Appellate Judge Tom Becker loves cranking up the Admiral console and watching the stars of tomorrow.
The Christmas variety show—a tradition that seems as old as the holiday itself.
While "heavy hitters" like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby frequently turned up on TV in the '50s, '60s, and '70s (and '80s, for Hope) in ballyhooed annual Christmas specials, weekly variety series could also be counted on to do their holiday duty with seasonal episodes full of good cheer, merry-making, and standards old and new.
Christmas with Danny Kaye offers two episodes from the versatile performer's 1960s variety show. Neither episode is more than moderately Christmas-y, but both feature a strong line-up of talent.
The first episode, from 1963, is in black-and-white, and has Nat King Cole and Mary Tyler Moore as guest stars. Kaye does a bit of patter with the audience about the holiday, and there are a couple of skits—including a take-off on "light opera" that features show regulars Harvey Korman and Jamie Farr—but the attraction here is the music, primarily from Cole. This being the holidays, we naturally get a rendition of "The Christmas Song," which in itself justifies watching this. This episode is from Kaye's first season, and there's a tentative feel to it, as though the actor isn't completely comfortable with the whole TV thing, but it's a pleasant enough 45 minutes.
In the second episode, from Christmas 1966, things pick up considerably. For one, the show is in color, that bright, new-TV '60s color, so everyone is wearing something that will "read" on a color TV—lots of reds here. The guest stars are Peggy Lee and Wayne Newton.
Everything is much slicker in the '66 show; the production's glossier, the camerawork is more polished, and Kaye is much more in command.
Newton—introduced as "Mr. Excitement"—turns up to offer a few songs, including "Jingle Bell Rock." But the highlight here is Lee, who blows even the seasoned Kaye off the screen. Lee sings "So What's New?" and "Here's that Rainy Day," and joins Kaye for a Christmas medley.
Elsewhere, there's a comedy skit about Italian immigrant that cuts off in the middle and an appearance by the International Children's Choir, which features a smorgasbord of kids dressed in their countries' "traditional" garb singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth" (which Kaye, Moore, and Cole had covered in the earlier episode). The U.S., by the way, is represented by a trio of 8-year-old boys in white dinner jackets. Kind of surprisingly—and surprisingly appropriately—Kaye ends the show singing a song about baby Jesus.
The standard definition 1.33:1 full frame image looks pretty rough—this could easily be VHS—and the Dolby 1.0 Mono audio is a bit thin, but it's all serviceable. Bonus material is also thin. We get an option to jump to the songs for each episode. There's also a printed insert with a holiday greeting from Kaye.
Then there's a "Bonus Clip," apparently from another Christmas show. This one features Kaye reading from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," the segment describing Christmas dinner at the Cratchit house. I was expecting this to be incredibly hokey, but I was surprised at how moving it actually was. I can't imagine anyone on an entertainment show now reading Dickens, but I know plenty of people who counted reading Christmas stories as a part of their holiday tradition, so I ended up really liking this; it's so far from what passes as cool that it's almost edgy.
Yeah, it's square and a bit hokey, but classic TV like this is awfully comforting—and the joy in seeing great performers like Kaye, Lee, and Cole shouldn't be underestimated.
Maybe it's not a hidden holiday acorn, but Christmas with Danny Kaye is perfectly worthwhile and occasionally excellent seasonal entertainment.
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