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Shout Factory presents
The Dick Cavett Show: Comic Legends (1969-1974)

"I did a command performance for the Queen once, Raquel Welch and myself did a command performance, it's true. It's not what you think it was, incidentally."
- Woody Allen

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: February 20, 2006

Stars: Dick Cavett, Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, Bob Hope, Mel Brooks, Bill Cosby, Jerry Lewis, Carol Burnett, Jack Benny, George Burns, Tommy Smothers, Dick Smothers, Lucille Ball
Other Stars: Ruth Gordon, Gina Lollabrigida, Rex Reed, Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, Dr. Aaron Stern, Truman Capote, Jim Fowler, Joe Frazier, Adelle Davis
Director: David Barnhizer, Arthur Forrest

Manufacturer: 3rd Sector Entertainment
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild raciness)
Run Time: 12h:43m:18s
Release Date: February 21, 2006
UPC: 826663016499
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

If you ever meet Dick Cavett, you can expect that within 20 minutes he'll be regaling you with tales of something Groucho once did or Woody once said. Incorrigible name-dropping it may be, but it's certainly understandable. Cavett was friends with many of the legends of comedy of the 20th century, and they frequently appeared on his talk show in the early 1970s. This four-disc set collects a dozen of the episodes of these icons of comedy, some of them with the comic taking the entire hour or 90 minutes (depending on what format the show was currently in).

The set starts off with a bang, with one of the last appearances by Groucho in his razor-sharp prime. This episode finds Groucho acerbic as he tells tales of Garbo and problems with a gorilla skin, and he sings several songs. It's one of the highlights of the set, and of the entire series. His 1971 appearance two years later finds him rather enfeebled and not quite as quick as he was in 1969, but he really gets going when Cavett encourages him to talk to the other guests. Given the leash, Groucho runs wild, taking over the show from guests Truman Capote and Jim Fowler with a two-toed sloth; things really get out of hand when Groucho proposes marriage to Capote.

Woody Allen, with whom Cavett had been a writer for The Tonight Show, also makes two appearances. The first is the last show of Cavett's first night-time series and features a Q&A with Woody. It's far too brief, especially since Woody shares the program with Ruth Gordon, who alludes to her silent film career but frustratingly offers no details. In his second appearance, in 1971, Woody gets to have the whole stage and it's plenty entertaining. In hindsight some of the remarks leave one a queasy feeling, such as comments about schoolgirls and a joke about his ex-wife being raped. But on the whole there's a lot of classic Woody Allen here.

Others of the then-new generation of comedy that are included are the Smothers Brothers (who share the show with George Burns), Bill Cosby, and Carol Burnett. The Smothers Brothers interview is a little uncomfortable since it was too close to the cancellation of their show to really go into that, and far enough away that it's awkward that they don't really have any particular plans or work lined up. Cosby shows up twice, once with a program all his own, and he digs into his interest in education, The Electric Company and racial issues. The program he shares with Jack Benny is fascinating, since the two have such different styles but they naturally play off one another as if they'd been working together for years. Carol Burnett's show seems self-indulgent, with Cavett singing with her on a couple songs, but her life story was not something I'd heard before and it's interesting viewing.

The older generation isn't just represented by Groucho; as noted Burns and Benny make an appearance, though both are shoehorned in with other guests so they don't really get to display their talents. Lucille Ball makes a 1974 appearance discussing her various TV shows and an intriguing story about how she caught a Japanese spy during World War II; things do get off to an awkward start as Cavett asks her to identify herself in a clip of a group of scantily-clad slave girls from Roman Scandals (1933). Jerry Lewis does a dependable Q&A, with a tantalizing mention of his then-upcoming (and since suppressed) The Day the Clown Cried. He also discusses his popularity in France and gives a very heartfelt tribute to Dean Martin. Bob Hope offers a number of stories in a very funny episode, including how exactly he got his famous nose, and tales of golfing with the Presidents.

One of the oddest episodes is that featuring Mel Brooks (April 6, 1970). At that time, Brooks was finishing up The Twelve Chairs (and he mentions this great new actor, Frank Langella). Brooks does a hilarious Sinatra impression, and is rather grudgingly coaxed into doing his 2000-Year-Old Man character. Things are cut a bit short so that the other four guests can be fit in, and things come to a screeching halt when the wholly inarticulate stars of Zabriskie Point come on; Cavett hasn't seen the film and has nothing to ask them, but luckily critic Rex Reed is on and is able to salvage things to some extent. The final guest is Dr. Aaron Stern, who is attempting to justify the MPAA's rating system, but Reed and Brooks are having none of it; the show is nearly coming to blows when it finally crashes to a halt. It's an amazing train wreck of an episode that makes fascinating viewing even today, especially when you know how Brooks would push against the ratings system in his films a few years later.

Although some of the prior sets have displayed Cavett's lack of familiarity with the subject matter, he's really in his element with other comedians. There's a great rapport that he builds up andit makes the programs highly enjoyable. The shows are all complete (though a couple foul-mouthed remarks by Rex Reed remain bleeped). It's really commendable that Cavett is putting these shows out in their full context, without cutting out such disastrous moments as the Zabriskie Point mess. The set is entertaining from a number of different aspects and thus comes highly recommended.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The programs are shot on videotape, with all the issues that that involves, so don't expect razor-sharp picture. Colors are rather subdued and there's a bit of ringing that is distracting on larger sets. It certainly looks fine for 35-year-old television, with minimal video noise or dropouts.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono audio is surprisingly clean and free of noise and hiss. The musical numbers have reasonably good range, with the extended carnivale version of Cavett's original theme song by bandleader Bob Teagarden, appearing at the end of the first Woody Allen episode, sounding just fine.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 134 cues and remote access
3 TV Spots/Teasers
3 Documentaries
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Introductions by Dick Cavett
  2. Joanna Carson interview
  3. Cavett on The Ed Sullivan Show
Extras Review: A fine variety of supplemental material is included, starting with one- to two-minute introductions by Cavett today. We get to see his origins in a selection of highlights (24m:40s) from his 1968 morning show, with Groucho, Woody, and others. The third disc features Cavett's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1966, while Dick was still a student at Yale, doing collegian humor. It's interesting to see his career just taking off. Two other documentaries are from the modern day; one is a set of his reminiscences about his comedian guests, while the Backstage program (17m:54s) has Cavett chatting with writer Tom Whedon on writing for Dick, and J.I. Rodale dropping dead on the show. There's an outtake Q&A session with Woody Allen from the 1971 show, and a discussion with Joanne Carson (7m:36s) about life with Johnny and her inability to cook. Finally, there are three promos for the shows on this set and the alternate version of the first Groucho program, which had been cut short by a golf tournament; luckily Groucho was on a roll and they kept taping, and the entire discussion is seen on this set.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Yet another winner of a set of classic episodes from Dick Cavett's television talk show with some of the great names of comedy in fine form. Highly recommended.


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