“The Red Skelton Hour in Color: Unreleased Seasons” (Time Life, 1966-69, three discs, 12 episodes, featurette, four-page booklet). Red Skelton often said he simply wanted to be remembered as a clown. And he was certainly a comedian in the tried and true physical tradition — taking pratfalls, acting out silent skits in pantomime, and offering up jaunty banter, often with a stray ad lib or a wink at the audience.
Even in the 1960s, Skelton’s routines sometimes seemed old-fashioned, but that’s what his fans loved, and that’s what the red-haired comic delivered. And it’s what those of us who remember Skelton with fondness look forward to with revivals like this DVD set.
These 12 color shows are fine representations of his later work, and although he was in his 50s when they were recorded, Skelton had lost none of his ability or wit, and breaking character for a laugh was still as highly anticipated as his stable of characters: homeless and hapless Freddie the Freeloader, henpecked husband Clem Kadiddlehopper, wild-eyed Old West sheriff Deadeye, punch-drunk boxer Cauliflower McPugg, slick con artist San Fernando Red, etc. The guests here include John Wayne, Tim Conway, Simon & Garfunkel, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Audrey Meadows, Vicki Lawrence and more.
“Projections of America” (PBS, 2016, featurette, trailer). Robert Riskin’s name is known to film buffs as the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “It Happened One Night” (1937), along with several other Oscar-nominated pictures directed by Frank Capra. But later, during World War II, Riskin headed up a team of idealistic filmmakers that churned out 26 short documentaries about American life.
The films were sort of anti-Hollywood productions, shown around the world to assure other nations that Americans were simple, ordinary people just like them — working in fields, washing windows, selling produce, etc., and comprised a population that included its share of immigrants (a film about Swedish-Americans is narrated by Ingrid Bergman). John Lithgow narrates this hourlong documentary about these optimistic and idealistic films.
“Hairspray Live!” (Universal, 2016). In 1962 Baltimore, “pleasantly plump” teen Tracy Turnblad (Maddie Baillio) appears on a local TV dance show, becomes a celebrity and leads a movement to defy the era’s accepted racism. This adaptation of the exuberant 2002 Tony-winning Broadway show (which was based on John Waters’ 1988 film) was NBC’s fourth annual live TV holiday musical. Harvey Fierstein reprises his Broadway role as Tracy’s mother and among the co-stars are Kristin Chenoweth, Ariana Grande, Derek Hough, Jennifer Hudson and Martin Short.
“Another Man Will” (RLJ, 2016). After 19 years of marriage, Joe (Thomas “Nephew Tommy” Miles) has been taking his wife Cynthia (Nadine Ellis) for granted for far too long. Even when a hunky landscaper begins to pay attention to her, Joe is oblivious until friends and family warn that he’s on the verge of losing her. This comedy-drama stage production (recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience) was written, directed and produced by David E. Talbert (who also wrote and directed the recent theatrical film “Almost Christmas”).
“Close to the Enemy” (Acorn, 2016, three discs, seven episodes, featurettes, photo gallery). Immediately after World War II, the final task of an English intelligence officer (Jim Sturgess) is to convince a German scientist (August Diehl) to develop a jet engine for the British government. They develop an uneasy friendship, which becomes more complicated as secrets and lies get in the way, along with their respective loyalties to their own countries during the emergence of the Cold War. The co-stars include Alfred Molina, Angela Bassett and Freddie Highmore. (Contains coarse language, violence, sex and nudity.)
“Nature: My Congo” (PBS, 2016). Wildlife cameraman Vianet D’jenguet was born in the Congo but has lived much of his life in Europe. Here, he returns to his homeland to chronicle its beauty, both in the countryside and in the people, along with the many animals he spots, including chimps, gorillas, weaver birds, swamp antelopes, forest elephants and buffalo. This is an hourlong documentary episode of “Nature.”
“Frontline: Terror in Europe” (PBS, 2016). This hour is devoted to the wave of attacks in Europe by terrorists linked to al-Qaida and ISIS, including the systemic breakdowns that have opened the door and the attempts by anti-terrorism units to close it again.
“Frontline: Confronting ISIS” (PBS, 2016). “Frontline” correspondent Martin Smith went to five countries with key roles in the anti-ISIS fight — Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Turkey — to film this two-hour special about the challenges of fighting terrorism, looking at both successes and failures in the effort.
“Secrets of the Dead: Graveyard of the Giant Beasts” (PBS, 2016). Archaeologists in Cerrejon, Colombia, thought the discovery of a 43-foot snake was unmatched in size and strength until they unearthed another ancient predator, a giant crocodilian. This is an hourlong documentary episode of the PBS series “Secrets of the Dead.”
“Girls: The Complete Fifth Season” (HBO, 2016, two discs, 10 episodes, deleted/extended scenes, featurette). Lena Dunham’s sitcom (raunchy HBO-style) focuses on five 20-something women and their relationship ups and downs. The guests include Rita Wilson, Jason Ritter, Peter Scolari, Lucy Liu and Corey Stoll. (The sixth and final season begins on HBO Feb. 12.)