Dean Martin

DVD Review: The Dean Martin Variety Show – Uncut

Having run for nine seasons, The Dean Martin Show was one of the most popular shows on television during its 1965-1974 run. Broadcast during a time of great political upheaval, as war raged in Vietnam, Dean Martin’s relaxed, laid back attitude seemed to be a breath of fresh air for both his audience and his guests. Initially, Martin hadn’t wanted to commit to a weekly series. Therefore, when NBC came to him with an offer, his contract demands were deliberately outrageous. Along with a high salary, Martin would only show up for tapings. Much to Martin’s surprise, the network agreed. Given Dean’s lack of rehearsal, screw-ups flubs happened, but he laughed them off, joking about his inability to read cue cards, etc.

Over the years, DVD’s have been released containing clips of the 264 shows, some resulting in lawsuits from NBC Universal claiming copyright infringement. Now, for the first time, Time Life has released The Dean Martin Variety Show: Uncut; a three DVD set containing six uncut (with one exception, which I’ll discuss later) episodes.

Dean MartinDespite the spontaneous look and feel of things, The Dean Martin Show had a fairly predictable structure. After the opening bars of “Everybody Loves Somebody,”—a 1964 hit for Martin, that actually knocked The Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” out of Number #1 spot on the pop charts—Dean would stumble down a flight of stairs, cigarette in hand (later he would slide down a fireman’s pole), sing a lively standard, tell a joke or two, and introduce that night’s guests. Every musical guest performed a solo, then a duet with Dean. If the guest wasn’t a singer, they’d chat with Dean and do a skit of some sort. From there, nearly every show would find Dean moving to his “music room” where he would peek into a closet where an unscheduled guest would make a cameo. Apparently, Dean never knew who was behind the door, so it was always a fun surprise. From there, he would leap Ken Lane’s piano to knock off a few song parodies, and then sing a romantic standard. The show ended with a big production number, Dean thanking viewers, and reminding them to “keep those cards and letters coming in.”

The episodes included on The Dean Martin Variety Show are as follows:

Show #0025 / Original Air Date: March 3, 1966

Legendary comedian Sid Caesar is on hand to provide some laughs. I’ve never been the biggest Sid Caesar fan, but there’s no denying that the man has tremendous talent. Musical guest Marguerite Piazza, Sid Caesar’s co-star on Your Show of Shows, sings a lovely rendition of “Come Back to Sorrento” and joins Dean for “Santa Lucia.” Sultry singer, entertainer Abbe Lane (ex-wife of bandleader Xavier Cugat)  slinks across the stage performing, “Whatever Lola Wants” with a troupe of dancers. Abbe also joins Sid and Dean for a lighthearted version of “Real Live Girl.” The Letterman to sing a West Side Story Medley, and comedian George Gobel (a frequent guest on a lot of ‘60s variety television) provides a comedy spot. Looking at it today, the strangest segment of the show has to be strongman act, David & Goliath. Let’s just say I’m not sure it would sit well with today’s network advertisers…

Show #0718 / Original Airdate: January 12, 1967

The then popular comedy team of Allen & Rossi provides some hearty laughs; Steve Rossi who also had a career as a singer, gets the chance to sing, “My Lonely Room.” A young Jackie Mason performs a comedy routine. Singer/entertainer Leslie Uggams performs a couple of Gershwin tunes, one number, “Fascinating Rhythm Medley,” features Les Brown’s famous drummer, Jack Sperling. Vaudevillian and character actor Eddie Foy Jr., performs a dance routine with Barbra Perry. Pat Boone is the surprise guest in the closet when Dean moves to his music room.

Show #0811 / Original Air Date: November 16, 1967

Dancer Cyd Charisse performs a couple of routines. The nice surprise for me is the appearance of Buddy Ebsen. I knew him well from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Barnaby Jones, but was less familiar with his prowess as a dancer. He performs an impressive tap dance here. Semi-regular Dom Deluise appears in a couple of skits; his appearances are always memorable. One of Dean’s favorite singing partners, Barbara McNair joins in the fun for three songs, and a memorable showbiz finale. Also, this episode marks comedian Albert T. Berry’s television debut, and singer/actor Phil Harris is the special guest in the closet.

Show #0815 / Original Air Date: December 14, 1967

The legendary Bob Newhart performs his classic sketch “Defusing a Bomb.” If you’re a fan of comedy, this routine is worth the price of the DVD set alone. And Dom Deluise returns as a Superman wannabe. While Caterina Valente shows off a variety of talents—dancing, comedy, Terpsichore—while comedian Guy Marks (a Dean Martin favorite), does his interpretation of “Volare.”

Show #0820 / Original Air Date: January 25, 1968

Where else can you have the legendary Orson Welles doing a reading from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and doing a magic act within minutes of each other? Frequent guest, entertainer, Joey Heatherton sings a couple of unspectacular songs, but looks great doing it, while Bob Melvin and Professor Backwards occupy the comedy spots. Country legend Buck Owens performs “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone,” and “I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail,” with Dean.

To their credit, Time-Life admits that one duet between Buck Owens and Dean is not included, as the original master tape was destroyed. Given the age of the tapes, and the fact that no one even considered that viewers might one day have their own home video libraries, it’s entirely understandable.

Show #623 / Original Airdate: February 25, 1971

Given the fact that The Golddiggers and The Dingaling Sisters are featured prominently here, fans of The Dean Martin Show May find this episode the jewel of the three disc set. The Dingaling Sisters perform a spirited version of “Funky Chicken,” while The Golddiggers join Dean for the rousing “Welcome to My World” finale, which features wonderful harmonizing on “I Could Write a Book,” “Just Friends,” and “It’s Easy to Remember”. Comics Jackie Vernon and Fred Smoot provide plenty of laughs, while Broadway legend Zero Mostel is just plain zany. Show regular Kay Medford stops by and “interrupts” things, and Tommy Tune shows off his dancing skills. If that weren’t enough, Robert Wagner is the special guest in the closet.

No matter the episode, The Dean Martin Show unfurls like a subtle parody of the format. It was (and is) obvious that Dean was reading most of his lines from cue cards (he regularly made jokes about doing so), no doubt largely due to his refusal to rehearse. No matter though, there was something about Dean’s devil-may-care attitude that made him seem accessible. Flub a line? Not a problem. Dino would just grin and move on; this was a guy comfortable in his own skin.

It’s great to see these six uncut episodes available on DVD. A time capsule of a bygone era, The Dean Martin Show was one of the best when it came to the variety format. Over nine seasons, and 264 episodes, nearly everyone who was anyone in show business wanted to appear on television with Dean Martin. Hopefully, we will be given the chance to see more complete episodes soon.

These presentations won’t blow you away. As you might expect with a forty-plus year-old show that didn’t expect to be seen beyond its original airing, colors are somewhat washed out, and scratches are evident from time to time. Even so, no of this should be too much of a concern for fans who have been waiting years for uncut episodes of this show.

No special features are available.

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