|Index||3 reviews in total|
Jack Benny's career in film roles essentially ended after 1945, when
his starring film "The Horn Blows at Midnight" was so unpopular at the
box office that it would be the butt of Benny's jokes for decades, and
it became apparent that his real forte was his performances in his
weekly radio series a brilliant comic persona that had evolved into an
impossibly cheap and vain version of himself.
However, he continued to play acting roles in episodes of radio and later television anthology series, and this, for General Electric Theatre, is a very nice example. It's been said that in order to be a great comedian one must also be a great actor, and this programme would be good evidence in support of that. It's really Benny's natural, likable, and perfectly-timed performance as the unmemorable Tom Jones that makes "The Face is Familiar." It's a sweet, witty teleplay that goes over well.
Unfortunately, sprinkled in at random are jokes which work by making reference to Benny's character on "The Jack Benny Program." These work for cheap laughs, but spoil the illusion of "The Face is Familiar's" self-contained story. The constant canned laughter in the background is also very grating here.
As a previous reviewer alludes to, General Electric's sponsorship of this series seems to have worked differently than other sponsorships of the era. Its advertising spots are more reminiscent of particularly heavy-handed propaganda films than typical commercials. This, and the presence of Ronald Reagan giving brief continuity announcements, is a little off-putting, but I think any political subtext in the play itself is coincidental.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jack Benny stars in this episode of General Electric Theater and as the
role is not especially comedic, it's a bit of a departure for him. He
plays a guy who has the odd ability to be unrecognizable--a face that
no one seems to be able to remember only seconds after they see him! A
gang of bandits (led by Otto Kruger) try to take advantage of
this--making the very gullible Benny their newest gang member--even
though he has no idea that he's about to commit a bank robbery.
I have no idea if they were using a laugh track or if the audience watching was just plain stupid. As it was on film, I assume a VERY overzealous technician ruined what could have been a moderately entertaining TV show. I think that because Jack Benny was a comedian, they added all this fake laughter--but it was often used when NOTHING funny was occurring! As a result, this alone made the show bad and not worth seeing. Without the annoying laughter, I might have given this one a 6 or 7.
Elsewhere I've remarked that a film experience is only partly
influenced by the filmmaker's intent. You can enhance or even modify
that intent by circumspectly shifting contexts. It helps when the film
has what I've called "folding" built in, where the role of the viewer
Sometimes when you do this shifting, you exploit the artistic nature of the thing. Other times, as here, you take something almost useless and retroactively make art of it, Duchamplike.
The version of this that I saw was the whole TeeVee show, introduction, commercial and play. For those not familiar with the show, it was a scheduled show playing in prime time for about a decade with a different "play" each week. It had lavish sponsorship for the time so in its plays (half drama, half comedy) they could afford celebrities. The sponsor was General Electric founded by Edison, at the time the world's largest defense contractor and has often had the highest market capitalization of any company on earth.
They were deep into defense, "atomic power" (too cheap to meter...) and were (in this program and others) consciously defining a role for women as wife and consumer of home appliances.
The host of the show was Ronald Reagan, a pleasant fellow who couldn't get work in regular movies because he was a soulless actor in an era defined by Brando's commitment. So he made a living introducing the story of the week and building the GE brand. During his eight year gig, he was to transform from a simpleminded liberal Democrat to an equally simpleminded conservative Republican. Most biographers credit this change to exposure to GE propagandists.
Later, when Reagan became president, the most popular of modern times, GE earnings increased 25 times. (By this I mean 2500%!) During his tenure, many scandals occurred and lies uncovered but never "stuck" to him, so he was called the "teflon president."
Also during his tenure, he borrowed a trillion dollars, greatly benefiting the rich under a "trickle down" policy.
The story of this episode has Jack Benny as a waiter with a face so non-descript, people cannot recall him even if they have just conversed with him. This quality is exploited by gangsters who trick him (he's dull too) into stealing money from a bank. Lots of Benny jokes throughout. The humor is of course that all his technique is in his facial expressions and Benny's face was among the world's best known at the time.
The punch line of the story is that the robbers were caught but couldn't describe their patsy.
Okay. Watching this, you get three layers:
-- The layer of the Reagan story; one that changed the world for every human that has lived since. Profoundly.
-- The layer of the unwitting crook who stole money for others and eluded blame.
-- The layer of the extensive GE commercial which in this case was a 10 minute history lesson on how GE invented sonar, defeated German subs and won the war.
Have fun with this, fellow deep viewers.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
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