Anyone who knows me or follows my blog will know that I am a huge fan of Bobby Darin. His TV series from 1972 and 1973 have, in many ways, been regarded as the holy grail by fans for a many years. Individual performances from the show have appeared on DVD, but we never dreamed of getting the whole series. Now, that 1973 season has been released on DVD (kind of), and my feelings on it are somewhat mixed.
No-one can expect a variety series such as this to not age in forty years, but this one seems to be have worn less well than others. The show seems to be all over the place both in respects to material and quality. Musically, the show is sound but mostly unremarkable. This is in part due to the house band, which was presumably put together in order to be adaptable to both big band and rock/country music. It ends up sounding more than a little thin, and the rockier songs don’t rock enough, and the swing numbers don’t really swing. Everything seems watered down. There are moments when Darin rises above this, and makes us forget these issues. His version of Don McLean’s Dreidel is superb, for example, as is his bluesy take on Come Rain or Come Shine. Elsewhere, there are problems musically – the second episode features an awful version of Born Free. Here, Darin’s health problems are most evident. In this episode (and on a number of others), he looks ill and his singing suffers. This is hardly surprising – less than a year later, Darin would be dead – but fans have rarely seen Darin looking ill, and so it comes as quite a shock to see him clearly suffering.
The comedy sketches and the guest stars are problematic. “The Neighborhood” sketch in each episode (see pic) is a delight, with Darin showing off his acting talent with aplomb. However, some elements backfire – particularly the ridiculous “poet” section and the sequences involving “The Godmother,” which often leaves a somewhat bitter taste in the mouth. Tastes have changed, and this section has aged about as well as the one where he plays chess (I’m not kidding).
There are some lovely moments with the guests – Bobby and Flip Wilson are a delight together, his story about meeting Donald O’Connor is sweet and moving, and the duet with Elke Sommer is remarkably sultry. However, many of the guests are unworthy of duetting with Darin, and Darin certainly deserved bigger names than the show often attracted.
The biggest problem with this DVD release, though, is that many of the shows are heavily edited – and it’s often the musical numbers that have been excised. One show runs barely 25 of its 47 minutes. Key songs such as Something, Caravan, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Sixteen Tons, Lonesome Road, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square and Once Upon a Time are not included here, and this means the set provides relatively few solo songs that are not available on Aces Back To Back, Mack Is Back and Seeing Is Believing. This is a shame, and a missed opportunity – and, to be brutally honest, false advertising. Nowhere on the packaging does it say any shows are edited. Many buyers will therefore find themselves watching Bobby Darin playing chess, but not singing a number of the one-off performances of songs that the series has to offer. While this is nice to have, it is ultimately a disappointment. It’s clear to anyone with a knowledge of Darin that the series was hardly a success, but to have it butchered like this is not showing Darin’s “final chapter” in the best way possible. Bobby deserves better than this.