Ed Sullivan Shows better in their entirety

The Beatles
The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows
Featuring The Beatles
SOFA/Hip-O (B0014512-09)
Grade: ****

By Gillian G. Gaar

It was a brilliant idea to release not just the Beatles’ landmark appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on DVD, but the entire programs on which they appeared. It gives you a much better sense of what it was really like on the evening of Feb. 9, 1964, as Sullivan built up to introducing the group to America, with their appearance surrounded by short acts from comedians, magicians, and puppets. It’s a look back at a lost art form, for “variety shows” on television no longer exist; now that there are 500-plus stations available on TV, everyone in the family can find a station catering to their own interests and hole up in their own room to watch. And as an artifact from an era that feels more than 46 years ago, even the commercials are entertaining.

After years of seeing brief clips of the appearances in various documentaries, or on unauthorized releases of varying quality, it was great to finally get the complete performances.
The Beatles are remarkably fresh-faced, eager to please, and brimming with confidence as they gamely face off with audiences of squealing teens. In addition to the three February ’64 shows, there’s also the Sept. 12, 1965 show, coming in the wake of their first appearance at Shea Stadium the previous month.

The shows also contain other acts of interest for Beatles fans, such as future Monkee Davy Jones’ appearance as the Artful Dodger in a scene from “Oliver!”, and fellow Liverpudlian Cilla Black on the 1965 show. Other acts of interest include Cab Calloway, British comedians Morecambe & Wise, and jazzman Acker Bilk.

These shows were first released on DVD in 2003. On the new edition, 13 minutes of “bonus footage” has been added. It’s pretty minimal; all the brief promos Sullivan did for the Beatles’ appearances, and a very short interview he conducted on the set of “A Hard Day’s Night.” Completists will want it of course, but if you’re happy with the 2003 edition, there’s no need to spring for this “upgrade.”

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