Dated But Still Valuable
J. Jaco | L.A., CA | 04/03/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I am old enough to remember these, not from their original broadcasts but from my classrooms in the '60's. We enjoyed them back then, and I still think they are relevant contributions to history education.
What I find hardest for my own students to grasp is the drab colors of the Black and White images, the simple sets and wardrobe, and the lengthy single-shot scenes that have a character or two talking about their own views of the issue at hand. Certainly, the ending of the capture of John Wilkes Booth is rather unsettling, and makes you feel a bit uncomfortable as if "You Are There" (as the voice intones before each segment). The Spindletop story also has a good climax, and although there's a notch of too much talking for modern ears, the characters are interesting, and the historic significance is brought home very clearly. Nevertheless, young people today have a low tolerance for such "talky" programs, and can lose interest early, which is too bad.
What is most important to remember about these programs is their time context. TV in the 50's was still learning to find its way, and many minds were experimenting with concepts and formats. Disney, for one, and the Bell Telephone Co., for another, saw the medium of television as a great new avenue for public education. The CBS News division was also enjoying a tremendous era of influence, and Cronkite, though still down a few rungs from the likes of Murrow, was one of many seasoned correspondents who had survived both World War II and Korea, some of whom are listed on the credits of these programs, and who were excited about being involved in this television experiment. These programs ran as segments of Cronkite's "Twentieth Century" series, which was a staple of a this era, and hugely informative.
As such, these programs are not meant to entertain as much as to inform in an entertaining way. Modern viewers may find it amusing, however, to spot the future "Dr. McCoy" (DeForrest Kelly) of Star Trek in this and some other episodes, as well as other well-known character actors like Denver Pyle and Parley Baer.
I like this one, and the other two discs I've watched, but I'm not sure these programs are for everybody. If the subject sounds interesting, though - take a chance; the price is certainly right!"