on November 19, 2012
First, to clear up some potential confusion: the reviews here by Dean Richards and R.C. Walker are about the 2007 release by a company called Jef Films, which was what we call a "pirated" version of the 1954 BABES IN TOYLAND telecast. What is being offered here, on the other hand, is a properly licensed, authorized DVD release by Video Artists International (VAI) which includes not just the 1954 live telecast of BABES IN TOYLAND, but also the 1955 telecast. (In the days before videotape, re-runs were a technical challenge, so if a program was particularly successful, a repeat performance would be scheduled - which also was telecast live.)
So, VAI is now releasing both of the Max Liebman productions of BABES IN TOYLAND on a single DVD. The first was telecast Dec. 18, 1954, the second on Dec. 24, 1955. Both feature Dave Garroway as Santa (as part of a framing device), "special guest" Wally Cox as the toy-maker Grumio, Jack E. Leonard as Silas Barnaby, and the always-delightful Dennis Day as Tommy Tucker. The main cast change from 1954 to 1955 was the actress playing the part of Tommy Tucker's love interest, Jane Piper. In 1954, the role was taken by Jo Sullivan; in 1955, it was Barbara Cook. Both telecasts are delightful souvenirs of these legendary performers fairly early in their careers.
Nearly stealing the show from the humans are the Bil and Cora Baird Marionettes, which surely provided inspiration for Jim Henson and his Muppets. Their big numbers - like the scene in Grumio's toy workshop and the "Dance of the Woodland Creatures" in the forest scene - reward repeated viewings.
Until this year, I had no idea there was a live musical spectacular based on Babes in Toyland on NBC in 1954 and 1955, but this year, it showed up on DVD from the same folks who gave us the treasure of The Stingiest Man In Town on DVD last year.
This production, produced and directed by Your Show of Shows' Max Leibman, was co-written by Neil Simon not long after the young scribe was in the Show of Shows writers room. It was likely to be a very big event for TV viewers in '54 and '55, as it starred the Today Show host Dave Garroway as a department store Santa who narrates the story, as well as Wally Cox as toymaker Grumio (a character from the original 1903 script). Cox was starring in Mr. Peepers at the time.
Dennis Day, best known as Jack Benny's confused tenor, is perfect as Tom (Tucker this time, not Piper). Ellen Barrie and the legendary Broadway/cabaret performer Barbara Cook play Joan, in the '54 and '55 broadcasts, respectively. Jack E. Leonard plays villainous Barnaby to the hilt in the most wisecracking, sardonic version of the character to date (likely benefitting from the comedy material supplied by Simon, William Friedberg and Fred Saidy (the latter the co-ilbrettist for Finian's Rainbow).
Musically, many of the Victor Herbert/Glen McDonough songs are intact, including "Toyland," "March of the Toys," "I Can't Do the Sum," "Hail to Christmas" and the rarely-heard "Barney O'Flynn" (as if tailor made for Dennis Day) There are several instrumental melodies throughout, particularly during two lengthy clown performances that put one in the mind of "Circus Day" on the Mickey Mouse Club. Irwin Kostal did the orchestrations, with such landmarks as West Side Story, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music ahead of him.
It's cool to watch both years' broadcasts and compare them. There isn't a lot of difference overall, except the female leads and the ending, which contains a more overt plug for the "Rocket Engine Oldsmobile" in the second show. You'll notice changes in the technical quality and some improvements to the sets as well.
Because both shows are live (presented here in very good kinescopes), there are the occasional flubs. Most notable is Garroway's stumble over his lines about the meanness of Barnaby, getting ice cube trays and eggs scrambled up in the 1955 show (he does is perfectly in 1954).
on January 17, 2014
Back in the early days of television, there were few pre-recorded programs. So, when Oldsmobile sponsored Max Liebman's television adaptation of Babes in Toyland in 1954, it was actually performed live. Luckily for future generations, a kinescope recording was made. (A 1950 television adaptation of Toyland is now lost to time because of no recording being made or preserved.) Featuring quite a lot of Victor Herbert's music and Bil Baird's marionettes, the performance delighted audiences so much that the production was re-mounted in 1955.
The story begins with a little girl (Ellen Barrie) lost in a department store (an establishing shot of the store uses the song "Hail to Christmas") and asking the Santa Claus (Dave Garroway) there for help. Although he's tired, he calls the little girl's mother and reads her a story while waiting for the girl's mother to arrive. Of course, the book selected is Babes in Toyland.
The Toyland scenes opens with a lengthy musical sequence ("Toyland" and instrumentals of "Don't Cry, Bo Peep," "I Can't Do The Sum," "Floretta" and other pieces) celebrating the engagement of Tom Tucker (Dennis Day) and Jane Piper (Jo Sullivan in 1954, Barbara Cook in 1955). Silas Barnaby (Jack E. Leonard) disapproves and tries to convince Jane to marry him instead. When she refuses, he fires Tom from his job at the toy factory. Jane doesn't mind, saying that even as paupers, they'll still love each other.
Shortly, Jane helps her younger siblings Ann (Karin Wolfe) and Peter (Edward Brian in 1954, Dickie Belton in 1955) with their homework, resulting in a performance of "I Can't Do The Sum." Tom arrives and promises Jane a "Castle in Spain."
We are then introduced to Grumio (Wally Cox), the lead toymaker at the factory. His friends are the toys (portrayed by the marionettes), who come to life and dance to music. Grumio even sings "Never Mind, Bo Peep" to a toy version of the character (a dancer identified as Bo Peep appeared earlier). Barnaby arrives and yells at Grumio, then asks to see the new toy soldiers, who dance to "Military Ball" with some other toys.
Then is the engagement party of Tom and Jane, which features the song "Barney O'Flynn." Then a pair of clowns perform music and tricks. Ann and Peter receive an invitation to a party on Ice Cream Mountain. This takes them into the Spider Forest, where the two children fear for their lives as a tree and other creatures (especially a giant spider) frighten them.
Tom, Jane and Grumio come to find the children. Noting how late it is, Tom performs "Go to Sleep." Barnaby arrives and captures Tom, tying him up and is about to feed him to a buzz saw to cut him in half when Grumio activates the Toy Soldiers who march out (to "March of the Toys" of course) and stop Barnaby's plot, Jane freeing Tom just in time, and the soldiers putting the villain in the stocks. Then, there is a reprise of "Toyland."
Santa finishes by telling the little girl "how they lived happily ever after": Tommy Tucker organized an orchestra and Jane's a lead vocalist, Little Bo Peep found her sheep and doing very well in the sweater business, Grumio became a school teacher and got a television program, and Barnaby "is a very, very unhappy man, and that makes him very happy."
The little girl's mother arrives and thanks Santa, who then wishes peace to the audience.
To modern standards, this entertainment may seem very weak in plot, but in 1954, audiences enjoyed the humor and music being broadcast into their homes more than trying to follow the story. Unlike today, they couldn't start a video and there were few stations. It appears that the production was broadcast in color, but kinescope recordings are always black and white. Considering few homes had color televisions, most audiences in 1954 likely saw it in black and white anyway.
The 1955 restaging runs at a brisker pace, cutting some dialogue and getting the run time down from 78 minutes to 75, and that includes an additional Christmas carol and a good-bye from Oldsmobile. The kinescope recording of that one is sharper, though it has other issues as well. It also does more close ups, as well as changing some of the cast. Otherwise, it is the same adaptation.
on June 20, 2015
I find it amazing that these classic performances were preserved at all. Live back then meant LIVE, not recorded and played back later. There are significant issues with the quality of the recordings, but they were state of the art for the time. If you enjoy the classic period of television and like Victor Herbert's music you will like the two performances on this DVD.
on December 12, 2015
In December of 1954..TV producer,scriptwriter and showman:Max Liebman..the man responsible for introducing tv audiences to Sid Caesar,Immogene Coca,Carl Reiner and Howard Morris on "Your Show Of Shows"presented one of the first tv adaptations of Victor Herbert's and Glen MacDonough's comic children's opera:"Babes In Toyland'..this version has the infamous mortgage holder:"Silas Barnaby"(Jack E.Leonard in a singing,dancing acting role)trying to force "Jane Piper"(Jo Sullivan)into marrying him or he will evic the family from their home. The villain also tries to get rid of "Jane's"true love"Tommy Tucker"(Dennis Day)and shut down their financial asset:The Toy Factory.But The toy soldiers..under the command of"Grumio(Wally Cox)foils the villain and turns him over to the law..The show uses the musical score from the original comic opera and features the puppetry of Bil and Cora Baird and a guest appearance by"The Banana Man"(A Robbins).While it may not have any of the comedy of 1934 movie version that starred L&H..it's still an enjoyable tv entertainment..this dvd features both the December 18,1954 version and the Christmas eve 1955 edition. For those..who enjoy the Herbert and MacDonough stage production..they will love this show..for those fans of early tv specials..they will be watching a rare piece of tv history..Bravo Max.
on March 21, 2010
Thought this was great retro stuff. I'm a professed 'Toyland' fan it's true, but if you are interested in television archival history then this is a important footnote in TV history. It was major musical production for live television at the time and a very impressive production.
The Ballet numbers actually show some refinement and are very well done. They turn the Victor Herbert operetta into a sort of 'Nutcracker' production. The Baird marionettes are a little creepy by todays standards since no one uses marionette puppets anymore, and a sequence with Wally Cox doing a soft shoe dance with a stepin-fetchit puppet will raise the hair on many baby boomers heads. But marionettes are a art form and these are the ones by the famous Baird family,so there is some room for appreciation.
Long believed to be lost, this classic show presented by Oldsmobile in 1954 has been unseen for over 50 years. All that remains is a rare television kinescope of the original live broadcast. This show is interesting TV history and well worth a look.
on November 13, 2013
I remembered this program from my childhood and it was a remarkable production for its time. The rating is limited primarily by the technology available at the time. However, both productions included strong performances and I was amazed at the variety of performing arts in the production: singing, ballet, magic, puppetry and comedy. The disc I received from Amazon would not play in a disc player, only on a Windows 7 computer. I called the distributor, VAI, who told me that the disc should play on all players and sent me a replacement directly. Babes in Toyland is a wonderful production for children, although children may not understand why everything is in Black and White. I would recommend it for operetta lovers who can get past mid-1950s production capabilities.
on March 22, 2014
I bought this movie for a friend of mine because He is in it, He only had a VHS copy that was pretty well worn out. So I thought that He would like it and He did, and so did everyone that seen it. Eddie could not find it anywhere but I found it here on Amazon.com. Thank you Amazon.
on September 1, 2009
The year is 1954. Oldsmobile has decided to sponsor a Yule-season special. The subject: Victor Herbert's saccharine musical, "Babes in Toyland". The production starred some very well-known names of the time - names that today are largely (and undeservedly) unknown. TV in those days was of course all-live, no retakes.
The production starred the inimitable Dennis Day as Tommy Tucker. Day, the quintessential Irish tenor, was in the early part of his primary career (1950-1965) as one of Jack Benny's constant on-air foils. Playing a department store Santa Claus, who tells the story to a lost girl, is Dave Garroway. The iconic Garroway made a career as a successful night show host, panelist, special guest, and so on - in other words, an actor who was primarily famous for playing himself. Wally Cox appears as Toymaker Grumio. Cox, mostly famous as "Mister Peepers" was a character actor credited with many appearances on TV ... although his range was limited by his short stature and fairly high voice. The also-iconic Jack E. Leonard appears as the villain, Silas Barnaby. Leonard was a comic whose insulting shtick was much more abrasive than that of Don Rickles (nowadays better known). Interestingly, his hallmark nastiness doesn't show through very much in his portrayal of Barnaby.
Don't expect to see much of Herbert's original musical here. Two main numbers remain: "Toyland" and "March of the Toy Soldiers". No production of "Babes" is without them. Also a little of Herbert's other music appears here and there. A very bare-bones version of the plot is used as a structural support for a number of very cutesy song-and/or-dance numbers. The result will be a real challenge to your gag reflex.
The greatest fun can be had in watching this somewhat silly effort by watching for mistakes and gaffes. Amazingly, detectable ones are rare.
On the whole this production is overly cute and overly precious, kitschy in the extreme. I can't imagine it went over that well, even in an era that was overall fairly kitschy (pink was then the "new black"). Even the notorious Leonard's performance was less villainous and more "oooooh! I'm soooo baaaad!" I'll wager even the iconically kitschy Sarah Palin would have trouble making it through this steady diet of treacle.
The print is clearer than one might expect, although the black-to-white contrast seems muted. It looks very much like a color film reduced to black/white. And sure enough, at the end of the production, there's an announcement that it's been made by a "color compatible" process. I grew up in that era, and if memory serves, that means that the color can be picked up by your non-color TV as black/white.
So maybe, somewhere, there's a color version of this production? I wonder how much pink would be in it.