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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Tony Orlando & Dawn: The Ultimate Collection
Tony Orlando & Dawn: The Ultimate Collection
R2 Entertainment // Unrated // September 13, 2005
List Price: $49.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted November 11, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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Movie: Around the time that Sonny and Cher broke up and way before musicians like Human League, New Order, Tori Amos, Kylie Minogue, X, Pat Benatar, Selena, Galaxy 500, Sarah Brightman, Berlin, ZZ Top, Great Kat, Love & Rockets, and Everything But The Girl, were points on the musical map, the group Tony Orlando & Dawn were entertaining the masses with a number of top ten tunes in their equivalent to a Las Vegas floor act across the country. I remember going with my family and neighbors to see them play at a fairground in southeastern Massachusetts before their ultimate single, Tie A Yellow Ribbon, came out and they always seemed to be one of those groups that enjoyed the crowd as much as the crowd enjoyed them. The story of how the band got together was a simple tale of convenience with Tony and the two lovely singers making up Dawn (Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent) being thrust together after he released a song, Knock Three Times, which took off. The rest is history as the trio were all the rage in the early to mid 1970's, landing a musical variety show that is the subject of today's review of Tony Orlando & Dawn: The Ultimate Collection.

Born on April 3, 1944, Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis, grew up in the famed Hell's Kitchen of New York City (home of the comic character Daredevil for all you Marvel Comic fans out there). He cut a record in 1960, becoming the first vocalist signed to then new Epic Records before ending up on the production side of the music industry. A series of mishaps led to him back into performing, and the end result was the formation of Tony Orlando & Dawn which ended up as airing as a summer replacement show on CBS in 1974. The show was mainly driven by the trio singing songs and a number of guest stars from contemporary television shows as well as numerous other singers. There were some comedy sketches that always seemed to prove how limited the comedy talents of the group were but it was essentially good clean fun at a time when the country was going through a whole lot of problems (Saigon had fallen, the Watergate incident, and so much more).

Tony had the kind of lounge act appeal where he'd interact with the audience in between insults hurled at him by Telma though you never got the impression that there was any real animosity between the two. The DVD set itself took eleven episodes from the series (it ran from 1974 to reruns in 1977 I believe) instead of offering up a complete, truly "ultimate" set and most of them were representative of the series as it evolved from something that looked almost as if it were made on a dime by a local theatre group to a more slickly produced kaleidoscope of show as was standard by the time it went off the air. The episodes were presented on three discs and here's a listing of their airdate per the internet movie database:

Disc One: Knock
1) July 3, 1974: Loretta Swit and Rosey Grier
2) December 11, 1974: Jackie Gleason and Nancy Walker
3) January 15, 1975: Danny Thomas, Ruth Buzzi, and Dom DeLuise
4) April 9, 1975: guest stars Ted Knight, Georgia Engel, and Hank Aaron

Disc Two: Three
1) November 5, 1975: Neil Sedaka, Phyllis Diller, and Jim Nabors
2) January 14, 1976: Buck Owens and the cast of Hee-Haw
3) November 19, 1975: guest stars Freddie Prinze and Adrienne Barbeau
4) February 18, 1976: guest stars Joey Bishop, Sid Cesar, and Milton Berle

Disc Three: Times
1) March 3, 1976: Jerry Lewis and Anne Meara
2) September 21, 1976: format change to the Rainbow Hour guest starring George Carlin and Alice Cooper
3) October 5, 1976: Freddie Prinze, England Dan and John Ford Coley

Tony Orlando & Dawn sang most of the songs, including covers to many popular hits of the day, and like most television shows of the day, it was readily apparent that they were lip synching to previously recorded performances. If that's your biggest gripe about the set, you'll be way ahead of the curve. Personally, I think fans wanting the "Ultimate" collection would've wanted the entire series or at least all of the songs that the trio sang (if the other material had issues with copyright like many other older shows on DVD have had). I noticed that some of the shows were a lot longer than others and I couldn't easily find a comprehensive show listing so I suspect that there were some major cuts to a few of the episodes too. In all though, it was a lot of fun to see the cheesy skits, the disco styled outfits, the fluffy hair that I remember from over 30 years ago, and the simple nature of the show. That it rated so highly was an indicative of the trouble the country was in as anything else but the appeal of the group shouldn't be denied as a cultural time capsule if nothing else. Unless you're a fan though, I can't honestly rate it as anything higher than a Rent It due to the many technical limitations and source material selections but I've seen worse too.

Picture: Tony Orlando & Dawn: The Ultimate Collection was presented in the originally broadcast 1.33:1 ratio full frame color it aired in about 30 years ago. While I wasn't exactly expecting it to look like a brand new release, it looked like someone's dog pissed on the tapes used for the transfer. The first part of the first episode had the screen alive with all kinds of visual defects from shimmering costumes (that weren't supposed to shimmer in this case), bleedover, tracking mishaps (as though the source tape weren't tracked correctly), all sorts of enhancement problems, and focus issues. Some of the time, the lighting was off as well with shadows seen throughout the productions (which weren't the result of source material so much as the original camera work) and it really gave an air of an amateur production knocked out quickly for a summer replacement show that nobody was supposed to watch. The production values climbed as the episodes progressed though and the later ones looked almost as if made in the early 1980's (I know that's no great compliment but it gives you a spectrum to judge the increased quality). Had all the episodes lasted the same (or similar) length of time, I'd suggest they were complete but a few of them were 15+ minutes shorter and there was no documentation to explain the problems (whether copyright matters or simply destroyed source tapes).

Sound: The audio was presented in monaural although my receiver suggested it was a 2.0 Dolby Digital track. I suppose this means they cleaned up the original track by processing it through the popular process and most of the pops and clicks were only heard when the audio was turned way up. The same could be said for the hiss so in a sense, it was much like if you played the albums released by the group and limited to the dynamic range of the typical television broadcast of the day.

Extras: For an older show, I am happy to report that some decent extras were included here. Each disc had a jukebox function where you could skip all the lame comedy (don't skip Freddie Prinze's performances or those in the later episodes by George Carlin though) and see the music portions of the episodes; complete with an extra song each time (or was it two?). The strength of the group was in their music and this made for a better viewing of the material at hand. The third disc was the one with all the best extras though. It started off with a lengthy clip from the Tonight Show that starred Freddie Prinze as he discussed matters with Tony Orlando. It was from 1976, when both were at the top of their game, well before the tragic downfall each took the following year. Lasting over 15.5 minutes, they kidded about their respective guest appearances on each other's shows (talking about payment) as well as more personal matters of interest before Tony sang a solo song. I wish more shows would include such clips as invaluable historical insights of the icons of the time. The next extra was a cute clip from the short-lived Fridays show that aired on ABC (which I remember mainly for Melanie Chartoff and the "transphibians" sketch). Don Novello in his Father Guido Sarducci persona was the lead vocalist with Dawn (Telma and Joyce). The last decent extra was a bit from the Carol Burnett Show where Harvey Korman, Carol Burnett and Vicky Lawrence parodied the group for a couple of minutes (if you like Tony and the gals, you'll be rolling on the ground laughing at the skit). There was also a short bit from the show itself that had some guy known for setting up intricate patterns with dominoes (Bob Spector?), this time spelling out the group's name for the thrilling exposition of watching the dominoes climb ramps, knock over multiple rows, and all the crazy fun of watching them fall. I remember watching this guy on a few shows, including this bit, back in the 1970's and to this day wonder what the fascination with him was. Otherwise, the boxed set was a three disc set with foldout "pages" that had a bit of text on them and some colorful pictures. There was also a coupon for $10 off if you bought a 6 CD set of the group's releases.

Final Thoughts: Tony Orlando & Dawn: The Ultimate Collection was the type of show favored at the time; clean, light-hearted, and solidly focused on the music that fans favored so much for those golden years. Now that I've watched the 9 hours of material here, I'll be humming the hits for weeks to come (much to the chagrin of those around me) but it was well worth checking out for fans of the group, pop music aficionados, and people wanting escapist fair from a time long gone. The technical limitations of the material and the selective editing will bother purists a lot more than someone like me looking at the set as a bit of nostalgia (where a little goes a long, long way) but there's no denying that Tony Orlando & Dawn have a place in history given the sheer numbers of albums sold and the initial ratings of the show.

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