Monday, January 10, 2011

The Jack Benny 1937 season: my review

I've spent the last month and a half listening to Jack Benny's program from the year 1937. This was my first venture into Benny's program prior to the year 1940, due to sound preference.

The sound for the 1937 season is decent and if I remember correctly, there was only one episode that was hard to listen to. It's amazing that we still have copies of anything this old audio-wise that sounds this good.

Perhaps a 1937 rendition of Phil Harris
The season started out welcoming Phil Harris, who became Benny's new orchestra leader. Harris is very calm, smooth and somewhat reserved the entire year; he is NOT the same egotistical character he became in later years.

There is a running gag that starts about half-way through the season that has Jack and Phil fighting over girls and whatnot.  Phil can't be described as "funny" during this season; Phil is more just a piece of the furniture on the Benny stage, with few, mostly domestic, lines.

Mary Livingstone is of course there and she is the same old foil in 1937 that you probably know (and love.)

Kenny Baker is the singer. While he's no Dennis Day in the acting department, he flawlessly plays his part as the young and very dumb (much "dumber" than Dennis) tenor singer. He delivers his lines -though few- well. I'd have to give him an A+ for his part.

As far as his vocal attributes, I'll let you decide for yourself as vocals from that era give me a headache, no matter who is delivering the music.

Don Wilson "rounds" out the cast and he's all about some Jell-o, the show's sponsor. Don is the same Don no matter what year it is, it seems.

Two special guests show up frequently in 1937. One is Andy Devine who has that incredible teenage voice...

The other guest is some unnamed man who knocks at the door in almost episode and wishes "you and yours" a wonderful New Year. After about the 3rd time, it's no longer funny or close_to_funny, yet there he is at the door every week. Finally, come November, his lines change to something else but he's not funny then either.

The entire 1937 season seems to revolve around a play enitlted, "Buck Benny", where Jack plays Buck, a cowboy.

They must have gotten a ton of mail about it because there are more than 15 shows devoted to it in 1937. I don't find it even remotely funny, myself. Devine "steals" the scenes when he's there but even that's a stretch as there is virtually nothing to steal. Maybe it's the times, but Buck Benny is simply the worst running gag the show ever had, as far as I am concerned.

In all, Benny is more of a boring emcee than a comedian and the 1937 season is not really worth your time if you are looking for laughs.

Overall grade (out of 100): 62

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