'American Experience: Ripley: Believe It or Not'
(DVD / NR / 2015 / PBS)
Overview: LeRoy Robert Ripley rose to fame during the Great Depression, transforming himself into an entertainer who mesmerized the nation with his razzle-dazzle blend of homespun Americana and freakish oddities. This is the story of the man who popularized the iconic phrase, and proof of why we still can't resist his challenge to "Believe it or not!"
DVD Verdict: If you are over the age of 60, you probably remember seeing the 'Ripley’s Believe it or Not' feature in the newspaper or on TV in the 1950s. Or, if you’ve been to Times Square or Atlantic City you may have seen the RBON Museum. This new episode in the American Experience series on PBS tells the story of how Robert (“Bob”) Ripley – a sports cartoonist in the 1920s – got involved in finding what he called “Curi-oddities” around the world.
Personally, I found it fascinating – though I have to say I did cringe at some of the bizarre film footage of a man who could smoke or inflate a balloon with his eye (just try to picture that) or turn his head 360 degrees. So it’s not for the squeamish.
The 53-minute documentary has interviews with Ripley’s biographer, a cartoon historian, the archivist for Ripley Enterprises and a former colleague of Ripley. There’s some rare footage from both the Vitaphone (early talkie) shorts from circa 1930 and of the 1949 NBC TV show. It is narrated by actor Oliver Platt.
If you remember the cartoon – or are interest in side-shows or what are called “freaks” – then you’ll find this short program interesting. The DVD has no bonus features, sadly, but what is presented in this DVD most certainly makes you head to the internet to discover more out about the mysterious man known as LeRoy Robert Ripley. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.