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Classic sitcom makes DVD debut

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

A classic sit-com makes its DVD debut this week.

Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show 50th Anniversary Edition

Television has a way of rewarding actors who are successful in creating a characterization by typecasting them. The late Phil Silvers wound up playing variations of his Sgt. Bilko role for the rest of his life and remained the eternal con man.

Although this military comedy was on only from 1955 to 1959, it made its mark as one of the shining lights in television comedy. This DVD set shows that even after 50 years, the light has dimmed.

The show recounted the misadventures of Master Sargent Ernest Bilko, the head of a motor pool platoon at an army base in Kansas. Bilko is the master of the barracks schemers. He runs a number of side businesses that prey on his men, as well as a profitable gambling operation. His superior officers know he's no good, but they just can't get the goods on him.

Bilko is no villain, though. Silvers and show co-creator Nat Hiken invested the character with a real humanity that made the character very likable and very, very funny.

The show stood out with its cast of character actors and former burlesque comedians. There's not a glamour guy in the bunch, but a lot of funny second bananas. And the show was the first to have an integrated cast in which African-American performers were treated the same as everyone else.

The three-disc set features 18 half-hour episodes as well as some great extras, such as the "lost" audition show, the final Phil Silvers interview and commentary from Dick Van Dyke, Allan Melvin and others who appeared on the show.

This is a great collection. If you've never heard of Sgt. Bilko, this is a great time to get acquainted.

Event Horizon

Oh boy, what a bad film! This big-budget science fiction film has money to burn on computer effects, impressive sets and a good cast including Lawrence Fishburne and Sam Neill, but what it lacks is a decent script and a director who knows how to tell a story.

Event Horizon is the name of a space vessel with a remarkable new engine that creates a black hole so it can travel through great expanses of space in short time. It has been missing for seven years and then turns up near Neptune. Fishburne is the captain of the rescue ship assigned to go there and return the ship to Earth for study.

Accompanying him is the engineer who designed the radical spacecraft, played by Sam Neill.

Philip Eisner's script basically is an update of any "ghost ship" clich you've every read or seen. We know there will be something bad on board, largely because Neill's character is having hallucinations and he's not even near Neptune!

Once the rescue crew is aboard, they all experience horrendous events from their past and horror film fans know this is a cue to expect even more horrendous events. You see, when the ship made it maiden voyage through a black hole it actually went through Hell Hell, I tell you! and the ship wants to take the rescue crew back there with it.

Yeah, sure.

There's a separate disc of extras in which the filmmakers act as if they had made some sort of masterpiece.

Mean spirited, explicit and just plain stupid, Event Horizon is a movie to avoid.

Bachelor Party Vegas

This comedy aspires to be in the same genre as Animal House, Bachelor Party, American Pie and the like: young men doing dumb things for our amusement.

While Animal House is considered a modern comedy classic, Bachelor Party isn't bad enough for Tom Hanks to wipe off his resume and American Pie launch a series of popular films, this wannabe is just that: a poseur.

The plot centers on a group of friends who travel from Chicago to Las Vegas for a weekend bachelor party. The trouble is that everything that could go wrong, does go wrong and while this is supposedly to be funny, it falls flat.

As the guys go from one failed situation to another one wonders juts how all of this is going to be resolved. The twist at the end is designed to add to the hilarity. Trust me, it doesn't.

Listen I wanted to like a film in which Kathy Griffin played an Elvis impersonator, but I just couldn't.

Forgotten Noir: Kit Parker Double Features

Archivist and producer Kit Parker has worked out a deal with the folks at VCI Entertainment to release a series of films from the 1950s in themes double feature DVDs. The first purports to be "film noir," but frankly it isn't.

Film noir is a fairly specific term describing a movie largely set at night, often times telling a crime story with characters who are morally ambiguous. The Maltese Falcon, Farewell My Lovely and Detour are three examples of this genre.

The two films in this release, Portland Expose and They Were So Young are not film noir. They're exploitation movies that undoubtedly graced a lot of drive-in screens.

Portland Expose is a hard little crime film that is a docu-drama about the rise of organized crime and shady labor unions in Portland Oregon. Edward Binns a familiar face from '50s cinema is a married man with a family just trying to make a motel and restaurant a success when the mob moves in. He fights back by going undercover.

This film pulls few punches, although it ends in a rushed manner. For crime movie fans, this unassuming 1957 film should be a find.

They Were So Young, from 1954, is a cheesy little number that would be best enjoyed if Mystery Science Theater 3000 was still on the air. What it needs is a commentary pointing out it faults to make it watchable.

Johanna Matz, Scott Brady and Raymond Burr star in this movie about young fashion models being lured to Brazil for something other than displaying the latest Paris fashions to department store buyers. Burr had been typecast as villains and plays the kingpin behind the sordid operation. I bet he dropped on his knees and thanked all that's holy when he got the role of Perry Mason in 1957 and knew he would never have to do such tripe again.

Both films look great and the extras include trailers from the movie and a commentary from the assistant director of Portland Expose.