Jack Benny was extremely popular in Britain during his lifetime -- he seems to have fallen out of fashion now -- but his TV special 'Jack Benny's New Look' was never transmitted in Britain. I viewed a recording of this special in late 1970, while I was working for the Grade Organisation in London. Lew Grade was considering buying the UK syndication rights for this one-off special, but ultimately declined. He may have been right. There are some big-name talents here, but nothing especially interesting happens.
At one point Benny, George Burns and Gregory Peck dress up in matching outfits with straw boaters to impersonate a vaudeville turn called Goldie, Fields and Glide. This was an actual vaudeville act in which George Burns had performed (I think he was 'Goldie') in his scuffling days before he teamed with Gracie Allen. During his years of stardom, it amused Burns periodically to revive this act, dragooning two other big showbiz names to partner him. For most of that time. he teamed with Benny and Bing Crosby. This time, Der Bingle mercifully escapes, and Gregory Peck is dragged in to replace him. As a song-and-dance man, Peck shouldn't give up his day job.
The most interesting aspect of this special is the closing sequence, featuring Benny and three uncredited guest stars. Jack Benny had often scored laughs from his violin playing, but he actually longed for respectability as a classical musician. Here, he guys his own aspirations by presenting a classical string quartet composed of comedians playing it straight: Jack Benny as first violin, Henny Youngman as second violin, and Morey Amsterdam as cellist. There are no funny viola players, so Benny brings in a viola player from the L.A. Symphony Orchestra. He introduces this violist by name; I wrote down the name in my notes when I screened this show in 1970, but now I can barely read my own handwriting and I can't recall the viola player's name.
SPOILERS COMING. Seated in folding chairs, the four men proceed to play a dead-earnest classical piece for strings. Suddenly, Youngman jumps up and tells a one-liner. Benny reprimands him; Youngman sits down, and they carry on playing. Youngman jumps up and tells another one-liner; again, Benny reprimands him, and they carry on playing. Then Morey Amsterdam asks a riddle, but Benny won't let him give the gag answer. The camera cuts to a close-up of Jack Benny as he plays a difficult violin passage. We see some of that brilliantly subtle underplaying that was Benny's hallmark: without him speaking a word, we can see (hilariously) that Benny is trying to work out the answer to the riddle while he's playing violin. The ending of the skit, alas, is obvious: the viola player, clearly unwilling to be anybody's straight man, jumps up and tells a joke of his own.
I only somewhat recall this Jack Benny special, so I shan't offer a rating for it. I do recall that this special was nothing special: just more of Jack Benny's stuff, the mixture as before, tarted up with a bit of 'mod' set design and some guest stars meant for the younger viewers. But even second-rate Jack Benny is funnier than first-rate nearly anyone else.
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