Monday, November 8, 2010

On DVD: Four Star Playhouse: The Dick Powell Anthology, Volume 1 (1953-55)

Four Star Playhouse was one of the studio's first television series, and a showcase for the four partners in the company. The three constants were Charles Boyer, David Niven (both of whom would star in The Rogues) and Dick Powell, the former film & radio star who was, essentially, the major domo in charge until his passing in the early 60's.

Of the four episodes selected in this Alpha Video collection, only one, "The House Always Wins", has the full opening. Alpha engaged in a little bait & switch by emphasizing the presence of comedy legend Jack Benny, but Benny only appears in a brief cameo in this episode. Powell plays a nightclub owner in this episode, trying to keep the existence of a gambling casino within the club a secret from a prying police detective (Regis Toomey, later of Burke's Law). Also, Powell is seen as a lawyer (defending Charles Bronson), a cab driver (paired with one of the men who brought The Shadow to life on radio, Bill (billed here as William) Johnstone), and an executive in need of a vacation, whose daydream sequence looks like the kind we'd see on Rod Serling's Twilight Zone just a few years later. Dina Merrill (Mrs. Cliff Robertson) co-stars in this tale, which leads off the disc.

Edit: 4/11/14: Here's "The House Always Wins". It served as a pilot for the subsequent spin-off series, Dante, which starred Howard Duff in the title role:

Powell had already been known for his versatility as an actor long before making the transition to television, but by this point was spending more of his time behind the cameras. It's a pity they don't try to revive the anthology format in television nowadays. Networks would rather spend the money developing as many "reality" shows as possible to save money and create stars out of average folks, or give established stars some additional shine. I'd rather have something like this on cable than endless marathons of Jersey Shore or any other mindless "entertainment".

Rating: A-.

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