DVD Review: The Red Skelton Hour In Color (Deluxe Edition)

Red Skelton spent 20 seasons on TV with his variety show that kicked off the early days of broadcast television as America was discovering the new entertainment device upgraded radio and allowed you to stay home to watch movies. While Red had a decent career on radio with his various characters, his audience in the theater of the imagination were missing out on his physical comedy talent. So people at home were in for a treat when he arrived on NBC’s television network in 1951. They could finally appreciate all the work Skelton brought to his characters such as Clem Kadiddlehopper, Freddie the Freeloader, Caulifower McPug, George Appleby, San Fernando Red and Sheriff Deadeye. The Red Skelton Hour in Color: Deluxe Edition is a comprehensive retrospect that covers his broadcast career and his final years on cable.

The Red Skelton Show: The Early Years 1951 – 1955 has the show when Red based episodes around his various characters so it was more of a carousel sitcom. This paid off well for an audience that tuned in to discover what Red was really up to. There was no simple formula where the writers could just type in whatever character’s name into the same sketch. Freddie could go quiet during a scene where as George Appleby was more talk driven. Theses were different characters and different storylines. Red would open and close the show talking to the audience. He’d share a few topical jokes and be always gracious. This collection has a sampling of 72 episodes from the period. His guest stars include Ann Southern, Johnny Carson and Milton Berle.
The Red Skelton Hour In Color features the seasons when Red jumped to CBS. While the network was noted for staying in black and white, Red was able to get CBS to fork up in color. The hues enhanced his character since he could be a bit more expressive in his make up and wardrobe. The show was altered a bit to fill out the extra time. He still would have a main sketch with a character. The 10 disc set includes a sampler of 31 episodes. He’d brought on a musical guest including Shirley Bassey, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, Lulu, The 5th Dimension, Simon & Garfunkel and Lou Rawls. The guests for the comedy were top notch including Milton Berle, John Wayne, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Robert Goulet, Mike Connors, Nipsey Russell, Peter Graves, Terry-Thomas and Liberace. The end of the show was reserved for a wordless sketch. It’s not silent since Red takes advantage of sound effects to enhance the comedy. This was something he couldn’t do on radio.

The Best of Red Skelton: The Complete 20th Season in Color was Red’s return to NBC. He was a victim of the rural purge at CBS when the network mass canceled shows such as Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Hee Haw and others in order to get a more sophisticated feel with the arrival of All In the Family and The Bob Newhart Show. Luckily NBC signed him up and aired him in the same time slot. The show was only a half hour. He booked major guests for the sketches with his characters including Vincent Price, Robert Wagner, Mickey Rooney, Jill St. John, Telly Savalas, Godfrey Cambridge, Cass Elliot, and Phyllis Diller. One of the highlights of the season was Red and Jerry Lewis as a magician and his assistant. The two are on fire as they destroy tricks and blow illusions. Both are covered in sweat by the end as Jerry praises getting to work with Red. While this was the first episode, it was the highlight of the season. The show didn’t do too well in the ratings and Red was canceled again. After 20 seasons, his streak was over. The 23 episodes here run a little short now and then. This is probably from musical moments that had to be snipped because of rights issues.

“Red Skelton: The Farewell Specials” features the last four major works created by Red after his show went off the air. Red spent most of the ’70s away from television doing live shows. But he needed to return to the small screens. Instead of returning to a broadcast network, Red like David Simon (The Wire & The Deuce) went to HBO. In the winter of 1981, Freddie the Freeloader’s Christmas Dinner brought Red back along with his favorite character. It’s a rather elaborate production for Red with exterior sets to take him back to his early days of performing. Imogene Coca is a baglady. Vincent Price as Professor Humperdo, a street hustler in a tuxedo with a fraying fur coat. They share a musical moment. There are two other HBO specials including More Funny Faces with Red teaming up with French mime legend Marcel Marceau. The duo give an entertaining master class in pantomime. A Royal Command Performance is Red’s final major moment when he went to England to grace the stage of Royal Albert Hall. His one man show translates well to the English audience even the royalty in the box. It’s stellar farewell performance that sums up his career.

When Red Skelton went off the air, his show pretty much disappeared. He didn’t seem to care to repackage them like Carol Burnett, Jackie Gleason or Groucho Marx did. New generations of viewers merely heard about Red Skelton from their grandparents or parents instead of catching them late night on a UHF channels. The Red Skelton Hour in Color: Deluxe Edition is probably the best way to experience them since Red’s work is able to run without commercial interruption or digitally speeding up the action to squeeze in more ads. You can enjoy Red at Red’s speed. Over the course of 22 DVDs, viewers can take in the majesty of the Red Skelton.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The quality of the transfers is fine for the most part. The image allows you to see Red’s facial expressions. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The levels don’t make things sound bad during the quieter moments.

Red Skelton: America’s Clown (80 minutes) gives the biography of the man and where all his characters came from. This is a fine introduction to Red before you dive into this retrospective.

Time-Life presents The Red Skelton Hour in Color: Deluxe Edition. Starring: Red Skelton. Boxset Content: 130 episodes on 22 DVDs. Released: November 7, 2017.

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