Thursday , February 29 2024
If you’re a fan of Groucho, James Dean, Marilyn and/or Jack Benny, this is a must-have.

DVD Review: Groucho! James Dean! And Marilyn!

Three of the silver screen’s most iconic celebrities — Groucho Marx, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe — square off in Johnny Legend’s highly entertaining collection of appearances from the golden era of television: Groucho! James Dean! And Marilyn!

The DVD begins with an introduction by Johnny Legend himself, and kicks off with the premiere episode of Groucho Marx’s famous You Bet Your Life from late 1949. Making the transition from their live radio show to a live TV series, this rare pilot shows Groucho and co-host George Fenneman doing their best to settle into their new, unfamiliar medium as stagehands come into frame to adjust mic stands and nobody seems to remember that there‘s a camera there. Contestants seem even more nervous than usual, prompting them to say the most unintentionally funny things — which only adds fuel to the fire with the ad-libbing maestro Groucho around (the second pair of guests, the carhop and married man, will have you rolling on the floor in tears).

Following the You Bet Your Life pilot is an episode of The Jack Benny Show from 1955, “You Bet Your Sweet Benny,” wherein Jack (another comedic icon) goes on Groucho’s show in disguise in order to win the prize money (naming off every single item in his house in order to guess the secret word) — and both funnymen give each other the goods…but good!

After nearly an hour-and-a-half of laughing at Groucho and Jack Benny, it’d be best to give your funny bone a rest, and thankfully, Johnny Legend chooses that time to break away to a more serious outing: a seldom-seen episode of the anthology series Campbell Playhouse (aka Campbell Soundstage) from 1953 entitled “Something For An Empty Briefcase” and starring a young James Dean, who was just two years away from achieving immortality in East Of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause. The story has James as a smalltime thug named Joe who yearns for something better in life — and that something better comes along in the guise of a young woman (Susan Douglas Rubes) who introduces him to the Bible. The original Campbell’s Soup commercials are included for vintage TV enthusiasts.

Lastly in the two-hour-plus lineup is another gem from 1953: another episode from The Jack Benny Show (“Honolulu Trip”) which marked Marilyn Monroe’s first ever national television appearance (not to mention one of her few TV appearances in general). In the episode, Jack and his ever-faithful (and ever-hilarious) butler Rochester (Eddie Anderson) go on a trip to Honolulu. On the way back, Jack daydreams about the dazzling movie goddess — only to have Marilyn Monroe show up in the flesh…or is he still dreaming?

Neither of the four TV shows included here are in the best of shape, but considering the age and the source material of these gems (not to mention the rarity), one cannot gripe over the quality here. Episodes are presented in their original Standard television ratio of 1.33:1 and feature mono soundtracks.

In the bonus features department, Johnny Legend returns to regale us with a tale of the time he nearly set Groucho’s hair on fire in “Groucho On Fire” (4:09). Also on-hand are forty minutes of movie previews and TV clips featuring our titular stars and a trailer for The Sadist.

If you’re a fan of either Groucho Marx, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and/or Jack Benny, Groucho! James Dean! And Marilyn! is a definite must-have.

About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the alter-ego of a feller who loves an eclectic variety of classic (and sometimes not-so-classic) film and television. He currently lives in Northern California with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.

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