directed by Franklin J. Schaffner
USA 1953

 

In one memorable scene from “Good Night and Good Luck” (2005), Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) interviews Liberace. The flamboyant pianist tells Murrow that he’s just looking for a good woman to marry, prompting the newsman to raise a skeptical eyebrow as he tries to maintain his composure. Whether Murrow’s doubletake really occurred is a question left open to history, but the Liberace interview was a real one, one of many from Murrow’s long-running series “Person to Person” (1953-1959).

Murrow has become the patron saint of hard-boiled journalism, and his mythology incorporates the claim that he despised “Person to Person,” doing so only to appease his network bosses. I suspect Murrow derived some modicum of pleasure from hob-nobbing with celebrities, but “Person to Person” was definitely lightweight fare. The series employed the simplest of formats. Murrow, dragging on his trademark cigarette, sat in a chair in front of a picture window. He introduced his guest for the week, and the window would transform into a de-facto television set which brought the viewer “into the home” of each star. Each episode lasted about 15 minutes, and aired on Fridays at 10:30 PM.

Murrow adapted his approach to each guest. For movie stars, Murrow served as a virtual studio shill, pumping up each star and allowing him or her to promote any current projects. When interviewing politicians, he would ask more pertinent, relevant questions, though seldom anything too confrontational. “Person to Person” was the predecessor to contemporary shows like “Access Hollywood” and “Entertainment Tonight,” and if it seems more substantial by comparison, it’s mostly because the show’s stripped-down look (and budget, probably) left no room for glitz and glamour. Still, even the softball interviews are fascinating to watch today, for the simple fact that they are old. I suspect the same will be true of “Entertainment Tonight” in fifty years. This boxed set includes 32 interviews from the series, including the aforementioned Liberace interview.

One of the highlights is the Marlon Brando interview (from April 1, 1955), which teaches us a valuable lesson: what one generation finds funny, a future generation will find embarrassing. The 31 year-old Brando, fresh off his Award-winning performance in “On the Waterfront,” decides to tell a funny story. “What time is it when a Chinaman goes to the dentist?” Murrow plays along. Brando: “Two thirty. Get it… ‘tooth hurty.’” Yikes. Brando salvages the outing by playing the bongos.

I can’t discuss all of the episodes on the disc, but other favorites include interviews with Gene Kelly, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Eleanor Roosevelt. Another winner is the Oct 30, 1953 interview with newlyweds Senator John F. Kennedy and former reporter Jacqueline Kennedy (before she had become “Jackie”). Murrow gives JFK ample time to discuss his war record as well as his anti-commie rhetoric, helping to lay the ground for any future presidential campaign the young Senator might be considering.

 

Christopher Long

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DVD Review: Koch Vision (3-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC

Big thanks to Christopher Long for the Review!

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution

Koch Vision

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 7 hours 7 minutes
Video

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.71 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate

Audio Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Koch Vision

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:

DVD Release Date: November 7th, 2006

Chapters 11x

 

 

Comments:

There's no sugarcoating it; the image quality is terrible. Of course, you would expect that with 1950s television footage. I suspect much of this material is taken from kinescope recordings of the original broadcasts, which is the only many early TV broadcasts survive at all. In any case, the image is soft and faded, and this no-frills transfer doesn't improve the quality at all. It was a challenge to capture even moderately presentable screenshots below.

Regardless, this is a valuable collection to have, and it makes for endlessly fascinating viewing. I highly recommend this boxed set.

The boxed set includes three discs which divide the interviews into somewhat arbitrary categories.

Disc One is titled “American Icons” and includes interviews with Dick Clark, Billy Graham, Andy Griffith, Oscar Hammerstein, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Art Linkletter, Norman Rockwell, Eleanor Roosevelt, Danny Thomas, and Esther Williams.

Disc Two is titled “Hollywood Legends” and includes interviews with Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall, Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis & Janet Leigh, Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren, Gene Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward, and Elizabeth Taylor & Mike Todd.

Disc Three is titled “Legendary Entertainers” and includes interviews with Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Carol Channing, Sammy Davis, Jr., Helen Hayes, Jerry Lewis, Liberace, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Jonathan Winters.

 - Christopher Long

 

 



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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Distribution

Koch Vision

Region 1 - NTSC




 

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