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Koch Vision presents
Edward R. Murrow: The Best of Person to Person (1053)

"I want to someday find the perfect mate...in fact, I was reading about lovely, young Princess Margaret, and, uh, she's looking for her dream man, too."
- Liberace

Review By: Ross Johnson  
Published: November 30, 2006

Stars: Edward R. Murrow, Bob Schieffer, Jill Corey
Other Stars: Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, John F. Kennedy, Esther Williams
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 07h:07m:10s
Release Date: November 07, 2006
UPC: 741952642398
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-A D-

DVD Review

This isn't the Edward R. Murrow who brought down McCarthy, or of Harvest of Shame. The Murrow that hosted Person to Person during the 1950s isn't quite the Murrow that shaped the views of a nation for several decades. These are celebrity interviews, plain and simple. The form hasn't evolved much from the format that Murrow established, and it's easily recognizable today even through a haze of smoke (man, did he smoke a lot... seriously).

The format involves Murrow sitting in a comfy chair in a studio, doing video interviews with celebrities in (usually) their own homes. That angle is pretty cool, both because his guests are legends, and because there's a certain lack of artifice. Thanks to shows like Cribs, or Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous before it, modern celebrities have been one-upping each other in the cool, extravagant home game for years. The homes here seem more, well, homey. Eleanor Roosevelt's apartment looks much like my grandmother's place. I found that poignant, and relatable. It's also interesting to see these stars and political figures at sometimes unexpected points in their careers. We tend to lock these legends in time based on their most well-known moments. Roosevelt here is a decade past living in the White House, still working and traveling daily in support of her various causes, while John Kennedy is a young senator, interviewed as a newlywed with his shy bride Jackie. Dick Clark is a kid riding the bus to work at American Bandstand. Marlon Brando is... skinny. Like all of us, their lives have peaks and valleys, and just plain, normal days in between. I don't suggest that these are deeply penetrating interviews, usually far from it. Still, with Murrow at the helm and without the intervening decades of celebrity self-awareness, they provide more insight than their descendants with questions that aren't designed to shock or outwit, just to get people talking. The knowledge that we have of these people from the intervening years adds another layer of depth, and often poignancy. Marilyn Monroe (who, CBS News' Bob Schieffer informs us in an introduction, spent five hours applying makeup), Jack, Jackie, and Bobby Kennedy are all young, talented, and well on their way in these interviews. They'll go farther than most of us ever will, but at a terribly high price. It's hard to imagine watching them in the mid-'50s, not knowing what's in store.

The three discs included here aren't all poignant reminders of mortality and the dangers of burning out young, though. There are many interviews included, all at right around 15 minutes each, but most of them are light-spirited. Bette Davis and her husband enjoy crabbing in Maine. Billy Graham's wife prefers rustic decor. When asked about settling down and getting married, Liberace cagily replies that he's always on the lookout for the perfect mate (an interview recreated, in part, in Good Night, and Good Luck). At the time, it was somewhat taboo for a film star to appear on TV, but the popularity of Person to Person, along with the caché of Murrow, brought in the big names.

It's fun stuff, and I found myself enjoying even the interviews with celebs I'm less familiar with. My only criticism is the format. The interviews on each of the three discs are strung together one after another with bookend comments from Bob Schieffer. I would have liked more of a sense of what a complete episode would have been like, just out of a sense of historical curiosity. The segments are also separated by oddly cheesy and anachronistic music that I could have done without. Those are nitpicks, though, and I do appreciate the inclusion of the original airdates. That's a small but classy touch that a lot of shows skip. Overall, this is a fun and sometimes poignant time capsule. Pioneering the modern celebrity interview was certainly among Murrow's lesser achievements, but he's smooth, witty, and professional in a way that practitioners of the art today could certainly learn from. Maybe it was the smoking.

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


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio4:3 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: It's a little tough to figure out where the early and unpreserved '50s-era broadcast image ends and the DVD-transfer begins. I couldn't make out any edge-enhancement or haloing in the image. Though the quality of the extant interviews varies, it all looks pretty good for its age, and probably much better than it looked originally on people's televisions.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The audio transfer here is surprisingly sharp. There's a bit of hissing fading here and there, but for the most part, the audio is clear. Considering the age of the material, and the fact that much of it has been in the vault for 60 years, it's especially impressive that the conversations (which are really the main draw here) are never hard to make out.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 34 cues and remote access
Packaging: Four fold case
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: None. The 34 interview segments included are split more-or-less evenly over three discs.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

This is going to be of interest to a very specific type of consumer, but I for one, discovered in watching these that I'm just such a person. For buffs of television history, or classic Hollywood and/or politics, this set really can't be beat. Along with rarely-if-ever seen interviews with a few dozen legends, (many of whom are still in the game), the audio and video are surprisingly good, and Edward R. Murrow is a pro as always as he invents the celebrity talk show. Good stuff in a nice set.


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