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Ernie Kovacs Collection Vol. 2, The (DVD Review)

29 Oct, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Shout! Factory
$29.93 three-DVD set
Not rated

Last January, when someone’s Facebook posting noted the 50th anniversary of Ernie Kovacs’ untimely death at 42 in a residential Hollywood car mishap, I passed the info along to a special friend of mine since middle school. His response, direct from our mutually formative Central Ohio (no avant-garde repository there, let me tell you), was: “That is when the country started going to hell. Right there.”

The ’50s can’t have been quite as repressed as reported when morning TV viewers could enjoy the unconventional musings of host Kovacs on his NBC-TV show — punctuated by frequent openings from those Nairobi Trio simians as well as those martini-whacked recitations by vision-challenged poet-laureate Percy Dovetonsils. P.D.’s highly representative “Ode to a Housefly” is included as a bonus on disc No. 2 of this three-disc set — a sequel to the mammoth box that came out in April 2011 and became a key player on critics’ lists devoted to last year’s most golden home releases.

As before, these shows and excerpted sketches exist because the late Edie Adams (Kovacs’ equally performance-deft widow) spent a lot of her money rescuing them when the networks — in the kind of futuristic thinking that resulted in so many early “Tonight” shows being lost forever — were literally about to toss them in the river. This more modest collection is its own ode to rescued work, starting with eight of the 1956 morning shows (topical jokes touch on President Eisenhower and Grace Kelly’s wedding to Monaco’s Prince Rainier) plus three half-hours of ABC’s unclassifiable “Take a Good Look” — which employed twisted Kovacs sketches to offer hints to guest panelists charged with guessing the identities of some mystery guest, celebrity or otherwise. One show features an appearance by silent comic guru Mack Sennett a sliver more than six months before his death (which, in a show biz footnote, occurred the same day as the passings of Ward Bond and country singer Johnny Horton).

Also revived — and there’s a lot more topicality in store — is “Skodney Silsky, Hollywood Reporter,” a transparent take-off on Sidney Skolsky, a well-known gossip slinger of the day. But breaking out from the earlier set are selections that border on the unexpected. These include a serious Canadian-TV interview on “The Lively Arts” program less than three months before Kovacs’ death — one in which he talks at length about the audacious time expenditure it took to fashion a single gag about a water drop for one of his TV specials and his desire to fashion a feature film out of the “Eugene” character whose TV exposure won the comic great acclaim. Also: a 2011 panel discussion/homage hosted by Harry Shearer; trailers for a couple of Kovacs movies (including a personal childhood fave, Wake Me When It’s Over); and color home movies of Ernie and Edie playing golf.

One of the real oddballs here — though it’s probably the most conventional entry in the collection — is a deservedly unrealized TV pilot called A Pony for Chris from a proposed series to have been called "Medicine Man." Casting Kovacs opposite Buster Keaton (as a Native American, no less) in a Western setting, it presented him as a con man not unlike the one who tries to cheat John Wayne (not a good move there) in North to Alaska, for which, in fact, Johnny Horton sang the title tune (for No. 4 Billboard charter).

Shout! Factory has been on something of a recent roll in so far as TV archiving is concerned, with an imposing Mel Brooks collection scheduled for Nov. 13 (one hardly knows where to start) plus the just-out Peter Gunn: The Complete Series. With that one, as all my formative-years buds will tell you, a good place to start would be with femme lead Lola Albright as the detective’s blond chanteuse of choice (also named, matter of fact, Edie).

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