DVD REVIEW: Sgt Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show Complete Series @ 14 November 2014 05:45 PM
Harvey Lembeck, Allan Melvin, Phil Silvers and Dick Van Dyke
The first person to own a personal computer was Phil Silvers.
It was in his head.
The extraordinary actor/comedian had a razor sharp sense of timing and the ability to call upon decades of skill developed in vaudeville and on stage. By the time "Bilko" came along, he could run through routines like a Rolls-Royce.
Silvers, who might also be known to audiences from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," two Disney comedies and the "Hamlet" episode of "Gilligan's Island," was as iconic to TV comedy as Lucille Ball (who has a cameo in a "Bilko" show) and Jackie Gleason.
Watching a master in action is remarkable in itself. But with Bilko, you also get scripts by such writers as Neil Simon and guest roles from Dick Van Dyke (first TV comedy appearance), Alan Alda (first TV acting job) and Oscar winner George Kennedy, who started out as a military consultant and was encouraged by Silvers to join the show in a guest role.
Other recurring roles are played by actors who went on to major series work: Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis, (both of The Munsters); Paul Lynde (Bewitched); Jane Kean (The Honeymooners); Charlotte Rae (The Facts of Life), Larry Storch (F Troop) and Barbara Barrie (Barbara Barrie).
Bilko's main crew are composed of character actors familiar from hundreds of TV shows, movies and cartoons, like Allan Melvin (All in the Family, The Brady Bunch, Magilla Gorilla, Pufnstuf the Movie), Billy Sands (McHale's Navy) and Harvey Lembeck (the Frankie and Annette movies).
If you love cartoons, this show was a blueprint for many. Daws Butler had a field day with his spot-on Silvers impression for Hokey Wolf (and Top Cat on records). Hanna-Barbera's "Top Cat" was based squarely on "Bilko," right down to the voice of Maurice Gosfield (Doberman on "Bilko") as the voice of Benny.
Among the 142 episodes, there are some true classics among the already fine half hours. My top picks include:
The Twitch (Charlotte Rae)
The Court Martial
Bilko's Formula Seven (Natalie Schaefer)
The Con Men
Platoon in the Movies
The Eating Contest (Fred Gwynne)
It's for the Birds (Fred Gwynne)
Bilko the Art Lover (Alan Alda)
Bilko Presents Ed Sullivan
Bilko Goes 'Round the World
Radio Station B.I.L.K.O.
Show Segments (the cast play themselves)
Bilko Saves Ritzik's Marriage
Bilko's Big Giveaway (Morey Amsterdam)
Guinea Pig Bilko
The Weekend Colonel
Series creator (and great TV comedy writer/producer) Nat Hiken transferred the basic premise (sans Silvers) to a police precinct with his other classic sitcom "Car 54, Where Are You?" starring Gwynne and Joe E. ("ooh! ooh!") Ross, who was again teamed with the explosive Beatrice Pons as a constantly battling couple.
The series' four seasons are sold separately if you don't want to get them all at once. You can start with any season, as there are no story arcs and the characters remain consistent throughout (with the possible exception of Melvin's character of Henshaw, who suddenly becomes the voice of reason in the very last few episodes).
Some of the bonus features were carried over from an earlier DVD release of selected episodes, but this is the first time the whole series has ever been available to own. The features include commentaries by Van Dyke, Storch and Melvin and the original "You'll Never Get Rich" show and interviews with Silvers and his daughters. It's a goldmine worthy of the avarice of Sgt. Bilko himself.
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