Television's Lost Classics Volume 2: Rare Pilots
(Reed Hadley, Milburn Stone, Louise Currie, Billy Pearson, Benay Venuta, et al / Blu-ray / TV-G / (1953) 2018 / VCI Entertainment)
Overview: This is a special series of lost classic programs from the Golden Age of TV. The series has been restored by SabuCat Productions from the best archival film elements available in high definition, some of the programs have not been seen since they were originally broadcast. Volume Two features 4 half-hour lost pilots.
Blu-ray Verdict: The first Pilot titled "Case of the Sure Thing," introduced the series 'Racket Squad', which lasted for 3 seasons and was nominated for 2 Primetime Emmys.
An interesting side-note, reportedly, this program may have inspired parts of the 1973 hit movie, 'The Sting'. It was first broadcast on CBS on Thursday, June 7th, 1951 and starred Reed Hadley as Captain Braddock and was written by Arthur Orloff.
In it we watch as a supposedly nice lady introduces a sucker, Mr. Crowley, to someone who claims that he works for a company, such as Western Union. This employee claims that he can get the results for the horse races BEFORE the bookies do!
Crowley is greedy and thinks he's convinced the guy to call him first with the results so they can make a cleanup. Naturally, the first time Crowley tries this, he wins - because they're setting hip up for a HUGE payoff!
The second Pilot titled "Cool and Lam," is a lighthearted, detective yarn featuring characters first created by Erle Stanley Gardner.
Bertha Cool runs a detective agency and Donald Lam is her junior partner, hence "Cool and Lam". Directed by Jacques Tourneur!
Cool is a big wide matron with white hair who deals with clients and Lam is a very short man who does the detective work, and getting all the lumps. They look comical together, which runs against the overall material because you must take the crime solvers seriously for it to work.
These two are more suitable for a burlesque routine. Sadly, they have little charisma. It's as if they take it for granted you know these characters well already.
She's supposed to be a cheapskate. okay, but she says a "cheap" thing, even when it's unnecessary-again and again, like an excuse for a personality.
But there isn't enough time to really develop any chemistry between the leads or for that matter, the story either. There's far too many clues and details to remember for a less than half hour story, sorry.
The third Pilot is a really rare treat, "The Life of Riley," which starred Lon Chaney, Jr. as Chester Riley! This stand-alone episode was produced in 1948, but by the time the first season went into full production in 1949, Chaney had been replaced by no less than Jackie Gleason!
William Bendix is already in form as the down on his luck family man who is always stressing, trying to succeed in life but never quite making it where he wants to be, comfortable.
Rosemary DeCamp is great in the role as his wife, who no matter how bad things get she is always loving and forgiving of him. James Gleason is Riley's co-worker Willis in this film. This character role is not as developed or dominate in this film as it would be later on the TV series.
Riley's daughter is an actress, Meg Randall, who only did limited work in films and is more known for being a Kettle than this series, though she is still alive at age 92 as of this writing.
Why she left acting by 1961 is a mystery, but in this film she is being courted by Richard Long and Riley's Boss son.
That is the center of the plot, as she loves Long but needs to help dad by marrying the boss son so dad can get a promotion and not be destroyed. The family value this film has is that the family of four always rallies around dad, regardless, and the comedy is in the odd circumstances Riley gets involved in.
The fourth Pilot, "Nero Wolfe," is based on characters created by Rex Stout, and is yet another one-off production. Kurt Kasznar is Nero Wolfe, with future mega-star, William Shatner, co-starring.
The story deals with the mysterious death (coincidentally) of a rocket scientist. Watching a very young, very debonair Shatner eat his way through the script like he knew he was built for bigger and better things is delightful, and the work put in by Kasznar is equally solid.
Sadly, even though two or three episodes were filmed, none of it ended up being shown. With this pilot dealing with the mysterious death of a guided-missile scientist during a test launching at Cape Canaveral, maybe it all touched too close to real life events for viewers to give it their small box time?
Oh, and for the record, the pilot score by Alex North was donated to the UCLA Music Library collection. Indeed, an old Billboard magazine article reported North was paid $2,500 for the theme!
Finally, also included on the disc is a bonus CBS Blooper Reel for the long-running "Gunsmoke" series, hosted by James Arness. These are all Full Screen Presentations now lovingly brought forth in New High Definition Restorations.