Saturday, January 20, 2007

Featured DVD: "Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Shows" (Image)

Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Shows (Image): When SOFA Entertainment released "The Four Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring the Beatles" in 2003, not only was it a surprise, but it was almost unthinkable that a release of shows this historic and significant would be given the go ahead for the marketplace. That release was nothing short of amazing -- the four shows were released in complete form including commercials. It wouldn't be likely to happen again -- or would it?
Comes now "Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Shows," perhaps a more historic three disc set from Image Entertainment that features two complete shows from 1956 and another from 1957 -- again with commercials -- featuring the landmark performances from Elvis Presley on those shows.
What's more exciting about this release is that these shows occurred almost 8 years earlier than the Beatles' shows -- making their release even more unlikely.
The Elvis shows may be even more interesting historically than the Beatles' shows. Why? Anyone tuning in "The Ed Sullivan Show" each week knew they were in for a crap shoot. Variety was the key word and "variety" didn't always mean it would be worth wading through.
So in the Sept. 9, 1956, show, we see Charles Laughton, filling in for Sullivan, who was recovering from an auto accident, take charge of hosting the show and introducing Presley to the Sullivan audience. As rock critic Greil Marcus, who wrote the eight-page booklet that comes with the set describes it, it was basically a vaudeville show with something for everyone. Laughton starts with a fairly inane poetry bit, something we suspect he would have done on the show if Sullivan had hosted it. But such was the "variety" viewers saw every week -- nothing offensive, but generally entertaining.
Also on the show: the Vagabonds, trying to sing a hip version of "Up a Lazy River" that looks insipid when you know what's coming later in the show; comic magician Carl Ballentine, later of the "McHale's Navy" sitcom, acrobats the Brothers Amin and Toby the Dog.
But Elvis is far and away the star of the show and he knows it.
"Thank you, friends. Thank you, Mr. Laughton," he says somewhat shyly. But he hears the screaming girls in the audience loud and clear. Introducing "Love Me Tender," he jokes about it being "our new RCA Victor escape ... release," which, of course, sends the young audience into a frenzy.
The other two shows include other historic performances besides Presley. The Oct. 28, 1956, show features Senor Wences (s'awright ... s'awright), while the Jan. 6, 1957, show features a young Carol Burnett and boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.
Musically, Presley repeats three songs from the first show -- "Don't Be Cruel," "Love Me Tender" and "Hound Dog" -- on the second, with only "Ready Teddy" the first week changed to "Love Me" the the second.
His performances the third show in January of 1957, however, are nothing short of spectacular. He opens with a medley of "Hound Dog, "Love Me Tender" and "Heartbreak Hotel," then comes back with "Don't Be Cruel." His second spot finds him burning hot with "Too Much" and "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again." He closes the show features a spectacular version of "Peace in the Valley," backed by "the wonderful Jordinaires."
All-in-all, this one's a must have, if for no other reason than it shows the clips unadulterated by titles that all the previous Sullivan releases have included. But it also, like the Beatles release, returns the shows to their historical context. For TV history buffs, it doesn't get much better than this. (Rating on scale of 1-5: Five DVDs)

Bonus features: These include a rare color 8mm home movie shot in 1955 which is the first-ever recorded footage of a very young Elvis (age 20) who was not yet managed by Col. Tom Parker; special Elvis moments including an appearance by comedian John Byner; and home movies of Elvis and Priscilla with some of the earliest shots of their daughter Lisa Marie; interviews with producer Sam Phillips of Sun Records, Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires, Marlo Lewis, producer of the three Sullivan shows, television host Wink Martindale, who was a Memphis DJ when Elvis lived there; Elvis friend George Klein and Memphis Mafia member Jerry Schilling.