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The Smothers Brothers return with best season first

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

A great superhero movie and a classic television series are featured in this week's DVD column.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season Three

It's not often you pop the first disc of a multi-disc set into the player to hear someone tell you that what you're about to watch may not be very good.

That's what happens when you listen to the audio introduction by Tom Smothers to the first volume of the "Smother Brothers Comedy Hour."

Perhaps trading in on the controversy that surrounded the show, Time-Life is issuing the third and final season first of the three season run of the show.

Tom and Dick Smothers have built a 50-year career in show business based on both music and comedy and back in the 1960s they were very much in demand as guest stars on variety shows and talk programs. After their first television effort -- a sitcom -- failed to connect with audiences, they tried a variety show, which was a hit.

Debuting in 1967, the show had the conventional blending of guest stars, popular musical acts and skits. There was a difference, though, and that was Tom Smothers' insertion of political and social commentary that ran afoul with CBS censors, but drew audiences.

Tom's reservations about the shows today largely revolve around whether or not audiences who saw them 40 years ago would still find them funny today. In his audio commentary, he didn't think so.

Seeing the shows as needing the context of their time, there is an introductory documentary that presents the world in which these shows were produced and Tom insists that viewers watch that before they see any of the shows.

The shows in this collection include ones in which the Doors, Ike and Tina Turner, Donovon, Judy Collins and Joan Baez perform, as well as guest comics Bob Newhart, Jonathan Winters and George Carlin.

The juxtaposition of traditional variety show performers with hipper entertainers is sometimes amusing in itself. In one show political impersonator David Frye is seen in a sketch with Liberace -- who proved to be a very good sport -- which seemed to be a pretty odd pairing.

The treat for me in this collection is seeing comedian Pat Paulsen again as the collection includes his one-hour special -- narrated by Henry Fonda, no less on his run for the presidency in 1968. If Tom had reservations about the rest of the show, he shouldn't have any about this episode, as the political satire is as sharp as ever. The Paulsen material is on a separate disc and is loaded with extras.

So did I find the show funny? I was a fan of these shows as a kid and I still like them. Although I readily admit some of the skits are creaky, generally I liked the collection.

Ironman: Ultimate Two-Disc Edition

Yes, I'm a comic book fan and have been so for many years. I never was much of an "Ironman" reader, although I always liked the idea of reformed playboy/weapons designer/multimillionaire Tony Stark climbing into his robotic suit and fighting the good fight.

Kids could identify with the idea that money, genius and hard work could somehow propel you into the realm of the superhero. It was a lot easier to imagine than being the last member of a dying race who became super under a yellow sun.

Director Jon Favreau is obviously enough of a geek to understand the appeal of the long-running character and he delivers a movie that effectively straddles that geek/non-geek viewer line.

It's a rule of thumb that a large part of the director's job is accomplished through casting and this film has perfect casting. No one could embody the flip playboy inventor like Robert Downey Jr. Downey is perfect as the guy who thinks he has everything until a very rude awakening by kidnapping terrorists provides a revelation.

Gwyneth Paltrow, an actress who I think is generally overrated, is also pitch perfect as Pepper Potts, Stark's loyal assistant. And I loved Jeff Bridges as Stark's bad guy partner.

Unlike other superhero films which spend a lot of time with the origins of the super villains -- why is it that one villain isn't enough in many movies? -- "Ironman" moves quickly along with a pace perfect for an action movie.

The computer animation is seamlessly integrated with the real props and actual Ironman suit. I loved the fact the Stan Winston studio built real metal suits for the stunt performers and Downey to wear.

That work and the rest of the film's production are detailed in a great featurette on the second disc. There are about four hours of extras that even includes Downey's screen test.

This is a fine action movie that will appeal to the inner geek in you and you might not realize you have an inner geek.