Friday, December 25, 2009
DVD Review: The Best Of Spike Jones
The Spike Jones Show aired from 1954-61 on both the NBC and CBS networks. It remains one of the most manic, and hilarious programs ever. The Best Of Spike Jones is a three-disc set, and marks the first time any of this material has appeared on DVD. It is little wonder the man is held in such high esteem by those in the know, the frenzied song take-offs really are one of a kind.
Spike is just all over the place, beginning and ending songs with his starter’s pistol, using various-size milk bottles as percussion instruments, as well as his trademark “horn-tree.” Plus the band is superb. To be able to play music this complex, while performing the bits included in each tune takes a rare talent.
I had only previously seen short excerpts of these shows on certain "Golden Age Of Television" compilations, so seeing the programs in their full glory has been a real treat. Right from the top, with the uproarious opening segment, the fun never lets up. One of Spike’s most famous hits was his take on “The William Tell Overture,” presented as the radio play-by-play of a horse race. The addition of visuals to this piece just makes it all the funnier.
Comedian Billy Barty was a regular on the show, and his send-up of Liberace, as “Spikowski,” is indelible. Another classic features a guest appearance by Eddy Arnold. He runs into Spike on the sidewalk, and they decide to perform an impromptu duet, Eddy with his guitar, and Spike with his ever-present pistols. They are immediately arrested, and the next scene features them in a jail cell. Spike’s jailhouse “stripes” have a fur-collar, and Eddy is in some sort of striped tuxedo. There is also a slot-machine in the cell, and somehow the rest of the band have joined them. The whole thing is wonderfully ridiculous. Other great guest stars appearing on this compilation include Howdy Doody and Zasu Pitts, although neither match the surrealism of the Arnold appearance.
The first two DVDs of The Best Of Spike Jones contain three and a half-hours of classic entertainment. Disc three consists of two unaired pilots, which do not differ much from the format that was eventually bought, and add some nice historical context to the set.
All three DVDs are in black and white, and while the quality is not perfect, the prints seem to have been fairly well-preserved, and have been digitally re-mastered.
Artists from “Weird Al” Yankovic, to Frank Zappa have cited Spike Jones as an influence, and even the legendary comedian George Carlin sung his praises. If you have ever wondered what all the fuss was about with Spike, this Best Of DVD set is the perfect way to check out his unique sense of humor. I swear, even all these years later, the material remains as outrageously funny as ever.