Friday, April 15, 2011

Weekend Cinema Listomania (Special But a Good Cigar is a Smoke Edition)

Video Event of the Week: Might Shanachie's DVD box of Car 54, Where Are You? The Complete First Season (with special guests including Jake LaMotta(!)) conceivably be what we're talking about? Could the Criterion Collection's Blu-ray version of White Material, with Isabelle Huppert as a neo-colonialist in an unnamed African country possibly make the cut? Or --and I think you know where I stand on this -- might Warner Home Video's respective disc versions of Harry Potter and The Onset of Puberty The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 actually be The One(s)?

All sort of worthy, to be sure, but for my money they pale into utter insignificance in the face of Shout!Factory's quite fabulous new six-DVD box set devoted to perhaps the only real genius ever to have a show on prime time network TV -- The Ernie Kovacs Collection.

Actually, Kovacs was all over all four networks (including Dumont) in the 50s and 60s, in lots of different time slots -- starting with a local Philadelphia morning show in 1951 -- and in a lot of different formats, including game shows and even a stint hosting old silent movies. But the bulk of the work his reputation rests on -- the increasingly sophisticated and surrealist blackout sight gag sketches and what we would now call music videos (hilarious, groundbreaking and avant-garde even today) were mostly aired in prime time, which is an achievement that, shall we say, seems unlikely to be repeated by anyone else in the forseeable future.

Some of the stuff in the set has been available on video for a while -- most of it deriving from a PBS series in the late '80s -- but Shout!Factory's new anthology, straight from the Kovacs archives that his widow Edie Adams lovingly and presciently preserved, features a genuine treasure trove of material that will be new to even long-time fans. Which means, of course, that there are examples of both what we might call higher and lower Kovacs. Among the latter is the stuff on disc one (The Early Years), which features surviving kinescopes of the aforementioned morning show ("It's Time For Ernie," broadcast live in 1951), or disc four (The Late 1950s), including "Take a Good Look," the surprisingly bland quiz program, and "Silents Please," which are simply little intros of Ernie describing the 20s films he was about to show. Among the former, however, are things like the "Kovacs on Music" special (also disc 4), which features the famous all-gorilla ballet version of Swan Lake, and of course the five full ABC specials from '61 and '62 (the last of which, taped just before the tragic car accident that took Ernie's life at the age of 43, was first broadcast posthumously). CBS's Harry Reasoner (of all people) wrote and read a gorgeous obituary tribute to Kovacs on the network news called "A Shiver in the Sunlight"; it's included, along with all sorts of photos and memorabilia, in the very well done and informative booklet which is part of the set.

Here's Shout! Factory's DVD trailer to give you a better idea...

...and here are some representative clips.

Sorry that last omits The Nairobi Trio, or -- my particular favorite -- Ernie as Percy Dovetonsils (Poet Laureate) reciting his "Ode to Stanley's Pussycat." You'll have to get the set to see those, but of course you really should get it anyway for all sorts of reasons. In fact, if you don't immediately hie thee over to Amazon and pre-order it here, I probably don't want to know you.

Three final notes: As I said earlier, the set is a treasure trove, but there's actually a seventh disc of even more cool stuff -- including two complete episodes of The Tonight Show Ernie hosted in the summer of 1956 -- which you can snare for free from Shout! Factory if you're one of the first people to order the collection. Also, it is perhaps worth mentioning that at the time Kovacs was doing the sort of things in that clip compilation above, video had to be edited using an X-acto knife and Scotch Tape. And finally, the announcer seated with Ernie in the bit at the top of the trailer is, of course, the splendidly-voiced Bill Wendell, who went on to serve the same function for Kovacs devotee David Letterman for the entirety of Late Night's run on NBC.

Okay, and with that out of the way, and because things will most likely be a little quiet around here for a couple of days, here's an obviously relevant little project to help us wile away the idle hours till next week:

Best or Worst Screen Mustache!!!

Fiction films only, which is to say no documentaries allowed. So if you wanted to vote for Adolf Hitler in Triumph of the Will you're out of luck.

And my totally top of my head Top Five is:

5. Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator (Charles Chaplin, 1940)

That's Adenoid Hynkel, not Adolf Hitler.

4. Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, 1988)

Kline's Oscar-winning turn as the palindromically monikered Otto. Fun fact: The Kevin Kline Facial Hair Law -- which is that Kline must have a mustache in a comedy and be clean-shaven in a drama -- was first established here.

3. Henry Brandon in The Drums of Fu Manchu (William Witney and John English, 1940)

The greatest serial ever made, IMHO, and one that was considered lost for several decades (the only video versions up till now have been from inferior 16mm dupes). A near pristine copy has surfaced recently, however, and a restored DVD/Blu-ray is imminent; you can read more about it over here. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the most exciting film preservation news since the discovery of the complete Metropolis in '09.

2. Groucho AND Harpo Marx in Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)

For obvious reasons.

And the Numero Uno hair twixt nose and gullet in movie history simply HAS to be...

1. Ben Turpin in Million Dollar Legs (Edward F. Cline, 1932)

Billed as "The Mysterious Man," in case you've never seen it. One of the great surrealist comedies of the 30s, and all the funnier for Turpin being a walking sight gag.

Alrighty, then -- who would your choices be?


edward said...

John Holmes - the ultimate bad pornstar mustache

steve simels said...

I knew somebody was going to go for that. Or else Tom Selleck in something.

TMink said...

Kovacks was a bona fide genius. And so funny! Really, few Americans compare or measure up in my opinion.


dSmith said...

At the end of "Dial "M" for Murder" the police inspector, having exonerated Grace Kelly, pulls out a tiny comb and starts combing his mustache. It's the closing shot.

Gummo said...

Is Million Dollar Legs out on DVD? I saw it millennia ago and thought it was just a brilliant piece of surrealist humor but it hasn't surfaced on either W.C. Fields box.

Oh, and great mustaches? How about James Finlayson's? The eternal bristling foil for Laurel and Hardy, Jimmy could convey more boiling rage with a twitch of his 'stache and a Popeye-like squint than [import appropriate comparison here].

steve simels said...

According to Amazon, it is not out at the moment.

Very funny film -- and dig the o-producing and co-writing credits..

NYMary said...

I was raised in the 1970's: I think most mustaches are a mistake at their inception. Similarly, the beard sans mustache is a woeful look, unless you happen to be Abraham Lincoln. Or Amish.

NYMary's aesthetic standard: Unless they come as a set, shave them, gentlemen.

Okay, by far the worst, creepiest, nastiest porn 'stache ever belonged to the odious Eric Roberts, back when he was the star of the family and his kid sister was just tagging along, in the "I-need-to-shower-after-this-film" slasher biopic Star 80.

(Although Billy Zane in Memphis Belle is pretty nasty, too, and at least Eric Roberts was supposed to be creepy.)

Brooklyn Girl said...

The first one that occurred to me was the police inspector in "Dial M for Murder" ... maybe because it was just on.

Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. Can't imagine the character without the mustache.

Since you mentioned fiction as the caveat, I suppose a fictional Hitler is okay: hence, Dick Shawn in "The Producers." Just because.

Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth had a great pair of mustaches in "The Natural."

J. Loslo said...

John Neville's mustache in "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" was memorable and variable, as it seemed to serve as a kind of barometer of his spiritual state. As I recall.

Al Quagliata said...

Great post;. I run Ernie Kovacs Dot Net: A Tribute To Television's Original Genius and The Ernie Kovacs Blog and I'm glad you mentioned that 7th bonus disc. Folks must order

directly from "Shout Factory" to get it; if you order from Amazon, etc., you won't. Here is a link directly to Shout Factory's Page for the set. I'm waiting for my Kovacs set to arrive and once it does and I watch it will have a full review on the blog. This set is a must; Ben Model, who curated the set, is a blog contributor and after discussing it with him, I know it's going to be great!

I'm also thrilled to hear there is a "Car 54" set out! I didn't know that. Such a great show and I grew up near the Bronx so of
course I love it. I'll have to pick that up too.

Thanks for keeping Ernie's name alive and helping to promote his legacy.

Al Quagliata said...

For some reason the links to our Ernie sites in the previous comment don't work. I hope you'll all visit to learn more about his groundbreaking work:

Ernie Kovacs Dot Net: A Tribute To Television's Original Genius:

The Ernie Kovacs Blog:

Clicking my name in this comment will bring you to Shout Factory's page for the new DVD collection.

dave™© said...

Great stuff, Al! Might I suggest you check out a guy named Mark Evanier - he had posts on both "Car 54" and the Ernie Kovacs set - even mentioned the "7th disc." His site is at:

Al Quagliata said...


Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

Mark's site is awesome; I love it and have been there many times in the past. He's been kind enough to mention us a couple of times on his site, specifically when Conan was supposed to take over "The Tonight Show" and we were spearheading a campaign to get EK mentioned as a past host. You can't beat Mark's site for all kinds of great info on TV. Wonderful stuff.

This brings up another point regarding the new EK collection. The two questions I get most are about EK hosting "Tonight" and the live color version of "The Silent Show" aka "Eugene". The former is on the bonus disc and I believe the latter is on disc 4.

I've known Ben Model, set curator, for a long time and in fact started writing about Ernie for his site. He's done a wonderful job and I can't recommend the set highly enough. "The Best Of Ernie Kovacs," the set derived from the PBS specials, is excellent but this new set is the definitive one, nearly twice as long, and blows it out of the proverbial water. I must have for all Kovacs fans. Mine should be here by tomorrow and man, am I psyched.

Ernie shall help to erase the memory of reality TV from my head.

steve simels said...

Al --

Thanks for the kind words. I haven't been through everything on all seven discs yet and I'm wondering if my favorite Ernie bit -- the funeral speech from "The Trojan Women" -- is on it.

And if so, on which disc?

I figure if I watch all seven straight through, it could be weeks before I find out...

Al Quagliata said...


If that's the bit where Ernie says the whole thing and then starts TAP DANCING (ONE OF MY FAVORITES LOL!) then I'll say yes, as I believe that is from one of the ABC specials which are all on the new set. It's definitely on "Best Of Ernie Kovacs" for that's where I first saw it.

I also want to encourage folks to visit the newest addition to the Kovacs family of websites, which is and Both are run by Edie's son, Josh Mills, who runs Ediad productions inc. Josh was instrumental in getting this long awaited material to the public. Great guy and will certainly continue to promote EK's legacy.

Combined with my site,, Ben Model's, and our collective blog,, folks have plenty of resources for Ernie on the web, which I'm very happy about.

Such an important figure in TV history and he really goes unappreciated at times, present company excluded of course!

Al Quagliata said...

OOPS! Made a typo:

Edie's site is actually

GEEZ. I need to learn to type better!

steve simels said...

Al --

Thanks. That means it's on disc six; I'll watch the whole thing tonight just to make sure.

The Phantom Creep said...

Alright, I'll say if if nobody else will.

Ernie Kovacs, in OUR MAN IN HAVANA.

Noam Sane said...

I'd probably go with Terry Thomas in "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World".

Brooklyn Girl said...

Noam Sane said...

I'd probably go with Terry Thomas in "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World".

Yes, absolutely! Especially with the gap between his front teeth.

"And what is this American obsession with bosoms?" :-)

dave™© said...

Al, after I posted my link to Mark's site, I started thinking I'd been to your site before from a link or mention at News From Me! :)

dave™© said...

Speaking of mustaches, that "Duck Soup" bit eventually features Chico with a Groucho 'stache, too!

Al Quagliata said...


Once you see what disc it's on, I'd love to know. Checked the PO today and my set hasn't arrived yet.


Glad you stopped by! Feel free; EK fans are welcome anytime!

Man, I wish I could grow a mustache like Ernie or Groucho. I read on Mark's site that Arthur Marx died the other day. I read all his books about Groucho.

Al Quagliata said...


Just watched Disc One. There is a version of the King Menaleus on one of the "Ernie In Kovacsland" segments. It isn't the tap dancing one, but still funny.

EK had drama training and in my opinion would have made a fine dramatic actor.