Sid Caesar: The Works

5 discs. color & b/w. 14+ hrs. dist. by Shout! Factory, shoutfactory.com. 2018. DVD UPC 826663184051. $59.97. [See Trailers, LJ 7/18.] PERFORMING ARTS/HUMOR
OrangeReviewStarTwo legendary comedians return to video with compilations intended to remind viewers of what made them legends and hopefully to win them new fans. The single Gleason disc contains four unreleased episodes of the late Great One's (1916–87) hit variety show (1966–70), distilled from Time Life's recent multidisc collections. Stand-up comedy from Nipsey Russell and a young George Carlin and Gleason's sparring with the likes of Red Buttons and Milton Berle are reasonably entertaining; musical performances by Florence Henderson and Edie Adams are ghastly. The main draw is the appearance of three Honeymooners sketches unseen since their original airing. Excepting the use of threats of domestic violence as humor, there's no objectionable content, but each episode has been trimmed from its original 50-minute length.Caesar's Works is a collection of choice cuts from the classic, groundbreaking sketch TV series Your Show of Shows (1950–54) and Caesar's Hour (1954–57), plus interviews, reunion specials, talk show appearances, tributes, and more—no small matter, considering the acting (Imogene Coca) and writing (Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, and Woody Allen) alumni included. While modern viewers will have to adjust to the attitudes and cultural norms of the day, they will also be surprised by how fresh and funny most of the content remains; thanks to limitations of time, budget, language, and subject matter, Caesar (1922-2014) et al. had to get laughs by relying on intelligence and imagination—both theirs and the audience's—rooting the comedy in the eternal absurdity and perversity of the human condition. Caesar guides it all like a master bandleader, supplying the foundation both to make the humor work and encourage his cohorts to play at the top of their form.
VERDICT The Gleason Show is strictly for Gleasonites and die-hard fans of that era of TV comedy; Caesar's The Works is highly recommended to all comedy fans who want to visit the font of TV sketch comedy as it is known today. In both releases, the sound and picture are only as good as one can expect from aged kinescopes and videotape.

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