[23 February 2009]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The third season of The Beverly Hillbillies ran for 34 episodes in 1964 and 1965. It was still shot in black and white that year, and the hill folk in a city setting gags were still fresh. Of course, the fact that the series was so consistently funny may have had more to do with the cast than with the jokes. Most of that consistency was due to Buddy Ebsen as even-tempered Jed Clampett and Irene Ryan as the irascible Granny. These two are the heart and soul of the show, as well as each others’ perfect foils for the funny bits.
That’s not to say that the other characters weren’t vital to the show’s success. Elly Mae (Donna Douglas), Jethro (Max Baer Jr.), Miss Hathaway (Nancy Kulp) and Mr. Drysdale (Raymond Bailey) each contribute a certain comedic facet to the whole, and often serve as the catalysts for a particular premise—Jethro wants to be a “double-naught spy” or Elly needs to find a husband, for instance—but Jed and Granny are the important ingredients in The Beverly Hillbillies’ ‘possum stew.
The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Third Season is the second set to be released that is a complete season in its entirety (Season Two came out last fall), and the quality of the audio and video is great! It’s far above anything in public domain that’s been released before. The third begins with a four-episode arc in which Jed becomes the owner of a big Hollywood studio, and hilarious misunderstandings ensue as the Clampetts try their hands at the movie business. Later in the season, there are multiple episode arcs involving the fussy Mrs. Drysdale (Harriet E. MacGibbon), Elly’s movie star suitor, Dash Riprock (Larry Penell) and beatnik Sheldon Epps (Alan Reed Jr.)
These recurring parts essentially serve as simply more people for the Clampetts to heap a helpin’ of hillbilly upon, and the same is sometimes true of bigger name guest stars. “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood” features the legendary columnist as she tries to convince Jed to preserve a part of old Hollywood, and she and her iconic hat are the butt of many jokes. Don Rickles guests in the episode “Jed’s Temptation” as a losing gambler, and though her’s not really the focus, he’s still very funny. Still other guest stars are in on the jokes. In “Flatt, Clampett and Scruggs” has Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs coming to town to help cheer Granny and cure her homesickness, and they fit right in slinging the back woods banter. That the music is a lovely complement to the comedy is just a bonus.
As on the previous CBS DVD set, choosing “episodes” from the main menu offers the option to play the original sponsor openings and closings. Choose yes on an episode, and, in one Winston spot, another screen warns, “We do not recommend smoking, as it may prove hazardous to your health.” And then “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should” is added to the opening theme song as the Clampetts are seen driving past a cigarette truck. It’s a little strange, but kind of fun to see how product placement happened in the ‘60s. The end ads are more like normal underwriting spots with no alteration to the closing theme. (“The Beverly Hillbillies has been brought to you by Tempo cigarettes. Tempo, the taste too good to miss.”).
Along with the sponsor spots on each disc, The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Third Season contains photo galleries and a featurette entitled The Legend of the Beverly Hillbillies on the fifth disc. The Legend is a sort of silly anniversary retrospective including interviews with supposed distant relatives like Reba McEntire and “friends” like Ray Charles, where-are-they-now segments on cast members and guest stars, and footage spanning all nine seasons.
The Beverly Hillbillies: The Official Third Season is as complete a DVD set as any fan could wish for. For those not already fans, the comedy holds up incredibly well after more than 40 years, which helps explain its nearly 300 episode endurance. The hospitality doesn’t hurt either, so expect CBS to release seasons four through nine pretty regularly in the future. Because I think the Beverly Hillbillies were on to something when they said, “Y’all come back now, now ya hear?” Folks’ll always keep coming back as long as they’re invited.