Television audiences of the 1950s had almost as much of an opportunity to enjoy Jack Benny as the frequently guest-host of Chrysler's "Shower of Stars" program on CBS as on his own Lucky Strike series, but the "Shower of Stars" series is less common in circulation today. Benny was without his usual retinue of Rochester, Don Wilson, Dennis Day, et cetera, in lieu of sometimes-more-impressive-than-others cast of guest stars who would be assembled for the series, but he worked very well in the role he was given here -- it took advantage not only of the opportunity to have one of the greatest comedians of the era perform his comedy, but of Benny's long experience as a variety show master of ceremonies. With that background it's not so much of a surprise that he should have developed his style of creating comedy by deflecting attention from himself.
This episode collects three guests whose names are still familiar today -- Liberace, Jayne Mansfield, and Vincent Price. Liberace engages in a pretty absurd but characteristically schmaltzy piano number -- basically noodling while dancers swarm around his piano -- then some funny banter with Jack. He has a gentle deadpan delivery on humorous lines that work's well with Benny's, and Jack is clearly comfortable enough with him to remind him "You've got a funny line here if you'd remember it!" (Benny rarely ad libbed, but always got a laugh when he did, even if it was to preserve the script).
There's a funny running gag about how Jayne Mansfield's most important quality in a man is generosity, and it's a little bit odd hearing the lines where Liberace brags that this got him a date with her.
Vincent Price, who mainly plays on his recent success on "The $64,000 Question," egghead image, and knowledge of art for humor comes across as a legitimately strange man. As always he gets great material though, that plays this up -- he arrives in a rolling isolation booth and emerges wearing "isolation booth shorts." When he brags too about getting the date with Jayne that Jack couldn't it's almost as strange.
The highlight of the show is the fifteen minute courtroom sketch, which is vintage Benny. His usual practice of casting celebrities humorously against type just gets used threefold in this scene, where Jayne Mansfield, as Jack's lawyer at a murder trial, gets him acquitted by bringing in a jury completely composed of sailors. Just about every gag works, including the new running jokes and appeals to old ones (the portraits of Washington and Lincoln on the wall are "a one dollar bill and a five"). The only joke that doesn't really go over is when we're evidently supposed to laugh when we discover that its Jayne defending Jack, not the other way around.
Overall a really funny episode, with a quality of writing up to Benny's own series. This is one of several 1950s broadcasts transmitted in early color which now survive only as black and white kinescopes (the way many viewers would have seen them anyway).
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