Sid Caesar was one of television's first stars. Along with Milton
Berle, Ceasar was one of the biggest acts in the Golden Age of Television.
Staring in Your Show of Shows from 1950 to 1954, Ceasar's Hour
from 1954 to 1957, and then followed by The Sid Ceasar Show
in 1958, Ceasar ruled the airwaves for nearly a decade. These shows
were all broadcast live and some of the goofs were just as humorous as
the sketches themselves.
These shows had a huge amount of talent associated with them.
The writers Sid was able to hire are some of the best comedians of the
20th century. Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, (who based the Dick Van Dyke
show on working with Sid,) Woody Allen, and Neil Simon all wrote for the
show at various times. These writers came up with some very funny
sketches and routines. New Video has now released a three disc collection
of some of the most humorous selections from Sid Ceasar's classic shows.
Television was a new medium, and there were no rules of standards when
Sid's shows were airing. He and his writing crew experimented
and played with this new method of entertainment. His shows were
broken up into sketches, but that isn't really an accurate term.
They were more like scenarios, most of them had a story arc and a firm
ending. These senerios would last longer than a sketch too; some
of them were nearly 30 minutes long. Sometimes there would be a song
in the middle of a scene, or Sid would break out his Sax (he used to play
professionally) and launch into a tune. In a way these shows
were a cross between a situation comedy and a variety show.
Some skits felt a lot like sitcoms, such as "Nan Hires a Maid" where
an over worked housewife engages a maid to help with the housework.
Her husband is furious until he finds out that the maid is a blond bombshell.
Other scenes sounded like straight standup comedy like the "Proffesor"
series of sketches where Carl Reiner would interview Sid who was playing
an expert in some field. These were very humorous and three of them
are included in the set.
There were also pantomime numbers, where Sid and Imogene Coca would
act out a sketch without words, and parodies were very common. All
types of movies, other TV shows, and even frozen dinners were all fair
There were some very inventive and funny scenes included in this set.
"German U Boat 749" was done entirely in fake German, with hilarious results.
My favorite scene though was "English Courtroom," a take off on courtroom
dramas. Sid's interegation of the doctor who was on the stand was
priceless. He starts the questioning with "How long have you been
a quack?" and it goes down hill from there.
I was a little disappointed in the arrangement of the DVDs themselves.
There are not any complete shows, but just a series of skits. While
the sketches themselves are funny, I would have much preferred to see entire
shows, both the good and the bad. While I'm sure these are the greatest
segments from the shows that they represent, I can't help wondering what
else I'm missing.
Between the sketches themselves are interviews with Carl Riener, Woody
Allen, Mel Brooks, and Sid Caesar himself, along with other writers and
people associated with the show. These contemporary interviews were
not very long, but the people all had interesting anecdotes and memories
of the shows.
While some of the jokes sound old and corny today (Example: Q:
"How do you get a haircut like that?" A: "Easy, I insult my barber.")
in the context of the show you'll find yourself laughing. Some of
the sketches don't work as well today as they probably did 50 years ago,
it seems a little odd to have a pantomime act or to end a skit with a Sax
solo nowadays. Even so, every sketch had at least a couple of laughs,
and the best ones had many.
This set comes on three DVDs each in its own Amray case which are all
enclosed inside of a slipcase. There was only about 4 hours worth
of material all together, and I'm a little surprised that they decided
to spread it across so many DVDs. It would have easily fit on two
and some studios would have managed to cram it onto one disc.
The two channel mono soundtrack has some hiss associated with it, and
there was some distortion in a few places. It was easy to hear the
dialog and jokes, but hi fidelity this isn't. This is about the best
you are going to get from old TV shows though, and it isn't too bad.
As you would probably expect, the video wasn't very good. These
were originally recorded on tape 50 years ago, and it shows. The
quality varies from sketch to sketch, but generally they are soft with
a good amount of grain and not much contrast. They are still very
watchable. Without being restored, these shows look about as good
as can be expected.
Each DVD has a bonus sketch and an extra interview clip with someone
associated with the show.
Many of these sketches were very funny. While much of Sid's hamming
it up before the camera left me cold, the verbal banter more than made
up for it. This good selection of skits was improved by the interviews
that were sprinkled throughout the three DVDs. A fun reminder of
what television was once like. My only regret is that they didn't
include any entire shows, just a series of sketches. Recommended.