THE DVD SHELF: "Mad Men" Season One, and Duvall's "Faerie Tale Theatre"

By Steven Suskin
07 Sep 2008

Shelley Duvall began her career in 1970 as a somewhat eccentric actress in several Robert Altman films, beginning with "Brewster McCloud," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller," and "Nashville." She was especially prominent in two 1980 films, opposite Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" and Robin Williams in "Popeye." While filming the latter, she happened to be reading Grimm's version of "The Frog Prince." She asked her co-star what he thought of frog princes, he offered his talents and support, and "Faerie Tale Theatre" was born. This being a series of 27 programs that aired on the Showtime Network from 1982-1987. Duvall served as creator, executive producer, narrator, and occasional star.

What's more, she seems to have served as a magnet for talented performers. Oh, you know, people like Mr. Williams and Terri Garr in "Tale of the Frog Prince"; Christopher Reeve and Bernadette Peters in "Sleeping Beauty"; Mary Steenburgen and Malcolm McDowell in "Little Red Riding Hood"; Mick Jagger in "The Nightingale"; Tatum O'Neill, John Lithgow and Carole King in "Goldilocks and the Three Bears"; Liza Minnelli in "The Princess and the Pea"; Vanessa Redgrave, Vincent Price, Elizabeth McGovern and Rex Smith in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"; Susan Sarandon, Klaus Kinski and Anjelica Huston in "Beauty and the Beast"; and Paul Rubens, James Coburn, Carl Reiner, Lainie Kazan and Jim Belushi in "Pinocchio." Now, there's a group I wouldn't want be to stuck in an elevator with. Or how about "The Three Little Pigs," starring Billy Crystal and Jeff Goldblum? And the list goes on, with the likes of James Earl Jones, Leonard Nimoy, Matthew Broderick, Eve Arden, Jean Stapleton, Alan Arkin, Ben Vereen, Art Carney, Joan Collins, Gregory Hines, Burgess Meredith, Lee Remick and more.

There are some interesting directors as well, like Francis Ford Coppola, Eric Idle, and Tim Burton. Many of the episodes are designed in the style of famous artist/illustrators, ranging from Jan Brueghel to Jules Feiffer, which only adds to the series' many charms for discerning viewers. What you get, overall, are child-friendly fairie tales with adult sensibility, packed with real, honest-to-goodness humor.

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre [Koch Vision] has been released in various forms at various times. It has now been restored and remastered in a mystically enchanting new seven-DVD set. Included is episode 19, which was previously thought to be lost and has never before been issued. Also included is a lavish 112-page booklet, with information on each of the episodes and a special deck of playing cards. I missed "Faerie Tale Theatre" when it was originally telecast, but the episodes I've watched so far are pretty wonderful. Thanks mostly, I suppose, to Ms. Duvall's comic sensibility. And you'll be hard pressed to find such a remarkable range of acting talent, all of whom seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, in one series.



(Steven Suskin is author of "Second Act Trouble," "Show Tunes," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)