Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Jach Benny Hour (TV, 1965)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright @ 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The Critics’ Choice DVD on which we watched the 1965 Jack Benny Hour — before the show proper began, he stood in front of a curtain and said, “I don’t know why they call it a ‘special.’ It’s just a show, and the only difference is it’s an hour long. So think of it as two half-hours stuck together” — showed it in black-and-white, a disappointment because it was in color originally and Benny even has a few jokes relating to it being in color (notably a running gag about a stagehand assigned to strangle him periodically to give his cheeks the rosy-red glow desired by the color camerapeople). It had a nice assortment of guest stars, including Bob Hope (who does some quite amusing vaudeville-type humor with Benny), Elke Sommer and the Beach Boys, who sing “California Girls” and “Barbara Ann” and who appeared to be miming to a pre-recording: Brian Wilson was visibly present on bass (he usually wasn’t by 1965) and the version of “Barbara Ann” included the high vocal line from the original Beach Boys’ record (they weren’t the original group to do it; it was written by Fred Fassert and first recorded by a group called the Regents; later it was covered by Jan and Dean for an oldies album, and afterwards the Beach Boys did it on their Beach Boys’ Party! album with Dean Torrence coming in and doing the high part because none of the Beach Boys could sing that high, and though he’s not visible on the program it certainly sounds like him on the soundtrack).

It was a fun show and well worth watching, featuring such guest stars as Walt Disney (playing himself and essentially the butt of a gag in which Benny asks for 110 free tickets to Disneyland and Disney insists in return that they incorporate a Disney motif into the show somewhere — which they do by inserting a parody of Mary Poppins into a skit originally intended as a spoof of Italian movies, with Benny as the cuckolded husband and Hope as his wife’s chauffeur and paramour) and Elke Sommer, who as usual with women who looked that good is milked only for her looks. She also gets to sing a song, which Benny announced came off her new MGM label record — I had no idea Elke Sommer had ever recorded, and as things turn out she’s unable to project any degree of sensuality as a singer (unlike, say, Marilyn Monroe, whose recordings throb with erotic power even in a non-visual medium).

The show’s high points are the Beach Boys’ performances and a nice skit (excerpted in the documentary about them, The Beach Boys: American Heroes) in which Benny and Hope don mop-like long-hair wigs, carry a surfboard, drive in a ridiculously decorated hot-rod pickup and try to master the surfing lingo. Also of note was the fact that (as usual with Critics’ Choice) they left in the original commercials — for Eastern Airlines, a carrier I can only vaguely remember and certainly no longer exists (it was stripped for its assets by corporate raider Frank Lorenzo and went out of business in 1991) — including one promoting a travel agent (I remember travel agents!).