Paramount // 1960 // 430 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // December 21st, 2010
"Well now, take down your fishin' pole
And meet me at the fishin' hole
We might not get a bite all day
But don't you run away."
Dang, The Andy Griffith Show turned 50 in 2010, and in honor of the show's golden anniversary, Paramount is releasing The Andy Griffith Show 50th Anniversary: The Best of Mayberry. The set offers 17 episodes from the first five seasons -- "the Barney Fife years" -- all in black and white, along with a few extras, including the episode of the The Danny Thomas Show that introduced Andy and Opie Taylor, as well as the 1986 TV-movie Return to Mayberry.
The episodes are spread across three discs:
* "The Christmas Story"
* "The Pickle Story"
* "Barney and the Choir"
* "Mr. McBeevee"
* "Convicts at Large"
* "Man in a Hurry"
* "Class Reunion"
* "The Darlings Are Coming"
* "Barney's First Car"
* "Dogs, Dogs, Dogs"
* "Mountain Wedding"
* "Opie the Birdman"
* "The Sermon for Today"
* "Citizen's Arrest"
* "Fun Girls"
* "Barney's Sidecar"
* "Goober and the Art of Love"
For those not in the know, The Andy Griffith Show follows the quiet exploits of the Taylor family in Mayberry, N.C. Andy (Griffith), a widower and the underworked sheriff of this sleepy, crime-free podunk, and Opie (Ronny Howard, American Grafitti), his school-age son, live with their Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier, The Day the Earth Stood Still), a cheerful, elderly virgin. Andy spends his days hanging out at the courthouse with his bizarre deputy, Barney Fife (Don Knotts, The Incredible Mr. Limpet), dealing with low-impact police matters, and attending to various personal problems and quirky Mayberrians.
When people talk about The Andy Griffith Show -- well, at some point they did -- two phrases usually come up: "gentle comedy" and "Barney Fife." These pretty much sum up the appeal of the program. The comedy is extremely low-key, to the point that funny scenes barely register on the laugh track; Mayberry is a place of soft chuckles rather than belly laughs.
While the scripts are well-written, it's the interplay between the actors that makes The Andy Griffith Show worth catching. The charismatic Griffith was a stand-up comedian who found fame on stage in No Time for Sergeants, as well as its TV and film adaptations, as well as Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd. While his comedic talents are on display here, he wisely allows the gifted Don Knotts to steal the show as Deputy Fife. Knotts, who left the show after its fifth season, won consecutive Emmy awards for the first three seasons of The Andy Griffith Show, and picked up two more playing Fife in guest appearances. Frances Bavier is both funny and comforting as Andy's straight-laced Aunt Bee, and future director Howard made Opie an everyboy, playing him with a natural quality that was especially rare in child actors at the time. Recurring characters include Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), who went on to his own successful spin-off; Gomer's cousin Goober (George Lindsey); Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut), Andy's steady girl (though he had a fling with Elinor Donahue's Ellie in Season One); Otis (Hal Smith) the town drunk; and Bee's best friend/biggest rival, Clara (Hope Summers).
I have to admit, I'm ambivalent about "Best of" sets like this. On the one hand, it gives the casual viewer the opportunity to have a selection of episodes without laying out lots of cash for a full-season (or full-series) box; on the other hand, you're at the mercy of the production company's decision as to what constitutes the "best" episodes. Never having been a big Mayberry fan, the 17 programs here might be the "best" to come out of the series' eight years -- or at least, the first five years -- but certainly, everyone is going to have a different idea.
I will say that Paramount seems to have put some thought into choosing episodes that have some significance to the series: "The Darlings Are Coming" and "Mountain Wedding" feature the musical hillbilly Darling family (portrayed by real-life bluegrass band The Dillards); "The Pickle Story" and "Barney and the Choir," reported to be Knotts' favorites; the charming "The Christmas Story;" "Fun Girls," which marked the first appearance of Lindsey's Goober Pyle; the sweet and poignant "Opie the Birdman;" and "Man in a Hurry," which marked the first appearance of Nabors' Gomer Pyle.
The shows look fine, the full-frame image clean and clear, and the mono audio tracks are solid. It's also nice that subtitles have been added. For supplements, we get:
* The Pilot -- Andy is introduced on an episode of The Danny Thomas
Show as a slightly less endearing version of Sheriff Taylor.
* Opening Night Clips -- These are short segments from CBS specials celebrating the beginning of the new TV seasons.
* Celebrating 50 Years of Mayberry -- A text piece lauding the series.
* "Fishin' Hole" Montage -- Did you know that Earle Hagen's iconic theme music had lyrics? I didn't. It was originally meant to be sung, and Griffith recorded the song, before the producers decided to go with the whistled version. Here is the Griffith version, over show clips.
* Return to Mayberry -- This 1986 TV-movie reunites almost all the surviving cast members and shows that, even in the age of Wham!, Mayberry was still Mayberry.
In addition, each episode has text introduction providing some history and trivia.
While your own "Top 17" might vary, The Andy Griffith Show 50th Anniversary: The Best of Mayberry offers a worthwhile representation of one of the most popular TV sitcoms of all time.
Review content copyright © 2010 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 430 Minutes
Release Year: 1960
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Archival Footage
* Text Featurette
* Reunion Special