Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show(Paramount Home Entertainment, 5.9.2006)
50th Anniversary Edition
You can call this show Sgt. Bilko, The Phil Silvers Show or You'll Never Get Rich, but don't call it anything less than genius. Phil Silvers plays Sgt. Ernie Bilko, the head of the motorpool at Ft. Baxter in Kansas. He's the biggest hustler in the Army. He's running every racket on the base and his barracks is practically a casino. He uses charm and cunning to ease his way into everyone's wallet. Silvers creates one of the great characters in TV history and you know it's great since, over the past 50 years, his character has been ripped-off on a variety of shows including the animated Top Cat.
Unlike McHale's Navy and Gomer Pyle, I didn't grow up with constant reruns of Bilko on the TV, which is a shame since this was the cream of the military comedy crop. And Bilko had an amazing supporting cast. His two corporals were the Beach Party films' Eric Von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) and Sam the Butcher from The Brady Bunch (Allan Melvin). The show also launched George Kennedy's career.
Don't confuse this series with the forgettable Steve Martin film that plagued our theaters a decade ago. Every episode in this collection is better than that big budget stinker. My favorite is The Eating Contest where Bilko discovers that the newest member of his unit is "The Stomach." He sets up a devouring competition with a rival company only to discover that his star isn't ready to clean a plate. Bilko refuses to take "I'm full" for an answer. "The Stomach" was Fred Gwynne's break through role and eventually lead to Car 54, Where Are You? and The Munsters.
The only disappointing thing about this boxset is that it only has 18 episodes picked from the four seasons the show ran, which means there's still 124 episodes in the vault. For the same price, Paramount put out the first season of Hogan's Heroes and that had 32 episodes. Why no love for Bilko? Why do we get a sampler instead of the first of four season sets?
There are several great bonus features, including Jack Benny and Phil Silvers being interviewed on The Dick Cavett Show. This makes up for the lack of a documentary about the show since Phil talks about the history of Bilko. In addition, vintage video shows the night that Bilko dominated the Emmys and an audio track has Silvers roasting Humphrey Bogart at the Friars Club. It must have been sweet when Phil declared that Cagney could kick Bogey's butt. There's also plenty of promos from Nick at Night, featuring the cast of the horrible Sgt. Bilko movie (it's nice to see the late Phil Hartman mugging for the camera to introduce episodes). If you're a fan of TV, this is required summer viewing. -- Joe Corey