January 24, 2014

Review: Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years

Below is a DVD review done a few years ago at the motherblog, which in looking back, I think is pretty good.  I can assure you that I didn't pay what Amazon is asking for it; I don't think any single DVD I have is worth that. But if you can find it for considerably less, it's a great look at the glamour of TV back in the day.

I don't know how many of you remember Mitzi Gaynor, but it's a pity that more people don't. Her biggest role was that of Ensign Nellie Forbush in the 1958 film version of South Pacific. After that she had a very successful run in Vegas with her own show. Mitzi Gaynor could do it all: she was vivacious, she could act, she could sing - and boy, could she dance.  You get all this and more in the new DVD Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years.

From the first moment of her 1968 special, simply entitled Mitzi, it was apparent that television showcased Mitzi Gaynor's talents to the utmost. It was a confluence of factors that made these annual specials, which ran between 1968 and 1978, so spectacular. By 1968 color TV was hardly a novelty, and these shows take full advantage of the color saturation that was common to the era, with hues that fairly leap off the screen.

Then too, broadcast standards had eased somewhat by then (this was the 60s, after all), and the costumes by designer Bob Mackie played this to the hilt. The fabrics often appeared nude or semi-nude, accompanied by a judicious placement of spangles. (Mackie later adapted some of these costumes for use by another of his famous clients: Cher.)

The specials were loaded with big-name guest stars of the era; some of their names might not mean as much to you now as they did then (Mike Connors, Ross Martin, and Ken Berry), while others should ring a bell (Jerry Orbach, Suzanne Pleshette, Michael Landon and George Hamilton, to name a few). And they featured great production numbers, mostly choreographed by the great Tony Charmoli.

But the biggest asset to these specials was Mitzi herself. Between her terrific dance moves, the Mackie costumes, and her own formidable figure, one can only regret that these were not originally telecast in HD. (Or perhaps not; Mackie mentions one Mitzi dance that the network censor deemed a little too provocative, ordering her to be shown only from the mid-upper body up. The disc shows, for the first time, the full-body footage as it was originally shot.) Need more evidence? Check out the trailer below:

So why have I gone on for so long without telling you much about this DVD? Because it's important for you to know why you should want it. The hour-long program features highlights from Gaynor's eight specials, along with comments by Gaynor, Mackie, and others such as Kristin Chenoweth, Carl Reiner, and choreographer Charmoli. Now, since this show is popping up on public television pledge drives all over the place, you might figure that you'll just wait and let the DVR take care of it. Which is where you'd be wrong. The extras on this disc are wonderful; over an hour of features, including extended musical numbers from each of the specials, a sit-down (or more like a stand-up) with Mitzi and Mackie, reviewing the designs for some of her outfits, and Mitzi herself sharing stories of her career (including her headline appearance on the Ed Sullivan show - which just happened to come on the same night as the Sullivan TV-debut of the Beatles!).

This is a slick, good looking disc from City Lights Home Entertainment, with sharp graphics and a menu that's easy to maneuver. If there's one bone to pick (and it's a slight one), it's that many of Mitzi's co-stars are not identified by on-screen graphics. Yes, it's true that at the time they were all well-known, but viewers today who might be drawn in by Mitzi's charisma might wonder who that clumsy dancer was in that very funny bit. (Hint: it was Michael Landon.)

Mitzi Gaynor's specials ended in 1978, and that's probably about right. By then the era of the big-budget variety special was well on its way out, and although Mitzi even managed to survive the disco era, the format was living on borrowed time. But for those among us who remember those glory years, along with anyone who wants to see what those big, high-rated TV specials really looked like, you couldn't do much better than Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years.

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