Forget the Chairman of the Board...what really impressed Judge Paul Corupe about this disc was the roller-skating donkey.
The Chairman of the Board vs. Der Bingle in a Santa-take-all grudge match!
No matter how small a holiday music collection you might have, there are singers who are almost certain to pop up on a compilation or two, artists whose legendary renditions of yuletide classics have made their music a holiday staple. This Christmas-themed episode of The Frank Sinatra Show from 1957 features two of the most well-known carolers ever—Bing Crosby, fresh off the success of White Christmas, and Francis Albert Sinatra himself—sharing a drink or two as they joke and sing for a half-hour of winter merriment and…time travel?
The show begins with a not-so-impromptu duet of "Jingle Bells" and an opportunity for Bing to, ahem, flog his new "Christmas Sing with Bing" LP, after which the two crooner champs hit the punch bowl with an eagerness that promises to make their cheeks more aglow than a certain reindeer's nose. The wassail kicks in heavily as the pair step through a door and are magically transported to "merrie olde England," where they discover a choir waiting to assist them with nice, but relatively uninspired traditional Christmas carol favorites including "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." Minds blown under the sheer philosophical implications of their journey through the fourth dimension, the two return to Sinatra's swingin' bachelor pad to breeze their way through a few modern pop standards, such as "White Christmas" and "The Christmas Song," accompanied by an unseen choir and orchestra.
It's all pretty standard Christmas special stuff, barely directed (by Sinatra himself) and tied together with a plot outline probably written on a cocktail napkin. The musical performances are as good as you might expect from such giants of vocal talent, but the pair doesn't seem particularly festive towards either each other or the audience, and their slang-heavy scripted exchanges come off a little stiff. On the plus side, the presentation of this show is sharp and detailed with a clear mono track; in fact, this whole episode probably looks and sounds better than it ever has. There is occasional dirt and speckling to be seen, but for a public domain release, the quality of the transfer was far better than I anticipated
Rounding off the disc is an "extra" that runs just as long as the main attraction—the 30th Annual Santa Claus Lane Parade, a celebrity-studded event captured on Thanksgiving Day, 1961. Gene Autry, Lawrence Welk, and Soupy Sales are on hand for the festivities, but so are several unknowns, including local news personalities. Between star sightings there are marching bands; unicycles; Pinky, the roller-skating donkey (!); and a few sparse floats that make their way past a theater marquee (advertising Spartacus) as an announcer does his best to describe the dime store splendor unfolding before his very eyes. A major jump-cut brings about the entrance of Santa Claus atop a makeshift float, who proudly proclaims that he "loves Hollywood people the best."
The sound is pretty spotty on this one, hampered by significant audio artifacts, and the picture is much softer than the Sinatra/Crosby special. It's certainly watchable, though, and at least for me, infinitely more interesting than the feature presentation—a slice of yuletide nostalgia that had me longing for a simpler time of aluminum Christmas trees and randy holiday office parties. There's probably not much replay value in this feature, but it's a welcome addition nonetheless.
The parade definitely increases the Christmas cheer on this disc, but this is just another run-of-the-mill budget release that runs less than an hour in total. The included episode of The Frank Sinatra Show is merely average, although the Christmas songs are generally pleasant, and there are enough "ring-a-ding" dialogues between the Frank and Bing to make things interesting. Admittedly, you could certainly do much worse than this package of public domain holiday cheer, but it's still a pretty meager offering, recommended only for fans of Sinatra.
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