DVD Review: The Red Skelton Hour: In Color: Unreleased Seasons

Red Skelton had gone through every venue of entertainment when he became a pioneer of television in 1951. He worked his comedic routines in a medicine show, circus, Burlesque, vaudeville, film, radio, European bases during World War II before creating a variety show for NBC in the fledgling media. He brought along many of the characters he refined along the way including Clem Kadiddlehopper, San Fernando Red and Freddie the Freeloader. He did switch to CBS a few seasons later. Even though his show remained a ratings juggernaut, he found himself part of the purge at CBS when the network wanted to change it’s country old fashioned image in the early ’70s. Many of his finest moments disappeared from the TV screens as Skelton held them back from syndication for decades. The Red Skelton Hour: In Color: Unreleased Seasons includes 12 episodes that aired from 1966 to 1969.

Originally the series was only half an hour which allowed Red to create a unique sitcom based around one of his characters and a major guest star as the meat of the episode. This served him well and kept his show in the ratings Top 10 for years. But success in TV means that the network wants more. CBS had him expand out the show to a full hour which mean more Red. Red’s opening monologue is expanded which is fine by him. He enjoys playing directly to the audience. He turns his hat into a prop to make himself look more like a kid or a seagull. The sketch is now a two parter which allows Red more time to clown around with the big guest star. The 12 episodes have major stars and not merely those reality show faces that clutter up Dancing with the Stars and The Apprentice. The best teaming up is Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. The two masters of horror are mad scientists that can’t top the creation of Clem Kadiddlehopper. The Raven was made a few years before so the duo enjoyed their comic riffs. Vincent and Red compete in cutting each other up. If you have all the Poe and Universal Frankenstein films on the DVD shelf, you need this “bonus” feature in the collection. A later episode has Tim Conway (McHale’s Navy & The Carol Burnett Show) playing a hippie turning on Freddie the Freeloader. Tim is such an amazing actor that you can believe he’s counter culture while sporting a buzz cut. John Wayne gets a special episode dedicated to his 40 years in showbiz. The Duke is pleased to get a tribute from Red ad they have fun with his movie star image. Other stars guesting on the episodes include Milton Berle, Robert Goulet, Audrey Meadows, Merv Griffin, Mickey Rooney, George Gobel, Martha Raye and Phyllis Diller.

Musical guests are only on a few episodes. The big names that perform are Simon & Garfunkel. Paul looks so young and Art has all his hair. Lou Rawls also shares his smooth voice on an episode. The finale of the show is a silent sketch with Red reminding us that comedy isn’t just from word play. There’s a lot of slapstick and rubber facing from Red and his cast. The best is one about the last day before retirement as a quiet Red spends his last day at the office. The tone starts sentimental as Red cleans up his desk. But the ending will not pull your heartstrings. There seem to be a few missing numbers in episodes which are probably singing and dancing numbers featuring the regular singers and dancers on the show. Seeing how this is about Red Skelton, those are the moments you chapter forward over unless your parents were part of the troupe. The Red Skelton Hour: In Color: Unreleased Seasons is about a man who brings all his showbiz career to the small screen.

The videos is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers are off standard definition tapes from the ’60s look fine. The color does pop. The audio is Dolby Digital mono.

Bobby Rydell (5:13) reflects on doing 12 episodes with Mr. Skelton. He and Red became pals to the degree that Red invited to hang out at his house.

Vicki Lawrence (1:12) recounts how she snuck into Red’s dressing room when she started working on The Carol Burnett Show.

Time Life presents The Red Skelton Hour: In Color: Unreleased Seasons. Starring: Red Skelton, John Wayne, Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Martha Raye and Lou Rawls. Boxset Contents: 12 episodes on 3 DVDs. Released: January 3, 2016.

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