Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Show - The Classic Performances
Directed by John Wray
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 47 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 14.98
Release Date: August 4, 2009
Review Date: August 3, 2009
The phenomenon of Elvis Presley has been well chronicled in numerous books and films. He sold millions of records, starred in a long slate of hit movies, did an occasional television special, and packed arenas whenever he chose to perform live. The Elvis Presley represented in this new Image release is the young Elvis, without the professional seasoning that years of performing would eventually bring him. We see an Elvis near the beginning, already a star to be sure but before its crippling effects had taken a toll on his physical and emotional well being. The three appearances Elvis made on The Ed Sullivan Show, one of the top variety shows on television for over twenty years, occurred in late 1956 and early 1957. These are the performances that have been captured on kinescope and transferred to this DVD.
By the time of his first appearance on the Sullivan show on September 9, 1956, Elvis had already earned four gold records (they’re shown on camera) and had co-starred in his first movie Love Me Tender for Twentieth Century-Fox (though it was going to be a Thanksgiving release so the screaming audience hadn’t seen it yet). On the first program, Ed isn’t even there. Felled by a traffic accident, he was laid up while guest host Charles Laughton in New York introduced Elvis who was in Hollywood. He stays with the tried and true: “Hound Dog,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” and “Love Me Tender,” and shows his neophyte status by trying fitfully to offer some patter in the way of song introductions. Backed by the ever-present The Jordanaires, he uses his guitar more as a prop than an instrument and mumbles some lyrics which the microphones of the day just don’t pick up. Showing additional inexperience, he often cups his hands over his eyes to attempt to see the audience through the glare of the bright television studio lights and sometimes spoils the moods of songs by unaccountably snickering while singing.
A few weeks later on his second appearance (October 28, 1956), he elects to repeat his three most popular numbers from his previous appearance along with the new “Love Me” which he seems bored with and even drifts off pitch occasionally. He also begins here toying a bit with lyrics and the melodies of his hits, perhaps trying to awaken within him some intensity in singing these same songs once again. Ed’s on hand this time, however, and seems delighted by the huge reaction Elvis’ last appearance had garnered for his program: a viewership of 72 million, a record for The Ed Sullivan Show.
By the time of Elvis’ third appearance on January 6, 1957, things were very different. Elvis’ participation in Love Me Tender had made that film among the year’s top box-office attractions, and he had already signed for another movie, this to be made at Paramount – Running Wild (later renamed Loving You). Ed prohibited the camera from photographing Elvis’ modest gyrations below the waist (we see some of them in the previous two programs), but otherwise, he’s full of praise for Elvis and his entourage. Getting his hits out of the way quickly in medley form at the start of his show, Elvis adds to his repertoire with “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Too Much,” “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again” (more mumbled lyrics and pitches too low for Elvis to be discernible), and “Peace in the Valley.” The latter song, a quiet, lovely hymn, reminds us that the Grammys Elvis received during his career were both for gospel music records, not for rock ‘n roll.
These ancient kinescopes are framed at 1.33:1, and the very fact that they exist at all is something of a miracle. Though scratches aren’t a terrible problem, they’re certainly present, and black and white dust specks along with occasional debris also mar the viewing experience. Grayscale is average for these old films, adequate but nothing more. The program has been divided into 19 chapters, but many of those are the openings and closings of the broadcasts.
The disc offers both Dolby Digital 2.0 mono encoding (which Dolby Prologic decodes to the center channel) and a repurposed 5.1 sound mix. I much preferred the mono track as the surround mix overpowers Elvis’ vocals on numerous occasions. The 2.0 encode represents most clearly what was broadcast on those evenings in 1956 and 1957. The tracks aren’t hampered by excessive hiss or other audio artifacts.
The bonus feature section is a hodgepodge of collected clips from The Ed Sullivan Show archives.
There are brief clips explaining Ed’s absence from Elvis’ first program (a sort of mini-bio of Ed Sullivan lasting 3 minutes), a series of promos for Elvis’ upcoming appearances, and comedy bits from John Byner (who does a lousy Elvis impression) and Jack Carter.
“Caught on Celluloid” is a 2 ¾-minute bit of silent movie footage filmed in 1954 with Elvis entertaining in a backyard in Houston, Texas, believed to be the earliest live footage of him at work.
“Jerry Shilling’s Home Movies” is 6 ¼ minutes of rare movie footage taken by one of Elvis’ close friends. Clips include behind-the-scenes shots made during the making of Clambake as well as some footage of Elvis riding horses at Graceland.
“Remembering Ed and Elvis” is a collection of five interviews, each lasting about three minutes, from people who knew one or both men at some stage of their careers. The interview subjects are Sam Phillips, Gordon Stoker, Marlo Lewis, Wink Martindale, and George Klein.
3/5 (not an average)
Fans of Elvis Presley will appreciate having all of his appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show in one place and not having to fast forward through acts like the Broadway company of The Most Happy Fella or actress-singer Dorothy Sarnoff to get to their idol (from previous releases of the material). The young Elvis looks healthy, happy, and grateful in these clips, a pleasure to see even though bittersweet memories of his path to come can’t help but enter one’s thoughts as he watches these legendary performances.