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"SOAP BOX DERBY"


The beauty of "Bewitched" during these halcyon years of 1964-1967 is its incredible balance of blending morality tales with just a hint of magic.

With no job crisis at stake, wacky historical figure, or Darrin being turned into an ottomon ... "Bewitched" is in top form when it focuses on the simpler pleasures of life: helping others selflessly. Whether it be neighbors, orphans, down-on-their-luck magicians, or befuddled relatives, the show is at its best when it focuses solely on the Stephenses being Good Samaritans. And this episode has it all in the feel-good department: sweetness, gentleness and innocence -- while still cramming in a dozen or more scenes and action without ever feeling rushed or over-extended.

At the top, we're introduced to an already-established friendship between Samantha and neighborhood boy, Johnny. It doesn't matter we don't really know who he is or how Samantha even got to know him -- we're immediately drawn to his story thanks to the appeal of Liz and the child actor playing Johnny, Michael Shea. As natural and All-American as they come, Young mister Shea is a terrific find here with his honest vulnerability and sincerity. Like Billy Mumy before him in "A Vision of Sugarplums", Johnny brings out the loving parental side of Darrin and Samantha, which is always heartwarming. And especially in the light of Tabitha being their only child, this once again provides Darrin a father/son dynamic that is truly touching to watch. (check out Darrin’s pride when he presents Johnny his new wheels!)

There are many touching scenes here: Samantha and Darrin hearing Johnny say he'll be a doctor "if it'll make Dad happy"; Sam bribing Darrin with a spoonful of chocolate; Johnny lying to the officials that his Dad couldn't make it because he was sick; Johnny's dad standing before the Judges while standing up for his kid; and of course, the final scene with Sam and Darrin watching the race on T.V.

A feel-good episode that's not just sloshed in treacle, Mrs. Kravitz is bitchier than ever ("I was never superstitious...until I met YOU!"), Sam endures unpleasant (and very realistic) confrontations with Johnny's dad, while Johnny himself faces off with "The Omen" himself: "Flash" Kravitz! Played by excellent child actor Peter Dunhill, Flash is snotty AND cocky -- the perfect antagonist to Johnny's protagonist.

William Bramley as Johnny's dad is terrific here. Not only gruff (with a great East Coast accent to boot!) he expertly brings heightened drama to this episode without ever going melodramatic. And his scenes with Sam are some of the best intense moments ever seen on "Bewitched" -- again, because they're played so real. However, while not detrimental, Sandra Gould's still-new portrayal of Mrs. Kravitz adds a slightly one-dimensional "villainess" to the show but somehow it strangely works here. Her over-the-top acting style, while not in total synch with the realism the other actors are portraying, seems totally appropriate -- successfully bringing much-needed comic relief to the teleplay. A perfect balance. The sound effects and music are appropriate and inventive, as is the witchcraft (Sam working her magic in the garage -- fun!)

A good morality play that proves that believing in one's self, with a little help from loved ones, can make all of your wildest dreams come true.

So if you're ever down in the dumps, watch this episode: I guarantee it'll make you feel better.

GUEST STARS: Michael Shea went on to play Huck Finn on TV in "The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" from 1968-69. Peter Dunhill as Flash, William Bramley as Mr. Mills, George Andre as the announcer.

FAVE QUOTE: Gladys: “She’s always doing something more than she should be doing when she should be doing something!”

OOPS: When Johnny is racing Flash you can briefly see the shadow of a mic boom on his car.
Dry grass and mountain range alert! Johnny and Flash’s race was obviously filmed in Southern California and not the East Coast.
The road Flash and Johnny race on transfers between dry and wet as if it were painted Black for certain shots (check out the perimeters of the road, which shows a distinct “paint edge”) It looks as if it were painted just for the show so it would look “slick”.

LOOK FOR: In the final scene, Sam is wearing the new nightgown Darrin gave her previously in episode #84 “I’d Rather Twitch Than Fight”

The obvious distinction between outdoor shooting (Johnny racing) and studio shooting (Sam and Darrin cheering him on). Could that tired ol’ Screen Gems backdrop be any more fake?!


© Review Copyright 2008 by SCOTT VIETS

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