The TV Series:
Gentle on my mind, Velveeta on my television set - the appearance of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour: Christmas Specials on DVD is as good a reason as any to celebrate the season. Although the Shout Factory release contains just two holiday-centric episodes from Campbell's 1969-72 series, given the general paucity of worthwhile vintage variety shows on DVD, I'm willing to accept even this paltry offering. In the words of Oliver Twist, "Please, sir - I want some more!"
Originally airing in 1969 and 1970, the two episodes on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour: Christmas Specials served as excellent showcases for Campbell's easygoing charm and tremendous musical talent. Campbell paid his dues on L.A.'s session music scene in the '60s, finally breaking through with several exquisite Jimmy Webb-penned songs that bridged the genres of Pop, Country and Easy Listening. As expected, Campbell performs several of these hits on this disc's episodes, although mostly the hours highlight his friendly rapport with his guests and the willingness to do even the corniest of comedy (always a plus for a skilled variety show host - ask Carol Burnett). Based on these two episodes, the Goodtime Hour was a smooth hybrid of Hollywood mainstream glitz, square midwestern values, and a touch of the counterculture (sure, Campbell had freaky long hair, but he also kept it neatly styled to placate the old folks).
The 1969 Christmas episode on this set is a pretty wild trip, variety show-wise - Campbell grins his way through several musical performances (including his own hits "Galveston," "Wichita Lineman" and "Try a Little Kindness"), comedy skits, and holiday segments with his family and celebrity guests. What I loved about this episode is that it doesn't pound the viewer over the head with schmaltzy holiday cheer. It's just Campbell being himself, goofing alongside comedy guests Andy Griffith and Paul Lynde, bouncing through a groovy-arranged "Jingle Bells" with "Miss Cher," and playing "Classical Gas" on acoustic guitar while a troupe of unisex-outfit-clad dancers gyrate behind him. The presence of a lovely African American backup singer in a big afro says that something new is happenin' here, yet for the most part it's corny, down-home fun. In the gala finale, Campbell, guests and family gather on a huge, gloriously fake living room set. Campbell performs "There's No Place Like Home" for his wife and fidgety kids, and everything is right in the world (for an hour, at least).
By 1970, the Goodtime Hour apparently had gone full-blown Country, morphing into a more sophisticated cousin to competing corn-fest Hee Haw. Campbell himself has a more laid-back presence, still outfitted in polyester Botany 500 ensembles that nevertheless convey a decidedly casual attitude. The mainstream guests of '69 make way for Shecky Greene, George Gobel, and Larry McNeely in lazy, lamely written comedy skits, while the musical front is brightened with Campbell and Anne Murray harmonizing beautifully on "Winter Wonderland." A strangely authentic moment comes up midway through this episode, when Campbell invites his elderly parents and three of his sisters onstage to sing. The Campbells' performances of "Cryin' Time," "'Til There Was You" and "Mr. Lee" offer a sincere window into what many families did back then - singing to amuse themselves, genuinely and without a trace of irony. Again, the episode ends in a lavish finale, with Glen, family, guests, and a huge crew of dancers, singers and musicians united in song, spirit, and every shade of beige/brown clothing you could imagine (this was 1970, remember).
A footnote: although this disc contains zero bonus materials, the '69 episode sports a nice plus for weird animation lovers. Campbell introduces Blaze Glory, a stop-motion animated Western parody from Len Janson and Chuck Melville. This was the team that did the wild, Oscar-nominated 1967 short Stop, Look and Listen. While the silly Blaze Glory isn't up to that short's standards, it's still a surprising find.
These two episodes were mastered from aged videotapes with their requisite blurry edges, splotchy colors and occasional artifacts such as horizontal lines and oddly colored corners. For tapes that survived into their fourth decade of existence, they look decent yet unspectacular. The mastering is fine on the 4:3 image, preserving the pleasant color and detail in the photography.
The mono soundtrack is fairly typical of videotaped television productions from that period. Though at a disadvantage compared with filmed efforts, the sound survived fairly well despite the limited dynamics. No subtitle options are offered.
None. The simple menu designs offer either a "Play All" function or direct access to selected scenes.
Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas is peace on Earth and the complete run of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour on DVD. In the meantime, this single, bare-bones disc with two holiday episodes will do - for fans of vintage variety-show kitsch, one can't go wrong with Glen and his pals Cher, Andy Griffith, Paul Lynde and Anne Murray. Rent It.