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This live episode is actually one of the funnier, I think from Jack
Benny's TV series. The opening scenes -- making backstage of the live
show a part of the live show in the way that Jack had done for years on
the radio -- with always-entertaining Rochester shaving his boss ("I
think I cut you... it would help if you would bleed a little!") and
Jack's monologue are very tightly-written and characteristic if Benny
getting good material. There;s an amusing little cameo by the voice of
Mary Livingston; Jack was eager to keep her character involved even
though her stage fright was making many television appearances
impossible (at this point The Jack Benny Program was still running
separate original episodes on the radio). Guest Bob Hope's (on loan, as
he is eager to point out, from NBC) monologue is though it doesn't hold
up as well since it is so topical. I have never been much of a fan of
Hope, as he tends to come of as smarmy and obnoxious to my ears.
Hope, however, really comes of well in the sketch portion of this episode -- a spoof of his "Road" movies with Bing Crosby -- plays right into his strengths. He may be smug and unlikable, but he is also witty and a great ad-libber. Here, as he and Benny play a pair of African explorers (with some good gags around the prop animal they are carrying over their shoulders), he throws away the script and starts a constant stream of ad libs -- throwing in additional jokes (including one about Jack's former bandleader Phil Harris, asides to the audience, and complaints about the jokes he's been given. This cracks up Jack "You Wouldn't Say That If My Writers Were Here" Benny up, and eventually even he gets into the act by denigrating the jokes he got when a guest on Hope's program. They're both playing masterfully to the audience and having a wonderful time a way that would be impossible in any form of non-live television.
Sadly the sketch itself seems to depend on the stereotype that Kenyans are horrible savage cannibals, which I can't approve of -- I doubt many people would today. However, it's not so jarring when the sketch is considered as a shorthand nod to a genre rather than any kind of attempt as a reference to the real Africa.
This kinescope of this broadcast preserves a freewheeling, half-improvised thirty minutes of comedy that has alternate great writing and great deviations to the writing -- it's huge fun to watch.
There's a good bit with Bob wanting more of a role in the show so he steals Jack's pants, forcing him to remain back stage while Bob does the opening monologue. He pulls Jack's wallet out of his pants and reads the driver's license which reads "hair: when it's warm" and has the birth date scratched out. But the bulk of the show is a lengthy and unfunny skit called "The Road to Nairobi" in which Jack and Bob play African explorers who somehow encounter a tiger and headhunters. After many quips they wind up being boiled for dinner. The natives can't seem to get the fire started until Martin and Lewis run in from offstage with cigarette lighters. And that's all there is to it
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