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Liberace - Leapin' Lizards it's Liberace
Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 50 mins . G . PAL


Before any of my friends call me to question my sanity, Leapin' Lizards it's Liberace is not a DVD I rushed to volunteer to review, hell I didn't volunteer to do it at all. No, friends, it is the trade-off for getting to review a much more popular title. Still, I am going to give it my best, and move on with my life.

It seems remarkable that Liberace has now had at least three DVDs released in Region 4, though upon further inspection it is not quite so hard to believe. Once entered into the Guinness Book Of Records for being the highest paid musician and entertainer, he was worth squillions (and didn't he like to remind us?), and you do not get to become a squillionaire unless an awful lot of people are handing over their cash.

Wladziu (Walter) Valentino Liberace made his musical mark early as a teenager, and went on to be one of the most popular entertainers on the planet. His achievements include a television series, numerous television specials (of which Leapin' Lizards is one), Emmy awards, gold records, world tours, sold-out shows at Madison Square Gardens, a very well paid and lengthy run at the Las Vegas Hilton, and more showbusiness awards than you could shake a candelabra at.

Leapin' Lizards it's Liberace was filmed in 1978 at the Las Vegas Hilton in front of an adoring (and pensioner-filled) crowd. The made-for-TV show spends the first five or so minutes following Liberace as he wakes on the day of the show, and follows him throughout his gaudy, ostentatious and glitzy house, and it's like being trapped inside a mirrorball. We see him being served a piano cake, in his swimming pool (not the grand piano shaped one, but there are piano keys painted all around it), choosing a few outfits from his house-sized closet, greeting his five dogs, and having a bubble bath. While we didn't really need to see ANY of this, the bubble bath was just not on. Everything is piano themed and Liberace has a little 'play' with all of them.

On to the show, which fortunately clocks in at just under 50 minutes (the case says 58 minutes), including the 'at home' footage and final credits. There is some obvious editing as there are several 'magic' moments when things appear and disappear and outfits change right before your very eyes and it's terribly tacky. Liberace changes outfits every few minutes (he must have spent a lot of time in the closet), but all are a combination of lame, glo-mesh, sequins and poor taste. It seems money can't buy taste after all. There are several singing numbers (all mimed - badly), a dreadful song and dance routine from 'special guest' Debbie Reynolds and four male dancers that make Kylie Minogue's dancers look butch by comparison. There is also a rather touching 'performance' from Toto the puppet on a string (I still can't decide whether it was a comedy routine or not), a mimed duet with Deb (who seems hell-bent on winning the glitz-off with Liberace), a nice little action piece from the Chinese Acrobats of Taiwan, who really shine in more ways than one, and a piano duet with his chauffeur and prodigy, Vince Cardell, who even wears a matching Liberace outfit. Several piano-only workouts prove the man could play, which is more than can be said for his one-liners and audience banter. The poor old camp-o-meter was off the scale by the time this DVD ended.

The DVD cover boasts "The world's consummate performer, Liberace, has played for kings and queens..." and while I suspect mostly for queens, there is no denying his immense popularity and showmanship. He is camper than the Barbie Campermobile, tackier than three day-old chewing gum, and probably thinks Butch is that tough cartoon dog from the Bugs Bunny Show. Everything about him screams showman, and even something as bland as taking off his full length virgin-mink coat was turned into a routine (and I am not even going to attempt to write something clever about the virgin-mink).

To be fair, it isn't really as bad as it sounds; except for Deb's song and dance routine which resembles one of those Brady Bunch reunion show numbers. If you are a Liberace fan I'm pretty sure you'll love it. Now there's a funny thing; who are all these Liberace fans? I don't recall ever meeting one.

Trivia spot: Liberace wrote many books, including an autobiography and cook books. He also made appearances in TV shows such as Batman, Here's Lucy and Kojak. Now for some juicy trivia. In 1984, Liberace's live-in bodyguard, chauffeur, secretary, confidant and heaven knows what else, Scott Thorson, had his palimony suit thrown out of court. The court ruled that contracts for sex are not enforceable, although he could sue for assault and battery, breach of a cash settlement agreement, loss of personal property, and infliction of emotional distress. Seeking US $113 million, the matter was settled out of court for US $95,000. Scott made a little more money by selling his story to the National Enquirer.


Expecting a visual disaster, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this release. Presented in full frame (well, it was filmed for TV), it is remarkably free from artefacts such as dirt and other marks. The picture is a little on the soft side (a bit like those four dancers I told you about earlier) and is more noticeable when the camera moves to follow the action. There are a few occasions where the focus is questionable, but this would be due to the camera operator attempting to follow the performers, and not a fault of the transfer. Colours are pretty solid and true, with only a few instances of 'washout' (Debbie Reynolds included). There would appear to be no evidence of chroma noise, and only some mild colour bleeding to contend with. Remarkably, there are no problems with aliasing.

The age of the source material is obvious when the stage lights hit shiny things, and there are lots of stage lights and more shiny things than a magpie convention. When lights and shiny things collide, there is a lot of glaring and flaring, and comets when the camera moves, which is often.

As the whole disc takes less than 50 minutes there is no layer change.

Audio-wise there is very little to get excited about here. The only option is a mono source tape that has been thrashed out into Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. The sound range is fair, but the low-level sounds are not quite deep and rich enough for my liking, but the high frequency sounds are fine. There are no issues with synchronisation, and dialogue and nasal accents are nice and clear. There are only a few numbers with lyrics and these are easily understood, which is just as well as there are no subtitles.

There is an audible hiss that is evident throughout the whole show (and no, it isn't coming from some jaded ex-lover in the front row), and is also present on the main menu. This is only mildly distracting, and fortunately, during the louder numbers is barely noticeable.

The extras are directly inproportionate to the amount of gaudiness in Liberace's show - in other words, not many. There is a 13 screen Biography, a nine page Discography, two still frame adverts for Liberace's other DVD releases Liberace With The London Philharmonic Orchestra and Valentine's Day. Each is accompanied by a paragraph of text. There are also trailers for the Umbrella Entertainment releases Cinema Paradiso, Keep The River On Your Right, and My Beautiful Laundrette under the heading of Umbrella Propaganda.

Liberace may have died on February 4 1987, but it seems there will always be a place for him and his overtly flamboyant piano playing. Mr Showmanship was king of the cabaret, and in the US in particular, he could do no wrong. He's not everyone's cup of tea, but give credit where credit is due, the man always delivered. When people are willing to shell out mega-dollars to see and hear you, then you are doing something right. I wonder how it might have all panned out had he chosen to be known by his first name instead of his last? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you - Wladziu. Hmm, maybe not.

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  •   And I quote...
    "Attention sequin junkies! Put on your sunglasses and silver tuxedoes, and prepare to be dazzled (literally) by Mr Showmanship himself. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you - Liberace."
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
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