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Dean's 1968 Christmas hour is a very pleasant surprise
on November 13, 2012
Other reviewers have noted that past "Dean Martin Show" releases have been plagued with music-clearance problems and edited segments, so this writer expected this Christmas show to be a paste-up of quick excerpts, as has been done with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby "Christmas TV" DVDs. To my great surprise this turns out to be one continuous episode, aired the Thursday before Christmas in 1968. There is at least one noticeable edit near the beginning but the balance of the show appears to be complete, and it's a treat for vintage-TV enthusiasts and Dean Martin fans.
Dean Martin's variety shows were carefully staged and rehearsed -- but without Dean, who showed up for the tapings. The viewer enjoys the jokes and surprises, and so does Dean! A highlight of this show is a department-store sketch, with Dean playing straight as a complaint-department clerk, and Bob Newhart as an embarrassed customer. Newhart sets the dialogue up according to plan, with Dean reading the straight lines from cue cards. But Newhart starts improvising inventively, causing Dean to break up openly and do some ad-libbing himself. Both performers are obviously enjoying themselves, and the casual atmosphere is engaging and festive. The show's other featured comedian is Dom DeLuise, who is equally adept at sneaking in funny lines and gestures. The "musical" guest, with the word advisedly in quotes, is Dennis Weaver demonstrating his uncertain singing voice.
The weekly series usually had Dean singing at least one song seriously. Not in this episode, though: Dean clowns his way through "It's a Marshmallow World" and offers a too-casual rendition of "Silent Night." There is also a lengthy segment with staff members and their children (one of them appears to be Melissa Gilbert!); this cutesy pageant is more worthy of Lawrence Welk than Dean Martin.
Some 40 guest stars are mentioned as participating in this 48-minute program, but their contribution is public service rather than entertainment. Apart from Bob Hope, who has a comedy cameo, the guest stars' appearances are limited to the end of the show, and confined to brief announcements of charitable toy donations across America. If you're expecting funny business from, say, Lucille Ball, you won't see it here.
Happily the spotlight is on Dean for most of the proceedings, and he's always fun to watch. Highly recommended.