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Forgotten classic offers reminders of television's past

Forgotten classic offers reminders of television's past
April 4, 2011
By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor
This edition of the DVD review column features an advance look at a film that will be playing theatrically in our area on April 8 and a new release of a long-forgotten television production.
The Elephant in the Living Room

I'm an animal lover. We have six cats and a dog. My wife and I are thrilled when we see an animal in the wild — with the possible exception of the skunk that lives near our back yard. We enjoy a quality zoo, also.
Despite all of that love for animals, I will never understand why anyone would want to have a wild animal for a pet, particularly when the pet owner doesn't have the training or resources to take care of the animal properly and safely, especially a predatory animal.
Sorry, but I have no interest in having a pet mountain lion or a bear, much less a lion or a tiger. Shockingly, this film reveals there are few restrictions on people owning such animals and there are actually now more tigers in private hands in the United States than living in the wilds in India.
"The Elephant in the Room" is the kind of documentary that fools an audience. You might think this is a scathing indictment of those people who try to keep a wild animal as a pet and in many ways it is. It is also a touching and sympathetic look at one of those wild animal pet owners.
The film focuses on two men. Tim Harrison is a public safety officer in an Ohio town outside of Dayton who operates an animal rescue organization. He has retrieved and rescued hundreds of wild animals that were owned as pets. Harrison sees the problem as overwhelming.
Terry Brumfield is a disabled trucker who was given two lion cubs to raise. They have become his life, but caring for them, especially after a litter is born, have become problematic.
I think this is an essential film as it speaks to issues that are complex and it allows viewers to come to a conclusion, rather than bash them over the head with it. Clearly there needs to be laws governing whether or not someone can own an animal such as a lion or bear.
The film is set to open April 8 at the Rave Theater on River-dale Street in West Springfield.
For more information, go to www.theelephantinthelivingroom.com.
Anything Goes

In 1954, Broadway legend Ethel Merman returned to a production that had helped make her a star 20 years previous, "Anything Goes," with songs by Cole Porter.
Merman recreated her role as brassy nightclub singer Reno Sweeney in an hour-long episode of "The Colgate Comedy Hour." The Archive of American Television has now released a DVD of the production and I'm sure Merman's fans as well as those of classic Broadway shows will have many reasons to rejoice.
There is another attraction to this long-forgotten show: Frank Sinatra.
This show was broadcast live 56 years ago and the DVD's source material is a kinescope — Merman's personal copy. Kinescopes were 16-millimeter films of live television with the image taken from a television monitor. I've seen some kinescopes where the image is soft and slightly out of focus. This image, though, is very sharp, making watching it a pleasant experience.
The DVD comes with a 20-page booklet that put the show into its historical context. Although Merman never had the kind of success in movies she had enjoyed on the stage, she was still a big draw in the mid-'50s. Sinatra, on the other hand, was in a career slump at this time.
The plot revolves around Merman's character finding her true love with Sinatra's gangster character as opposed to marrying for money and stability.
It's silly stuff — as most musical comedy is — and the bulk of the humor is carried on the capable shoulders of Bert Lahr — better known as the Cowardly Lion from "The Wizard of Oz."
What fascinated me about this show is that it's an example of what television used to be: live and willing to take chances. Theatrical productions were a key part of programming at that time.
Could you imagine a network forgoing its schedule of cheap reality shows to actually put a live theatrical event on the air today?
I'm not a big fan of either Merman or Sinatra, but these two performers seemed to enjoy what they were doing so much, their energy proved to be infectious.
For more information, log onto www.eonehomevideo.com.

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