Car 54 Where Are You, one of the best loved and funniest TV shows of all
time finally comes to DVD for the first time. All 30 episodes of the
Nat Hikenfirst season (1961-62) are included in a set of 4 DVDs, each newly
remastered from the only known set of 35 mm fine grain prints.
The show stars Joe E. Ross as Gunther Toody and Fred Gwynne as Francis
Muldoon, a lovably inept squad car team that patrols the Bronx's 53rd
precinct. Muldoon plays the long-suffering voice of reason who invariably
reins in his short stocky partner¹s dimwitted schemes and patiently listens
to his hilariously inane prattle. The perfectly cast ensemble of supporting
actors includes Beatrice Pons as Toody¹s domineering shrew of a wife, Al
Lewis as the rubber-faced, irascible Officer Leo Schnauser, Charlotte Rae as
Schnauser¹s moody, hot-tempered wife and Paul Reed as the perpetually
exasperated captain Block. Each episode was filled out with talent drawn
from New York's pool of seasoned film and TV veterans, borscht belt
comedians and Broadway stage actors, and the first season features
memorable guest star appearances by show biz pros Molly Picon, Wally Cox,
Jan Murray, Maureen Stapleton, Jake La Motta and many more.
The show was the brainchild of Nat Hiken, already famous for his highly
acclaimed Sgt. Bilko show, and many critics feel Car 54, with its quirky
story lines, offbeat characters and hilarious dialogue even surpassed Bilko
as a comic masterpiece. Drawing on his 25 years of writing experience for
top comedy shows on radio and television (Fred Allen, Milton Berle, Martha
Raye), Hiken created a show rich with New York humor and offbeat characters
in scripts that were polished jewels of comedy. Soon television would opt
for more formulaic programming, and Car 54 Where Are You was the last gasp
of an early golden era of New York television.
Specifically shot as a bonus extra for this release is a brand-new
free-wheeling round table conversation between Bronx-raised comedian Robert
Klein and two of the regular cast members --Charlotte Rae, who played Sylvia
Schnauser, and Hank Garrett, who played Officer Ed Nicholson, one of the
cops of the 53rd precinct. Rae and Garrett share stories, anecdotes and
memories with Klein (a fan of Hiken¹s work) that shed light on what went on
behind the scenes.
It took a while--half a century since it first aired, to be exact--but one of the last great sitcoms from television's golden era of the '50s and early '60s has finally come to video. That would be Car 54, Where Are You?
, released here with all 30 first-season episodes (plus one bonus feature) on four discs. The show was the brainchild of Nat Hiken, who created it, produced it, cast it, wrote and directed several episodes, and even penned the familiar theme song ("There's a scout troop short a child / Khrushchev's due at Idlewild…"). Hiken had earlier been responsible for The Phil Silvers Show
(a.k.a. Sgt. Bilko
), which brilliantly skewered the U.S. Army. Here he takes on the New York City Police Department--specifically the 53rd Precinct in the Bronx, home turf of Officers Gunther "Ooo! Ooo!" Toody (Joe E. Ross) and Francis Muldoon (Fred Gwynne) and those who suffer from the antics of the two bumbling patrolmen. Like, say, The Honeymooners
, this is old school, black & white TV, with comedy that's broad and accents that are broader (it was not only set in the Bronx, but filmed there). Unlike many more recent sitcoms, it features characters who are neither glamorous nor photogenic; it's hard to imagine the stubby, motor-mouthed Ross, the whiny, squinty-eyed Al Lewis (who plays Officer Leo Schnauser), or even the tall, more patrician Gwynne (who, along with Lewis, would later join the cast of The Munsters
) getting much play as leading men now. Nor is there anything cutting edge about Car 54
. There are no murders or other violent crimes, and Toody and Muldoon are less likely to nab any criminals (unless the former's 12-year-old nephew helps, as in "Quiet! We're Thinking") than be fooled by them ("No More Pickpockets" and "The Paint Job" are but two examples). The show's old-fashioned sensibility cuts both ways; typical of its time, it has a chauvinistic tone (the wives are generally depicted as shrill harpies) and almost no minority presence, but its good-hearted, Borscht Belt, "who's on first?" type of humor is a refreshing contrast to the snide one-liners that pass for laughs these days.
Many users have objected to the boxed set's bare-bones presentation, noting that the episodes are not in chronological order and are the shorter, syndicated versions, in addition to the lack of any production information, liner notes, photos, and so on. These are all valid complaints, but when it comes down to what really matters--is it funny?--Car 54, Where Are You? is an undeniable hit. --Sam Graham