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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Carson Country
Carson Country
R2 Entertainment // Unrated // November 7, 2006
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted October 24, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
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The Movie:

When Johnny Carson was hosting the Tonight Show, it seemed like anything could happen. He had a knack for getting some truly unusual guests on his show and sometimes there was an air of unpredictability to the material that seems to be lacking from more modern late night talk shows. He also had an appreciation for cowboys and country music if this compilation, aptly titled Carson Country, is anything to go by. Here fans have a chance to check out roughly seventy minutes worth of footage where Johnny takes on musicians, cowboy stars, southern comedians or just plain odd hillbilly types to often very funny effect.

Each of the clips in the collection is introduced by a text screen which gives the name of the guest and the date of the original broadcast before kicking into the clip itself – running time varies from segment to segment, and some are considerably longer than others but each one has sort of a 'down home' or 'Southern' vibe to it that gives it a bit of charm even if the material might come across as a little dated sometimes.

The highlights of the compilation are the three musical numbers that are contained on the disc. The earliest is Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Three doing Ring Of Fire live in front of the studio audience in 1964. The original masters for this episode are gone but a Kinescope was found and so this fantastic performance has been saved from obscurity forever on this DVD where it appears for the first time. Also included on this disc is the first ever Tonight Show appearance from The Judds, as well as a really fun duet featuring Dwight Yoakam and the late, great Mr. Buck Owens, both of whom are dressed to the nines just as you'd expect them to be. Buck looks really happy here, pickin' and a grinnin' away and Yoakam proves he's no slouch on the guitar either.

Brett Butler shows up and does a reasonably amusing stand up routine wherein she talks about growing up in the South and how it differs from her current residence, that being smack dab in the middle of New York City. A few other comedians show up as does a ventriloquist, but hands down the most bizarre of the guests represented on this disc are a pair of older men, one seventy and the other seventy three at the time of the recording, who had been flown in from some small town in South Carolina. These two men had won a Hollering Contest – one was the champion and the other was the runner up – and their appearance on the Tonight Show was not only their first time on TV and not only their first time in New York City (they liked it for the fact that there were 'a lot of pretty girls and not too many pretty boys!') but also their first time on an airplane. It's nothing short of hilarious to see a seventy year old man demonstrate his 'hollering' technique which is something akin to a more musical form of yodeling, and to see Carson's reaction to it.

Other guests of note include the 1972 American Horseshoe Throwing Champion. He appears here in a fancy custom made shirt and makes Johnny brace a pole with his chin and hold one between his legs before proceeding to ring horseshoes on them from forty feet away. Johnny looks understandably unsettled here, and you can't really blame him. An older man who previously worked in Vaudeville but who now collects cowbells shows up and plays 'Blueberry Hill' using about twenty different bells and his rather loud voice, and John Wayne and Michael Landon both show up to talk to Johnny for a bit as well.

A lot of the material is pretty hokey but even more of it is still genuinely funny. Carson with a 'Bush Dog' courtesy of his regular guest from the San Francisco Zoo is priceless as is his chat with a female Sheriff from Ohio. Little moments like these add up to a much bigger picture, and a truly funny one at that.

The DVD

Video:

The video quality varies pretty wildly on this release depending on the age of the clip and what source materials were available for it but everything is always at least watchable even if some of the older material is far from pristine. The kinescope of the Johnny Cash clip is the worst looking of the bunch and it's also the older, while the more recent material such as the Dwight Yoakam/Buck Owens duet looks much cleaner and clearer. All of this material was shot and broadcast fullframe which is exactly how it is presented on this DVD. As far as the authoring of the disc goes, there aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts though there is a bit of mild shimmering to keep an eye out for if you're so inclined. Overall, however, things look decent enough for what is essentially a collection of archival clips.

Sound:

The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track on the DVD fluctuates the same way that the video does, in that the more modern clips understandably sound better than the older ones do. Even the older clips, however, are always understandable and aside from some mild background hiss, for the most part things are clean and clear. Don't look for any alternate language dubs, subtitles or closed captions on this disc, however, as you're not going to find any.

Extras:

Aside from some static menus and a chapter selection option, the only extra features are four narrated clips that explain some background information on each specific piece that we get to watch. The Johnny Cash clip, for example, explains that it was taken from a Kinescope and then it goes on to explain what a Kinescope is, and the John Wayne segment has a narrator over top who explains how Carson often had walk-on guests come and surprise him on the show. There's also an amusing segment in here where Michael Landon plays a joke on Carson by coloring his hair to match Carson's silver locks.

Final Thoughts:

Not every one of the clips in this collection is comedy gold but there's certainly enough of interest on here that the disc is worth a look despite the rather short running time. The Cash clip alone makes it worthwhile and some of the more unusual moments, such as the 'holler contest' winners definitely give it some replay. Carson Country comes recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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