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"There's a scout troop short a child / Khrushchev's due at Idlewild…"
53rd precinct, fall in!
Officer Gunther Toody (Joe E. Ross, The Love Bug): Eternally optimistic with an almost child-like naiveté, Gunther is loyal and trusting to a fault, a loving but extremely apathetic husband to Lucille (Beatrice Pons). Squat, bug-eyed, and oafish, Toody is compelling physical proof that man descended from apes.
Officer Francis Muldoon (Fred Gwynne, The Munsters): Toody's partner and best friend, despite being his near polar opposite. Muldoon is college educated and a confirmed bachelor, sizing himself up thusly: "Look at me, I'm six foot six and five foot six of me is face!"
Officer Leo Schnauser (Al Lewis, The Munsters): Caustic, cynical, and perpetually cranky, hound-jawed Schnauser is the seemingly ungrateful husband of Sylvia (Charlotte Rae, The Facts of Life). Despite his dyspeptic nature, the paunchy old sourpuss is a great friend and team player.
Officer Ed Nicholson (Hank Garrett, Serpico): Schnauser's partner and (next to Sylvia) the most frequent target of his scorn. Handsome, if over-muscled, a happy-go-lucky bachelor with a roving eye, Nicholson takes an awful lot of guff from the rest of the squad, but has the patience of a saint. Otherwise, he'd crush the whole miserable bunch with one of his massive hands.
Captain Paul Block (Paul Reed, Fitzwilly): Long-suffering and short-fused, our good captain resembles the Monopoly man minus the moustache and top hat. Delivers quite possibly the best slow-burn comedic double-take combination in sitcom history.
That's right, those Bronx boys in blue (black and white, actually) are back, and in just in time for the 50th Anniversary of Car 54, Where Are You?. Sadly, the show's second season would be its last, but this long-buried TV treasure went out just as it came in, on peals of laughter.
We follow the boys as they hit the streets in their black-and-whites (actually painted red and white, so as not to be mistaken for real NYPD cruisers while shooting) and ride-along for thirty feloniously funny adventures:
• "Hail To The Chief"—Guess which two officers have been chosen to drive the President from the airport to the U.N. Building?
• "One Sleepy People"—Muldoon inadvertently becomes a home wrecker, when he moves in with Gunther and Lucille for two weeks.
• "A Man Is Not An Ox"—Headquarters gets suspicious, when Toody and Muldoon call in sick on the same day, complaining of the same symptoms.
• "Schnauser's Last Ride"—Muldoon recalls the day Schnauser joined the 53rd precinct.
• "Toody And Muldoon Sing Along With Mitch"—TV's choral master Mitch Miller guests.
• "Occupancy, August First"—Molly Picon (Fiddler On The Roof) reprises her role as Rachel Bronson, the sweetest Yiddish headache the department's ever had.
• "Remember St. Petersberg"—A phony spiritualist not only convinces Sylvia Schnauser that her husband Leo has been married before, but that he's a Russian nobleman.
• "That's Show Business"—The men of the 53rd endeavor to enter the Broadway play-backing business.
• "Toody, Undercover"—Toody infiltrates a gang of bank robbers. Bruce Gordon (The Untouchables) guests.
• "I Hate Captain Block"—The captain's prized pet parrot hasn't spoken in fifteen years, until Toody accidentally teaches him a certain phrase.
• "A Star Is Born In The Bronx"—A staged reading of Muldoon's play sets Sylvia on the path to mega-stardom.
• "Pretzel Mary"—An unlicensed snack peddler (Sybil Bowan, Annie Hall) runs afoul of the law!
• "142 Tickets On The Aisle"—The patrolmen attempt to organize a night at the theatre with their wives.
• "Stop, Thief!"—Toody and Muldoon suspect Captain Block of being a compulsive kleptomaniac.
• "The White Elephant"—A gang of bank robbers (including former world middleweight champion and real-life Raging Bull Jake LaMotta) buy an abandoned luncheonette in order to drill through to the bank next door. The plan seems foolproof, until they get some unexpected help from the boys of the 53rd.
• "Benny The Bookie's Last Chance"—Gene Baylos ("The Comedian's Comedian") guests as the title character, a compulsive gambler and ex-con, trying to go straight in a crooked world.
• "The Presidential Itch"—Muldoon, perpetual president of the precinct's "Brotherhood Club," worries he's getting a bit dictatorial.
• "Toody And Muldoon Meet The Russians"—This episode is brought to us by "Thrill," the new creamy pink dishwashing liquid from Procter and Gamble, and by "Prell," the shampoo in the handy unbreakable tube!
• "Here We Go Again"—A television program wants to dramatize the greatest case in 53rd precinct history.
• "The Star Boarder"—The Bronx is suddenly awash in counterfeit money. Coincidentally, the Toodys have taken in a temporary lodger—sweet prim Reverend Peterson (Tom Bosley, The Father Dowling Mysteries) from Chicago.
• "The Biggest Day Of The Year"—It's August 16th, and you know what that means…Don't you?
• "Here Comes Charlie"—Toody and Muldoon have given up rehabilitating Charlie the drunk (Larry Storch, F Troop) for good…again.
• "See You At The Bar Mitzvah"—Today, Francis Patrick Muldoon becomes a man.
• "I've Been Here Before"—For TV addict Toody, rerun season seems to be coming around earlier and earlier.
• "Joan Crawford Didn't Say No"—There's a sweet little old Yenta arranging marriages between Bronx widows and Hollywood's brightest stars.
• "Lucille Is Forty"—Apparently, in 1963, forty was the new seventy.
• "The Loves Of Sylvia Schnauser"—Sylvia poses as a writer in order to bust a phony publishing outfit.
• "The Puncher And Judy"—World middle-weight champion Rocky Graziano shines as a hairdresser named Antoine. Really.
• "The Curse Of The Snitkins"—Do you know what a Jonah is? Well, don't ask Muldoon, because he doesn't believe in them!
Presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full frame, the transfers offer a certain level of dirt and debris. Fortunately, such nefarious elements are kept to a minimum. Some crackle can be detected in the Dolby 2.0 Mono mix as well. As for bonus features, there is one, but it has to be the strangest in DVD history. A brief, black and white film of Joe E. Ross working up a new stand-up comedy routine, in the days immediately following the cancellation of Car 54, Where Are You? But I'm nitpicking, as Shanachie is commended for its reproduction efforts. Although, I have to register a complaint about the packaging, which stacks two discs atop one another on each side of a fold-out cardboard cover, and employs a strange push-down-then-pull-out system to extricate them. Not only confusing, this extradition method inevitably results in unnecessary (and possibly damaging) wear and tear on the discs.
One hesitates to over-explain "funny," for the same reason one doesn't dissect gossamer. Fortunately, creator Nat Hiken (Sgt. Bilko) not only knew how to manufacture laughter, but also make it contagious. Consider this: Former FCC chairman Newton Minnow gave his famous speech branding television "a vast wasteland" on May 9, 1961, a full four months before Car 54's premiere, which would have effectively rebutted the man's point. Coincidence? I think not!
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