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Over 16 hours of the greatest TV commercials!
Well, let's not go crazy now. There are indeed over 16 hours of commercials here from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and even a few from the 1980s, along with some promotional clips and public service announcements from movie and drive-in theaters thrown in. These can be fun to watch, and there are several iconic characters and ads here, from the anti-littering crying Indian to Frito Bandito. Still, there are also plenty of ads that are just dull filler, and there are several recognized classic ads missing, so don't expect one hundred percent gold, even by advertising standards. Nonetheless, while you definitely don't want to sit through all 16 hours at once, watching this set on and off can be a genuinely entertaining and even illuminating experience.
First, the entertaining. Just through sheer volume, there are simply too many interesting spots here to be too bored. You can actually study the evolution of advertising here, contrasting the straight-ahead jingles and taglines of the 1950s and 1960s with the use of humor and irony in the 1970s. Volkswagen, for instance, has several spots here, and their earlier ones are fairly straightforward: Volkswagen cars are great and well-made. By the 1970s, however, they were making ads that were far more satirical, including one with a pitch-perfect parody of Frankenstein. It's also fascinating to see some big names pitching fairly dubious products. There's John Wayne doing ads for Western Savings & Loan, an S&L that Wayne proclaims will last for centuries but that actually crashed barely a decade after Wayne's death. There's an ad the Flintstones did for Winston cigarettes, an ad that's about as jarring as if the Simpsons were used to hawk Jack Daniels. This set also contains some ads that are less significant for what they sell than for what they are. There are a series of spots in which Bugs Bunny and several other Warner Brothers characters pitch Kool-Aid. These are only mildly amusing, but they are notable because they were directed by animation legend Tex Avery, in one of the last jobs he ever had. Another of Avery's creations, the controversial snack food character Frito Bandito, is also here. There are enough gems here that make this set entertaining on a purely superficial level.
You may wonder how it can also be illuminating. It's because these commercials reveal social attitudes prevalent during their time that seem jaw-dropping today. Take Marlboro cigarette ads, for instance. There are several Marlboro ads from the 1950s here built around the plot of a tiny henpecked husband and a big shrewish domineering wife. When the husband smokes a Marlboro, he suddenly regains his virility and snaps harshly at his wife, who gushes breathlessly that she loves it when he talks like that. No, this isn't a parody-these are actual ads that aired on prime-time TV made by a public corporation. You can also see another cigarette ad from the same era where a "doctor" breathlessly proclaims that smoking causes no health risks whatsoever. Whew, what a relief! So science really is useless after all! The same era also produced food ads where doctors "recommend a good healthy breakfast" of two eggs and strips of bacon, all fried in butter, alongside two slices of toast, also dripping with butter. Were doctors of the 1950s that desperate for repeat business? Were they just all giggling psychopaths?
As unintentionally amusing as this set can be, it's sometimes disappointing. The category of political ads is the worst. It only has six ads, and five of those are for Eisenhower, with the last being some inexplicable ad for some local California politician of the 1960s. Where's LBJ's infamous daisy nuke ad, in which Johnson's opponent Barry Goldwater was depicted as a crazed loose cannon? It's credited as being the first and most scandalously manipulative smear ad of the television era and deserves to be included. Also missing is Reagan's "Morning in America," surely the most influential ad of the last twenty-five years; both political parties have been trying to imitate it ever since it appeared. Even some classic non-political ads aren't here, like Apple's 1984 Macintosh Olympics ad or Coke's "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." The set also includes nearly an hour of ads that played in drive-in theaters advertising the snack bar. A few minutes of these would have been fine, but this is just overkill.
Technically, Mill Creek has done the best they can with the material. The ads are spread out over three discs and separated into different categories depending on the product: cars, cigarettes, toys, food, and so on. This is reasonably easy to use, since it would have been impractical to put chapter stops on each ad. The video and audio quality varies wildly, with some ads looking and sounding surprisingly good and others barely endurable. These were obviously not nearly as carefully preserved as a feature film or TV show, so be warned that some ads are washed out to where your screen will look plain white. All are in full screen. No extras are included, and while might have been nice to have some sort of information on when these ads were made, you'll be able to guess more or less, depending on the clothing, hairstyles, slang, or presence of members of the Monkees.
Overall, 1,001 Classic Commercials is a worthy set for anyone curious about the history of pop culture. With a reasonable list price of $14.98, it provides hours of entertainment, although it's the sort of thing you'll want to dip in and out of rather than watch all at once.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
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