Picks and Pans Review: It's Howdy Doody Time

updated 11/23/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/23/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

Say, grown-ups, what time is it? Right, it's nostalgia time, and this is a pleasant diversion for those former children who remember Howdy, Mr. Bluster, Chief Thunderthud, John J. Fadoozle and the other inhabitants of Doodyville. Originally produced for a syndicated reunion broadcast, this tape includes additional old black-and-white footage from the program that ran from 1947 to 1960. Those were primitive days in television, of course, but Howdy Doody was energetic—thanks largely to the vaudevillian bravado of host Buffalo Bob Smith—and the show soft-sold some educational bits between squirts from Clarabell's seltzer bottle. The new footage, centering around a plot to give Howdy a surprise party, is a mixed blessing. There's a touching moment when Milton Berle appears to wish Howdy a happy 40th birthday and notes that his own 40th anniversary in TV came this year. Louise Vallance, as the granddaughter of Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring, adds a lively presence and the singing voice of a Broadway belter. Mary Ann Mobley is charming in a skit where she is recruiting an ally and drawls, "Oh, Clarabell, honey, could I talk to you for a moment." (Johnny Carson and Meredith MacRae are among the other guests. Diana Canova and Garett Morris show up in the peanut gallery.) The balance is skewed, however. It's the vintage material that's really likely to touch people, and there's too little of it. And in the new story line Howdy is saddled with a dreadful song in which he seems to be mulling over his virginity: "It's hard to find a girl/ For a guy like me/ Is there no girl I shall have known/ Before I die." Better to concentrate on the old days, with the Twinkies commercials and Thunderthud's kowabunga routines, the days when we—and television—were all a lot more innocent. (Fries, $24.95)

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