This DVD is preceded by a disclaimer that tells us “The Paul Lynde Halloween Special” was only telecast once, on October 29, 1976, and that it was presumed lost. We’re also told the quality is below what viewers are used to in this digital age, and that too is because of the single surviving print that turned up.
It’s not hard to look past the video quality. After all, watching this ’70s show seems like such a blast from the past that the VHS quality seems oddly compatible. It’s the quality of material that’s harder to forgive. The only things that make this show memorable are the first network appearance by then-naughty rock band Kiss (with Gene Simmons, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, and Paul Stanley in their usual freaky make-up, performing three songs) and the first appearance ever of Margaret Hamilton in her Wicked Witch costume from “The Wizard of Oz.” Other than that, the songs on this special are lounge-lizard quality and the sketches never approach those on the old “Carol Burnett Show.”
For those who don’t know him or who might need a reminder, Lynde was perhaps best known for his portrayals of Uncle Arthur in “Bewitched” (1965-71), the father Harry McAfee in “Bye Bye Birdie” (1963), and the voice of Templeton in “Charlotte’s Web” (1973). And, of course, what seemed like a permanent seat on the popular game show, “Hollywood Squares” (1966-79).
This special was broadcast at the height of Lynde’s “Hollywood Squares” popularity, and for fans, the other thing that makes this DVD worth buying is an audio interview with “Squares” host Peter Marshall, who gives us the straight talk about the sometimes difficult Lynde.
But if you put nostalgia aside (and I was around to witness some of the variety-show silliness that aired in the ’70s, including “Laugh-In” and “Hee Haw”), the jokes for this special could have been funnier, the sketches could have been more clever or energetic, and the songs sung by non-Kiss people could have been much, much better.
In the opening sketch, Lynde plays himself while Hamilton plays his housekeeper. First Lynde dresses as Santa and starts singing a Christmas song, while she tells him it’s not Christmas. Then it’s an Easter Bunny get-up, with Hamilton again intruding to tell him it’s not that holiday either. Same with Valentine’s Day and Lynde doing a little “My Funny Valentine.” And finally, we get the IT’S HALLOWEEN declaration, the kind of routine that you’d normally pitch at small children, not an adult audience. This is followed by a stand-up monologue that could have used more jokes with legs. One of the funniest gags was Lynde talking about “a scary holiday that’s coming up . . . Election Day.” But monologues set the tone, and without a golf club to swing Johnny Carson style, or self-conscious audience interplay to make the clunkers seem not so bad after all, this one falls flat.
The structure for the Halloween special is kind of brilliant, though. Hamilton as The Wicked Witch of the West and her witchy sidekick, Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes), from then-popular children’s show “H.R. Pufnstuf,” approach Lynde to be the spokesperson on behalf of witches everywhere to tell the world that they’re not so bad. What’s in it for him? Three wishes. And each wish transports us to a different segment in this variety show.
Lynde’s first wish is to be a trucker, and that launches us into a very long sketch about “The Rhinestone Trucker,” with Lynde looking like half-Village Person and half-Liberace in an all white and rhinestone costume with Marlon Brando “Wild One” hat. In the skit, he and comedy veteran Tim Conway play rival truckers, the first of whom is unfunnily dispatched by the ruthless Rhinestone, and the second of whom apparently is engaged to the same “gal” at the same diner-dive. The waitress is Roz Kelly, known to ’70s audiences as Pinkie Tuscadero from “Happy Days.” But again, the laughs just aren’t there. The other two skits aren’t much better, though they’re thankfully shorter.
What’s ironically laughable is a song that’s not supposed to be, with Florence Henderson (a.k.a. Mrs. Carol Brady, from “The Brady Bunch”) singing “That Old Black Magic” in a slinky, sparkly gown. It’s an odd mismatch of style and song selection, with her near-operatic high notes seeming light years away from the jazzy version Sammy Davis, Jr. gave us, or even Marilyn Monroe’s–so much so that you find yourself giggling as she does her little song and dance in a Halloween disco. The inadvertent laughs continue as Lynde and Henderson and the gang show us all how to do a disco step.
An appearance by little person Billy Barty and a surprise, unadvertised cameo from Donny and Marie Osmond round out the talent. Unless you’re really into ’70s nostalgia, you’ll find parts of this awfully hard to watch–not funny enough, not entertaining enough, and not BAD enough to be consistently, unintentionally funny. Gags like “Why Paul Lynde?” (“He was available”) strike too close to home, given the overall quality.
“The Paul Lynde Halloween Special” stands as both an example of the variety show in waning years, and an example of why the format went the way of the dinosaurs. And how this cornball show got Kiss to appear is beyond me, but the guys perform “Beth,” “King of the Nighttime World,” and “Detroit Rock City” in what are oddly enough the most timeless sequences of the show.
As advertised, the video quality is no great shakes. It truly is VHS quality, with that familiar blurriness and those crackling horizontal lines that pop up every now and then. But for 50 minutes it’s certainly tolerable, and as I said, the videotape quality just adds to the nostalgia. The show is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
This is advertised as Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, but it sounds more like mono y mono. There’s a flatness to the audio quality and a slight scratchiness that matches the rough video. Technically there may be separation, but with so much emanating from the center speakers it’s hard to tell.
To their credit, S’more Entertainment has used this release as a chance to pay tribute to Lynde, and that enhances its value as a collectible. There’s a large “scrapbook” featuring photographs provided by family and friends, and a long interview from Marshall talking about “Hollywood Squares” and Lynde’s involvement. But Marshall pulls no punches, talking about how Lynde was a mean drunk, and how after three DUIs he suggested that it was time Lynde hire a limo to take him home from parties. You get stories about how Lynde could be difficult to work with, too, and yet Marshall emerges as someone who truly admired and loved his colleague. Supporting his remarks is an extensive slideshow of “Hollywood Squares” photos, and fans of the show will see how many different B-list stars (and a few A-listers) that Lynde played the game against. Those are the best of the bonus features. Also included are “notable quotes” from Lynde that seem neither funny nor profound enough, and a “Name That Quip” trivia game based on questions that Paul answered during his time on “Hollywood Squares” that’s a little better.
S’more Entertainment has put together a nice package, but you have to really love Paul Lynde or cheesy ’70s variety shows to embrace this release. Today’s casual movie- and TV-lover will be more scarred than scared after watching this, and probably grateful that disco won’t be making a comeback any time soon.