Updated: Sep 11, 2018
DVD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
“SID CAESAR: THE WORKS”
DVD, 1949-2014, unrated
Best extra: A 1983 episode of the A&E series “Nightcap: Conversation on the Arts and Letters,” with Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks and hosts Studs Terkel and Calvin Trillin
CAN SOMEONE please invent a time machine? And set it for Feb. 25, 1950?
That’s when “Your Show of Shows” debuted. Now, imagine what it must have been like: No smartphones, no Internet, no streaming -- just the clan gathered round for 90 minutes of landmark sketch comedy cooked up and served by the Mount Rushmore of Comedians.
And live from New York in front of real audiences, to boot.
Thanks to the thoughtful archivists at Shout! Factory, you don’t have to wait on a Wayback Machine. “Sid Caesar: The Works” collects highlights from “YSOS,” “The Admiral Broadway Revue,” which preceded it, “Caesar’s Hour,” which followed it, plus guest shots, specials and more, all iced with a treasure trove of extras.
And all guaranteed to bust a gut.
Disc 1 lands the first belly blow with the 1973 feature film, “Ten from Your Show of Shows,” and the first sketch, “Auto Smash Up,” with Caesar and Imogene Coca as the bickering Hickenloopers, shows exactly where “YSOS” sat on the curve: way ahead.
She drove the car through the front window of a liquor store, backed it into a drug store and isn’t looking forward to telling him. He’s had a lousy day at the office and just wants to go for a relaxing drive. The Caesar-Coca chemistry is the real deal. They also set the template for the domestic sitcom. Move over Lucy and Ricky and Ralph and Alice and Archie and Edith and …
In “At the Movies,” Caesar has hardly settled into his seat – and stuffed a pack of gum into his mouth – when he finds himself in the middle of a squabble between Coca and Carl Reiner. “Big Business” pokes fun at the boardroom and “Sewing Machine Girl” is a send-up of silent movies. There’s also a classic bit with Caesar in his recurring role as “The Professor,” this time trying to explain the speed of sound to Reiner’s unflappable reporter.
Oh yeah, almost forgot “From Here to Obscurity” and “A Streetcar Named ???”
Some of the footage is nearly 70 years old, so don’t go in expecting the high-def treatment. Besides, that would spoil the fun. What you see is what viewers back in the day got – a picture that was less than sharp and contrasts on the soft side. They only add to the you-are-there experience. Same goes for the tinny audio.
As mentioned, the extras are choice. They include excerpts from the Friar’s Club’s 50th anniversary salute to Caesar; an interview with Dick Cavett; an excerpt from “Caesar’s Writers,” who included Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart, who brought “M*A*S*H” to TV; Brooks’ reflections on what Caesar meant to his career and a 2014 tribute with Brooks, Reiner and Billy Crystal held a few months after Caesar’s death.
Start with “Nightcap: Conversation on the Arts and Letters.” Caesar, Reiner and Brooks share some good behind-the-scenes nuggets with hosts Studs Terkel and Calvin Trillin – the writers were like mama hens on steroids when it came to their material, Simon was the quiet one – but the real treat is the genuine camaraderie between these guys. The one-liners aren’t bad, either.
It was first shown in 1983 and, until now, hasn’t been seen since. It was also the first time they’d gotten together in 15 years.
Fasten your seat belts.
– Craig Shapiro