Over fifty of the greatest living comedians are called to a party at Bob Hope's house, where each of them is systematically killed (and their bodies thrown in Hope's pool!). Hope and the rapidly shrinking cast try to discover who is the mysterious killer known only as "Joys." Written by
"Joys" was a 1976 Bob Hope TV special: its title is meant to be a parody of "Jaws", a hot film at the time ... but "Joys" doesn't follow the plot of "Jaws", and it isn't very funny. Even the title, "Joys", isn't funny.
This TV special features plenty of Borscht Belt comedians (of Jewish extraction), and American comedy has always drawn heavily on the great legacy of Yiddish humour, so it would have been funny if this parody of 'Jaws' was called "Jews" ... but that decision would have taken some guts, and this show is dead gutless.
In "Joys", Bob Hope invites several dozen famous comedians to his house for a party. A lot of big-name talents appear very briefly in "Joys" - including Groucho Marx, George Burns, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers and Milton Berle - but most of them have nothing funny to do. One comedian disappears, and then he turns up dead, floating face-down in Hope's pool. Then another dies, then another ... then they start dying in bunches, and all the corpses end up face-down in Hope's pool. (All of these famous comedians are playing themselves, so it's unnerving to see them getting killed off and then shown as corpses ... even though the face-down "corpses" of the famous comedians are obviously stand-ins.) Eventually, we see that a mysterious man in a domino mask is killing all the comedians. IMDb's cast list has already given away the (unfunny) killer's identity, so I shan't reveal it here. (BIG HINT: Which American showbiz personality, circa 1976, held the power of life and death over most comedians' careers?) At the end, ALL of the comedians die, and Hope's pool is chock-full o' corpses.
The most notable scene in "Joys" is Groucho Marx's very last-ever performance, and it's painfully depressing. Groucho, frail and ill, sits stiffly on a couch while midget actor Billy Barty runs around in a Groucho disguise and delivers some of Groucho's famous lines in a bad Groucho imitation. Groucho looks at Barty wistfully, and asks: "Am I having fun?" No, Groucho, you're NOT having fun, and neither are we. (Trivia note: way back in 1931, as a child actor, Billy Barty appeared with Harpo Marx in "Monkey Business". Around that same time, Barty did an outright imitation of Harpo in a Mickey McGuire short ... making Barty the only actor to imitate two different Marx Brothers four decades apart.)
"Joys" also features the last-ever performance of Bob Hope's long-time sidekick Jerry Colonna. (Colonna's last movie role, filmed before "Joys", was released a few months afterwards.) Colonna isn't in the party scenes: he does a brief bit as a man who gets a wrong-number phone call. Colonna plays his whole scene propped up in bed, and it's obvious that he's too ill to stand up.
Desi Arnaz gets lumbered with a really bad Abbott and Costello routine here. Shortly before "Joys" was televised, Arnaz had published his autobiography, which he modestly titled "A Book". In "Joys", people keep asking Desi Arnaz what his book is called: he keeps telling them "It's 'A Book'" and nobody gets it. Ha ha ha. Arnaz's thick Cuban accent doesn't add to the hilarity. Into the pool, Desi!
By far, the best sequence in "Joys" is a song performed by Harry Ritz, the leader of the Ritz Brothers. Harry Ritz had a profound influence on many American comedians (most notably Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks), and this song is Ritz's chance to acknowledge the debt. Seated at Bob Hope's piano, Ritz sings: 'Any schtick you have done, I have done sooner. You do a schtick, I'll prove I did it first.' Then he pulls faces and makes funny noises. I wish that 'Joys' had more moments like this, instead of assembling so many of history's greatest comedians and then giving them nothing to do. Some of the comedians in 'Joys' were never funny in the first place, such as the detestably smug Freddie Prinze.
'Joys' is the only-ever occasion when a Marx Brother and a Ritz Brother were in the same cast list ... but Groucho's and Harry's scenes were filmed separately.
Bob Hope's TV specials tended to offer quantity rather than quality. In 'Joys', he tries (and fails) to sweeten the deal by bringing in several crime-show actors to reprise their roles as TV detectives, including Telly Savalas as Kojak. People like Glen Campbell and Vincent Price show up briefly, for no discernible reason beyond padding the cast list.
'Joys' is a tragic waste of some major comedy talents, many of them in the twilight of their careers. If you watch this show, fast-forward to Harry Ritz's comedy song, then hit Rewind. If you love Groucho Marx, you DON'T want to see how sad and ghastly he looks in this mess.
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