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Ed Sullivan, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison
Writing Credits:

Includes complete shows and Beatles performances from February 9, February 16, and February 23, 1964, and September 12, 1965.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Monaural
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 240 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 10/28/2003

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Ed Sullivan Presents The Beatles (1964)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 22, 2003)

No televised musical performance ever packed more of an impact than the Beatles’ first time on The Ed Sullivan Show, and it seems unlikely another ever will. Their five songs represented the start of a cultural revolution and attracted a ridiculous amount of attention. At the time, they remained little more than a curiosity to most, but now we know they made music history that day.

On a two-DVD release called The Four Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring the Beatles, we can see what the band did to generate all the fuss. The package includes that original legendary broadcast from February 9, 1964, as well as additional Sullivan performances during the subsequent two Sundays and one from September 12, 1965.

In a nice touch, the programs come uncut. We don’t just find the Beatles’ performances; in addition, we get all the other acts who appeared. The discs even toss in all the original commercials to replicate the experience as fully as possible.

While that’s a fun way to present the shows, make no mistake: no one will buy this set to hear Gloria Bleezarde warble “Safety in Numbers”. They’ll shell out for all the Beatle tunes. The number of tracks varies from program to program. On the famous February 9 show, we get five tunes: “All My Loving”, “Till There Was You”, “She Loves You”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. Additional performers that night included magician Fred Kaps, comedian/impressionist Frank Gorshin, acrobats Wells and the Four Fays, comedians McCall & Brill, the Broadway cast of Oliver!, and singer Tessie O’Shea.

On February 16, 1964, Sullivan brought back the Beatles to broadcast from Miami. There they played six numbers. Four repeated tunes from the prior week: “She Loves You”, “All My Loving”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”. We also find two new songs: “This Boy” and “From Me to You”. As for the other guests, we find comedians Myron Cohen and Allen & Rossi, acrobats the Nerveless Knocks, and singer Mitzi Gaynor.

For their last of the three consecutive shows, the Beatles appeared on the February 23, 1964 broadcast. They only did three songs this time, and we got “I Want to Hold Your Hand” for its third performance. In addition, we heard “Twist and Shout” and “Please Please Me”. The program also featured singers Gloria Bleezarde and Cab Calloway, clarinetist Acker Bilk, marionettes Pinky & Perky, and comedians Dave Barry, Morty Gunty, Gordon & Sheila MacRae, and Morecambe & Wise.

After a gap of more than a year and a half, the Beatles popped up again for the September 12, 1965 Sullivan. Given the length of that span, it comes as no surprise that none of their six songs repeated material from the earlier shows. The Beatles played “I Feel Fine”, “I’m Down”, “Act Naturally”, “Ticket to Ride”, “Help!” and “Yesterday”. We also found material from sleight-of-hand artist Fantasio, comedians Soupy Sales and Allen & Rossi, and singer Cilla Black.

On these DVDs, we find the answer to a trivia question: Fred Kaps. The query: Who was the luckless act forced to follow the Beatles? Not that many who buy Sullivan will stick around for Kaps or any of the others. This is the kind of package for which chapter search was invented.

If you look hard enough, though, you might find some decent material outside of the Beatles’ performances. However, you really do need to look pretty hard, as most of the performers are fairly terrible. Most of the acts haven’t aged well at all. Actually, Frank Gorshin’s routine about actors who aspire to political office seems rather prescient, though this doesn’t make it funny.

Unfortunately, most of the other performances fall flat as well. The only moderate stand-out comes from Brit comedians Morecambe and Wise. Favorites of the Fabs themselves – on whose show they appeared – the pair do a decent little sketch. It pretty much bombs with the audience, as the duo’s subtle gags lack the broad theatrics of the typical Sullivan act. Nonetheless, it remains probably the only non-Beatle element of these DVDs that merits a look.

As for the band, I can’t claim they provide their best live work in any of their four shows. They sound pretty rough at times and don’t offer genuinely strong versions of any of the songs. Both John’s vocals and George’s solo for the February 16 “I Saw Her Standing There” falter noticeably, and Ringo sings in the wrong key for much of “Act Naturally”. At the same show, John badly botches the lyrics to “Help!” and Paul mucks “I’m Down” as well, though not as obviously.

Oddly, folks who don’t know anything about the Beatles other than what they saw on Sullivan might think Paul was their main singer. No one else gets a true lead vocal until John takes on “Twist and Shout” during the February 23 show; parts of “This Boy” and “Please Please Me” prominently feature John, but they mostly present shared vocals. He shares the lead for tracks like “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, but Paul dominates with numbers like “All My Loving” and “I Saw Her Standing There”. Poor George never gets to take the lead, and Ringo only gets “Act Naturally” as a solo showcase.

Although the performances falter at times and don’t exactly make the Fabs look terribly polished and tight, they maintain our attention because, well, it’s the Beatles. Even if just as a historical curiosity, these renditions would be worth seeing. Despite my criticisms, the performances really are mostly fine. The band shows flaws at times, but the tracks never break down badly, and it’s a lot of fun to watch them in their glory days via these uncut songs.

It’s also very entertaining to see some of the less polished moments that come with a live broadcast. Poor Paul schvitzes like a pig during the February 16 show; I guess the Miami heat got to him. (Oddly, Ed always pronounces the city’s name as “My-Am-Uh”.) That show also presents a hilarious technical gaffe as John and Paul experience some serious microphone difficulties during “I Saw Her Standing There”. Both stands were at the wrong height, but only John got the chance to adjust his; Paul’s need to play bass the whole time didn’t allow him to make the correction. Because of this, Paul hunched during much of the song, though that still didn’t work well. His vocals remained largely inaudible at times, while the much louder John drowned out the lead during their shared lines. Not that John got off scot-free; his mic often drooped, so he had to make more corrections on the fly.

There’s something oddly endearing about the amateurishness of the whole thing, especially when it involves legends like the Beatles. Similar sentiments go for all of these Sullivan shows. I won’t recommend them because they display the Beatles at their very best, though the programs do include many of the band’s top songs. While many folks prefer the Beatles’ later work, I maintain a particular affection for their earlier tracks. All Beatles is good Beatles, but there’s a freshness, vigor and tautness to their formative albums that continues to delight. Warts and all, we hear this material as performed on the venue that made them known across the USA. It’s a real treat to watch all this in its uncut glory on these DVDs.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B-/ Bonus F

The Four Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring the Beatles appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Since a) most of these recordings will soon hit their 40th birthday, and b) I don’t think anyone really thought we’d care about them all these years later, I felt the DVD presented flawed but more than acceptable visuals across the board.

Sharpness varied a lot and offered some of the package’s weakest elements. The image looked pretty decent much of the time, and a lot of the program seemed reasonably detailed and distinctive. However, the shows also appeared fairly gauzy on occasion, and they could look pretty soft and blurry sometimes. Surprisingly, I saw no examples of jagged edges, and I also witnessed very little shimmering. As for edge enhancement, that presented a trickier question. I noticed a lot of haloes throughout the shows, but I couldn’t definitely attribute this to edge enhancement; the haloes may have emanated from the source materials. Occasionally the picture took on a sense of a double-image, though the haloes rarely looked that severe.

As with everything else, blacks varied. Sometimes they looked quite deep and concise, but other times the image seemed too gray and lacked definition. Other shots offered blacks that were too heavy; this appeared especially noticeable during the 1965 show. Shadows weren’t much of a factor for these programs, as the lighting made sure not many low-light shots occurred.

As one might expect, a number of source defects cropped up throughout the shows. These largely seemed specific to each program, but some appeared across the board. Guitars caused some flashes, and occasional streaks and video distortion showed up in all four programs. The Miami show demonstrated little triangular borders in the corners of the screen inconsistently; they came and went with no rhyme or reason, and they also varied in size. February 23 showed some dots that periodically danced on the right side of the screen. Other shows included some rolling bars, warped images, video specks, wobbling, and picture break-up. I didn’t think the various flaws were severe, but they did mar the presentation moderately frequently. All of this made the Sullivan performances erratic and problematic, but they seemed at least as good as I expected, and maybe a little better.

On this DVD, we got both the original monaural audio of the Sullivan shows along with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. The latter really turned out to be broad mono. The music spread slightly to the front side channels, and some applause popped up there as well, but the track mostly remained very strongly oriented in the center. The surrounds added some cheering at times and gently reinforced the forward audio; otherwise they played a passive role in the proceedings.

Not surprisingly, some qualitative differences appeared between the two tracks. However, although I expected the 5.1 mix to sound bad, it actually came out okay. Lots of these sorts of remixes add a great deal of reverb to create an impression of dimensionality, but happily, this one avoided that. Highs came across as slightly indistinct at times, but it usually reproduced the different elements fairly well. Although a little unnecessary echo popped up, that issue stayed firmly under control.

Dialogue sounded fairly clean and natural. Speech and vocals were slightly thin, but mostly they appeared reasonably distinct. Definition of various instruments during the Beatles’ songs was a bit weak but remained more than acceptable. I could make out the various elements without much trouble; the instruments lacked great accuracy, but they seemed just fine given the source elements. Bass response sounded surprisingly deep and tight.

The quality of the mono mix differed from the 5.1 track, with a different set of strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, the mono version sounded a little cleaner and tighter. The vocals and instruments presented moderately stronger clarity. However, bass response was a little weaker. Low-end remained pretty good for this sort of material, but those elements seemed better during the 5.1 mix. In any case, both of them seemed fine. I’d prefer to stick with the monaural one just to remain true to the source, but I had no real complaints about the 5.1 rendition.

For comparison’s sake, I checked out the clips that also showed up in The Beatles Anthology. Without question, these elements looked better here. The blurriness and haloes were stronger in the Anthology clips, and the audio sounded tinnier, harsher, and more distant as well. These DVDs definitely present the material in a superior manner.

Unfortunately, no supplements appear on these discs. Some sort of historical retrospective to put the Sullivan shows in perspective would have been nice, though I don’t regard the absence of extras as a problem. Heck, consider the Beatles’ performances as the main program and the other Sullivan guests as the bonus clips!

The Beatles’ performances on The Ed Sullivan Show are a substantial part of the band’s legend, though not many people have seen the shows since their original broadcasts. Happily, The Four Historic Ed Sullivan Shows Featuring the Beatles makes these programs available for the masses. We get to check out the Fabs in all their live glory. It gets pretty rough at times, but it remains invigorating and enjoyable. The DVD doesn’t include any extras, but it offers picture and sound that seem to present the aging material in the best possible light. Without question, these Sullivan DVDs are must-haves for Beatles fans.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5535 Stars Number of Votes: 56
3 3:
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