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Eclectic DVD presents
Milton Berle: An All-Star Tribute To "Mr. Television" (1998)

"I'm not going to stay on too long. And if you believe that, you believe that there will be a Richard Simmons, Jr."
- Milton Berle

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: September 26, 2002

Stars: Milton Berle
Other Stars: Steve Allen, Red Buttons, Norm Crosby, Larry Gelbart, Buddy Hackett, Art Linkletter, Rich Little, Buddy Arnold, Army Archerd
Director: Joe Ritter

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:15m:49s
Release Date: July 09, 2002
UPC: 022891101796
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B+CC- D+

DVD Review

It's hard for any of us under the age of, say, 55, to remember life before television, and for us Milton Berle has always been a fixture of a bygone age, an old-time comedian inordinately fond of dressing up in women's clothing. But if you were watching one of the first sets, in the late 1940s, Berle was Mr. Television, and Tuesday night was his. This DVD is a tribute to the late, great man by those who knew him best, his fellow comedians, and the portrait they paint is truly of a titan—they say, without irony and some truth, that Uncle Miltie deserves a royalty on every television set ever sold, because it was his show as much as anything that made having that box in your house an absolute necessity.

Recorded in 1998 at the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills for the fiftieth anniversary of Berle's TV debut, there's something decidedly elegiac about the event—Berle has since passed away, as has Steve Allen, who serves as the master of ceremonies. (As Rich Little says about Berle at one point: "I think he's one of the greats, and you know, there's not too many greats left.") The disc begins with interviews in the museum's lobby with Berle's colleagues and protégés, all on hand to pay their respects. If you're a fan of old style comedy, you've just got to love some interview footage that features, in the background, Buddy Hackett walking by in an absurd bolo tie.

The action then shifts to the auditorium, in what's sort of a geriatric Friars Roast, without the steaks and scotch. Norm Crosby talks about being Berle's opening act in his signature style: "He's the best. He's a consummate performer. That's a performer that likes soup." Art Linkletter says some kind things, as does Hackett; Rich Little doesn't do a Milton Berle impression, so he serves up some old standards: Bill Clinton, Ross Perot, even Richard Nixon.

Red Buttons seems particularly indebted and grateful to Berle, and he makes the evening's obligatory reference to the legend surrounding a certain portion of Berle's anatomy. Larry Gelbart is especially articulate, though the very best detail may be this: back in his vaudeville days, as a teenager, Berle appeared with Steve Allen's mother, and on more than one occasion was called upon to babysit for little Stevie so Mama could go throw back a few.

The man himself takes the stage at the end, and though he was pushing 90, he's not bashful about working blue: "I'm at the stage now where Janet Reno looks like jailbait." And while he's still got it, the principal weakness of this disc is that it doesn't offer any footage of Berle in his prime. The audience at the museum seems to have just seen a highlight reel from Berle's television show, and the clips are alluded to more than once, but unfortunately you won't find them here. Still, given that the institutional memory of an industry like television usually goes no further back than last week's Nielsen ratings, there's fun to be had and seeing some of these old lions still showing that they can roar.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Video quality is not especially high, and the image is full of grain, but given the documentary nature of the event, it's certainly serviceable. Also, in what must have been intended as a tribute to Berle, some of the shots begin in black and white and then change to color. It's nice once, but not after that.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Ambient noise during the opening interviews is especially brutal—it's the subjects talking over the clamor of a loud party, and the waiters serving the hors d'oeuvres are about as loud as they can be. Things are marginally better inside, but a couple of instances of nasty buzz pop up, especially when Buddy Hackett takes the stage.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. photo gallery
Extras Review: Chapter stops are, sensibly, pegged to each of the comedians. Nine photos from Berle's heyday and a very brief biography of him are the only extras, though the disc itself bears a nice photo of the honoree in drag.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

This is a genial walk down memory lane for those who remember watching Texaco Star Theater, and sort of a nice comedy museum for the rest of us. It's unfortunate that the disc is barren of archival material, but as the days of the Borscht Belt and live television are long gone, it's a treat to hear the old soldiers recalling the glory days.


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