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Category:    Home > Reviews > TV Talk Show > Comedy > Dick Cavett Show - Comic Legends

The Dick Cavett Show: Comic Legends


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Episodes: B+



Comedy is not what it used to be.  More of it is either very political often to the point of no longer being funny or is really about crude insults without either context or ironic distance.  However, a golden era of comics and their work was not that long ago and many of the best appeared on The Dick Cavett Show.  Cavett is also a comic and Shout! Factory has released the fourth DVD of his shows.  Following releases featuring Ray Charles, a Rock Icons set and the double DVD John & Yoko Collection (reviewed elsewhere on this site) is Comic Legends, which might be the strongest set yet.


The line-up is nothing short of stunning and unlike the great hits on the Rock Icons set that you hear all the time, we do not hear these genuine, vintage, original kings and queens of comedy enough.  The contents of this terrific, even humorously intense four DVD set are:


DVD 1:


1)     Groucho Marx (9/5/69)

2)     Woody Allen  (9/19/69; with Ruth Gordon & Gina Lollobrigida)

3)     Bob Hope (10/4/69)



DVD 2:


1)     Woody Allen (10/20/71)

2)     Mel Brooks (4/6/70; with Rex Reed and Zabriskie Point stars Mark Frechette & Dana Halprin)

3)     Bill Cosby (11/10/71)



DVD 3:


1)     Jerry Lewis (1/27/73)

2)     Groucho Marx (5/25/71; with Truman Capote & Jim Fowler)

3)     Carol Burnett (2/21/74)



DVD 4:


1)     Jack Benny, Bill Cosby (2/21/73; with Joe Frazier)

2)     George Burns, The Smothers Brothers (12/15/71)

3)     Lucille Ball (3/7/74)




Of course, no one is wittier than Groucho, which is a bold statement to make considering the brilliant wit here, but that says something about the genius and icon’s icon Groucho was.  Woody Allen shows up twice in what was just the beginning of his still-running and thriving directing career, with Match Point being his latest triumph as of this posting 37 years after the first broadcast and we even see film clips of his early films, including the underrated Take The Money & Run.  Rex Reed is very well-spoken and is so on the money about Hollywood and The Oscars in his appearance, predicting much of the ceremony.  Brooks is hilarious as expected, but then comes the lead actors from Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point: Mark Frechette & Dana Halprin.


They were already stirring controversy up off screen as Cavett eventually gets to, but at this time, the film was soon to open.  To give some perspective, Antonioni was responsible for a mature new wave of Italian Neo-Realism and after an amazing trilogy that began with L’Avventura and bold use of color soon after with Red Desert in 1964 and outright classic Blow Up in 1966, reviewed elsewhere on this site.  Zabriskie Point was a very daring film in its limited dialogue, visual narrative, idea of the young people as shrunken by corporate capitalism all around them with oversized advertisements as part of that motif.  MGM greenlighted the film because Blow Up was such a critical and commercial success, but lightning did not strike twice critically or commercially as all had hoped.  It is hard to say whether the duo’s conduct helped or hurt the box office, but the film is still a bold one from Antonioni and with music by an early version of Pink Floyd is still considered ahead of its time.  The episode here is one of the most interesting as a result.


Jerry Lewis is also very much interested in talking about filmmaking more than even making jokes, an underrated director.  Bill Cosby is blunt about comedy and politics as he launches The Electric Company (reviewed elsewhere on this site) that turned out to be one of his greatest successes ever, though the audience did not necessarily know what to think.  Jack Benny is in great form, while Carol Burnett was in peak form as her show was maybe the hottest on TV at the time.  Then there is the generational teaming of the controversial Smothers Brothers and George Burns, which works out very well.  Finally, there is Lucille Ball, very serious and obviously a bit tired promoting her 1974 remake of Mame.  It turned out to be a bomb, but Ball’s appearance here is far from that, with interesting insight in how she sees the industry at that point and what a mogul and important figure she was to the industry at that.


The 1.33 X 1 image is a little better than is the double DVD John & Yoko Collection, with less disappointing with detail troubles at the edges, but once again directly from the analog professional NTSC tape source.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is a little clearer than expected, though the music was more important on the John & Yoko Collection, the difference between the two is still more technical.  Extras include intros by Cavett as he reflects on the shows again, a featurette called Cavett Remembers Comic Legends and alternate opening for the first Groucho appearance on DVD1, outtakes with Woody Allen and Joanne Carson segment from a film backup copy on DVD 2, Cavett promo and Ed Sullivan appearance on DVD3, a few more promos & backstage featurette on DVD 4 and another high-quality thin booklet with text inside the Digipak foldout.


Most of this is funny and intelligent, but the set offers much more.  If you want to see TV at its very best, The Dick Cavett Show – Comic Legends is loaded with remarkable moments that are must see material for fans and a key installment in any serious DVD comedy library.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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