If variety is the spice of life, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart's day got a pinch of paprika from this collection of television variety show clips.
"The popular crooners have always sung about the emotions every person feels—they sing about our joys, our great loves, our heartbreaks, our triumphs, and our tragedies."
While music returned to prime time with American Idol, the days of giving musical stars prime-time weekly television showcases are over, even if The Dean Martin Show managed to hold on until 1974.
The Legendary Crooners celebrates with clips five stars who helmed television variety shows—Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Nat King Cole, and Frank Sinatra. Each is introduced in a brief narration, with brief quotes from music historians and, in Martin's case, a short clip of the singer in an interview. Then, we get to hear the stars perform, the real purpose here. The DVD cover touts "20 full-length songs," although I suspect a couple were shortened for TV variety show format in the first place.
Among the musical highlights are the international medley with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra that includes "Mexicali Rose," "South of the Border," "I Love Paris," and "Sweet Leilani" before the pair is joined by Bob Hope to close with "Road to Morocco"; a Nat King Cole rendition of "The Frim Fram Sauce" that finds him singing at a busy restaurant; Dean Martin singing standards "Mambo Italiano" and "That's Amore"; Perry Como singing "When You're In Love" and "It Might As Well Be Spring" (with Ann-Margret); and Louis Armstrong joining Crosby on "Now You Has Jazz" and Sinatra on "Birth of the Blues." With Crosby and Sinatra, the banter's almost better than the music.
Elsewhere, there's an oddball comedy bit as Jerry Lewis introduces Colgate Comedy Hour guest Jack Benny as "Mr. Phil Abrams," leading to one of Benny's well-timed pauses as Lewis fails to correct what partner Dean Martin is seeing as a mistake.
It's great to see some of these rare clips, even with variable sound quality and all the picture problems—washed-out faces, flickering, flaring, and spots—common to TV footage from the black-and-white era (some of Perry Como's clips are in color).
There are some great moments here, but you'll probably be left wanting more after watching this 65-minute collection. Each of the shows excerpted probably had a few more choice moments that could have been included as extras. Certainly, more of the banter that went with the numbers could have been included.
Still, for those of us who came in at the tail end of the TV variety show era, The Legendary Crooners acquits itself as a decent introduction to a lost TV genre.
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