete in this fall's 12-disc set of the 1949-1953 Western half-hour Hopalong Cassidy, which includes not only the hero's entire TV run but previous theatrical features and an hourlong profile of star-producer William Boyd. New live-broadcast sets of the 1949-1954 anthology half-hour Suspense and the early '50s musical mayhem of comedy bandleader Spike Jones: The Legend may contain kinescopes -- film recordings shot off TV monitors -- but they're watchably sharp. And they're treasures to exist at all.

The 12-disc Hopalong Cassidy box is $80, while Spike Jones (with a bonus CD of radio shows) lists at $50 and the Suspense sets (each with 30 episodes) are $40 each.

Another release, The Real McCoys, the 1957-1963 hillbilly comedy, "could be sold in Cracker Barrel restaurants," says Rick Buehler, Infinity's vice president of sales and acquisitions.

S'more Entertainment releases include Wally Cox's fondly remembered Mister Peepers (26 episodes plus extras for $40). The 1952-1955 school sitcom co-starring Tony Randall was telecast live from a New York theater, so it survives only on kinescope, with some of the films in poor condition. Yet a core following of early TV fans is thrilled to pry these episodes out of their University of California, Los Angeles archive storage in any shape.

Diane Werts writes for Newsday.

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