The Kuklapolitan Players are back again with another
two-disc set of classic Kukla, Fran, and Ollie shows!
Those who picked up the first collection will
need no encouragement to run out and buying a copy of Kukla,
Fran, and Ollie: The First Episodes Vol. 2. Like
the first release, this set includes a
slew of rare shows from the early days of television, 22 full episodes
with several excerpts, which are still as amusing and slightly surreal
were when they were first broadcast back in the 1950's.
It's a great set, and if you missed the first
release you can get them both
at a discount. You can't beat that.
For those who aren't familiar with the trio, Kukla and Ollie
are puppets, (Ollie is a dragon and Kukla is "a Kukla" as Ollie reveals
of these shows) who interact with their human friend, Fran. The show also has a wide cast of other
puppets including the wanna-be opera diva Madame Ooglepuss, the
or less) Buelah Witch, and southern blowhard Colonel Crackie among
others. The thing that makes the show so
causes it to stand head and shoulders above other kids shows of the
era, is the
slightly bizarre, off-kilter sense of humor that permeates the program. Though it's a program aimed at kids, they
talk down to their audience and even assume that they're more cultured
they really are. One episode features
the troupe performing the opera Carmen
for example. How many kids would even
know who Bizet was, much less want to see one of his operas? It takes a few episodes to really get the
hang of what they're doing, but it's surprisingly amusing even now.
This collection has a few standout shows, but my favorite
was when they did a parody of the classic film Destination
having seen the film, Kukla and Ollie decide that they want to make a
about going to the moon. The come up
with a plot, such as it is, where they're two inventors and Fran is a
heiress who is bankrolling their research.
The pair take off, leaving Fran behind since she's a woman, and
explore the solar system. Fran is
worried about them so she visits Buelah Witch who has just picked up a
message from the two explorers: they've
reached the moon but run out of gas and can't make it back. Buelah has a great idea on how to rescue the
pair: The 1950 Ford is comfortable,
spacious, and roomy as well as being the perfect car to take anywhere
never guess who sponsored the show at this time). Since
it can go anywhere, why doesn't Fran
drive one to the moon? This she does,
showing that women can travel in space too.
Another great bit is when they read a review of the show
that appeared in The New Yorker Magazine. It's
a favorable review, describing the show
as "high brow" but the reviewer runs into trouble when he describes the
Ollie reading the review:
"There are a pair of..." what does P-U-P-P-E-T-S spell?
Kukla: Oh skip it,
just go on.
Ollie: "...called Kukla
and Ollie. One is a dragon, the other a
pin... (softly) pinhead."
Kukla (hurt): Why'd
he call me a pinhead?
That's the running gag for the rest of that bit... why would a
reviewer call Kukla a 'pinhead?'
One of the neat things about these show is that they were ad-libbed
and live. That's right, they went on
live television without a script, just some vague ideas of what they
to do and let the show unfold as it would.
You can hear the piano player and stage hands laughing at times,
even more amusing is when Fran isn't sure what Burr (operating the
going for. There were a couple of times
where Fran excuses herself only to have Kukla say something to the
'no stay here Fran." This gives the show
a free wheeling and spontaneous feel that is totally lacking in shows
The 22 episodes, are presented on a pair of DVDs that come
in a single-width double case.
All of these episodes were broadcast live, but these were
saved thanks to Kinescope copies. In
these days before videotape the only way to preserve a live show was to
camera at a monitor showing the broadcast and film it.
Needless to say there was some loss of
quality inherent in this method. All of
the shows in this set are Kinescopes but they've been cleaned up and
sound better than I was expecting.
The mono soundtrack does have some hiss and pops and the
dynamic range is very limited, but these DVDs reproduce the show better
the small screen and scratchy single paper cone speaker would back when
were first broadcast. The dialog does
get a bit muddled in a couple of parts, but in general it's easy to
dialog and follow the show. I never had
to strain to follow the shows, so I was very happy with the audio on
Recorded between 1949 and 1954, the image quality is very
good for Kinescopes. Yes, the picture is
soft and the contrast isn't as strong as it could be, but the shows are
generally clear and easy on the eyes. It's
easy to tell that these have had work done on them since they look
most Kinescopes from this time frame.
There are more bonus features included with this set than
with the previous one, which is great.
There are a few extended excerpts from shows, all of which are
funny, as well as three complete episodes from the 1961 incarnation of
show. Granted these later shows only ran
five-minutes a piece, but they were short and sweet.
There is also a short 'wiki' on the show, a series of text
pages that gives interesting background on the show and people who
it. (You should read this if only for
the Tallulah Bankhead story.) The wiki concludes with some celebrity
including missives from Orson Welles, John Steinbeck, and Marlon Brando. The photo gallery includes behind-the-scenes
pictures as well as some early shots of creator Burr Tillstrom. The extras are wrapped up with a one-page
story on the origin of Kukla.
This is a great set that will hopefully find its way into a
lot of DVD collections. A highlight in
early television, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie are woefully ignored today,
hopefully this set will expose a new generation of viewers to the
comedy of this fantastic show. Highly