Very inferior to classic film, mild interest for musical theater buffs
I viewed this on YouTube in Nov. 2015; someone uploaded a very poor quality videotape of the show. But even a pristine copy, if such a thing existed, would be very inferior in production values of the classic film. The 1959 TV version was shot with that era's primitive video equipment, camera-work was unimaginative and static, lighting bright and bland, sets simple and cramped. The video I saw is in black and white; I'm not sure if the original broadcast was in color, CBS generally did not have color programs in 1959, though they very rarely offered color for special entertainment programming.
Contrary to what the previous IMDb wrote, the program would have been videotaped, not live, but based on the results it was shot quickly, with minimal time for retakes.
Rather than use the superb musical arrangements from the 1944 film, this version had much cruder, bland, generic 1950's style arrangements, though performed by a full orchestra and chorus. I especially missed Kay Thompson's often intricate, jazz-infused choral arrangements; here often replaced with unison singing.
In my opinion, the only reason to watch the TV version is to compare the acting and singing of the impressive cast to the original performers. Jane Powell sings every bit as beautifully as in any of her MGM musicals, and gives a enjoyable and convincing performance; she plays the role of Esther straight, lacking the delightful comedic touch that Judy Garland brought to the part. Walter Pidgeon as her father is more sympathetic and just plain nicer than Leon Ames tart characterization in the original; both versions are effective. Jeanne Crain and Myrna Loy are given nothing to sink their teeth into in their underwritten parts and do a competent job, nothing more. Patty Duke is a lot of fun as Tootie, and almost as good as Margaret O'Brien in the original.
Tab Hunter, as "The Boy Nextdoor" is Tab Hunter, likable and bland. He gets top billing in the show's credits, over Jane Powell, which is just ridiculous, his is a supporting part, she is the star, but I guess he was a hot property in 1959 and she and Jeanne Crain were sadly not. Tab gets two songs to sing in this version, not in the original; he has a pleasant little voice and sings on pitch. His songs and one other addition to the original score are suitable to the story and the period, but not of the quality of the songs written for the film.
The only acting performance I really disliked was Ed Wynn's. He demonstrates little acting ability as grandpa, and continually uses his standard mannerisms, such as laughing softly to himself. The same year as this TV version, Wynn gave a surprisingly accomplished performance in "The Diary of Anne Frank"; it may have been the greater time and care put into that film vs. this TV show, and it may have been the skill of Anne Frank's director, George Stevens.
I want to say something about Rita Shaw; I always very much enjoy her accomplished light comic turns in the few films I'm aware she made (Pajama Game, Pollyanna, and Mary Poppins). She's just as good here.
This TV version uses the same script as the film, a very good choice. There are a couple of added scenes that I suspect were written for the film but not used, and some very minor alterations.
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