TV Review: Jack Benny Program (Pain Box)

Posted: December 21, 2010 in Holiday, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Last year, I almost wrote this review. Several things got in the way and I crapped out. However, this year I did actually write the review, so all is well.


The Jack Benny Program (1960 CBS dir. James V. Kern)

There is something to be said about a man who could remake the same episode a dozen times and have it called “tradition” rather than “pointless repetition.” What it mostly says is that the guy was some kind of genius. So here is the lowdown on the traditional Jack Benny shopping episode: Jack has trouble deciding on a gift for Don Wilson and proceeds to drive the clerk (played by Mel Blanc) out of his skull with his alterations to that gift. Normally he buys an expensive present and changes his mind about this aspect or that aspect and then goes a head and decides to get the cheap gift by the end of the episode. Is that what happens here? No idea, to be honest I still haven’t watched it. Let’s lay down a fiver right now though. If Jack buys a gift, changes his mind several times and drives Mel Blanc insane, you owe me five bucks. Six if it’s a gift for Don Wilson. If it’s any conciliation, this probably won’t hurt much. I might be a little painful, but most likely it’ll just come off as dated.

I can’t believe this.

Guess where this comes from! That’s right the same Holiday Pain Box that we got the Burns & Allen episode from! Same apologies for the caps, but they’re slightly better here. Let’s begin. We start with a normal day for Jack Benny, on his hands and knees surrounded by angry women. He’s not the focus of their attention though, which is also typical for Benny. Rather it seems he was caught in a crush when someone discovered something on sale and the ladies came to grab all the bargains. Because, you know, women and shopping! Am I right fellas? There is a bit of laughter, he mentions how Christmas shopping gets worse every year and then we immediately cut to a commercial, which I’m not going to do. It’s a little early and I haven’t seen the screws for a while so I’m probably safe skipping this commercial opportunity. Hopefully we won’t see a return of the water canon that featured so prominently in day three, or that flashlight nausea educing device from a few nights ago. Anyway, the show proper begins after the break and Rochester approaches Benny to have a bit of comedy. Most of the comedy is about Benny being cheap, since Benny himself is almost always the butt of the jokes. I’m not sure we have comedians this brave anymore, that will allow themselves to be constantly insulted in this way. Benny must have had an ego of pure titanium.

He’ll be seeing that for week.

He starts to discuss people he needs to get a present for and AH-HA! The first person on his list is Don Wilson! And AH-HA! He approaches Mel Blanc who tells him that there are two kinds of wallet. One wallet costs $1.98 and the only costs $40. You might as well just mail me the six bucks now. Rochester reminds Benny that Don has been with him an awfully long time and Benny agrees. He decides to have the wallet gift wrapped and sent to Don. However, Benny decides that he wants to write a note, and thus the problems begin. You just know that he’s going to want to change that note later.

What’s that little hammer? Murder you say? Kill them all? Okay!

Now we get to what is either the padding, or the meat of the episode. It depends on how you feel about these things. See, most of what made Jack Benny’s show a hit for years was that he would interact with a large number of returning characters. Half the people Benny bumps into in this episode are a returning favorite of one kind or another. The other half are clerks and what not. Most of the humor isn’t the sort of thing that moves the plot along, it’s people standing around and having little moments. He has a problem buying a watch and then decides to change the card in the wallet. I did say this would happen. Mel doesn’t take it as well as he might, but it’s understandable because he’s dealing with Jack Benny.

No. Pants.

After that, we get a bit with… wait a second. I’ve got to rewind and watch this again. Um, yeah, that happened. The guy talking to Dennis Day just said the most amazing thing. He said “I’m standing behind this counter because in a moment of wild enthusiasm, I sold my pants.” I mean… I just… I… HUH? I’ve been too flabbergasted to talk about what else is going on. Dennis Day probably does a bit of comedy before singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, but all I’m hearing is, “I’m standing behind this counter because in a moment of wild enthusiasm, I sold my pants.” I could talk about Dennis Day’s career, or the place he filled in the show, but really, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think either of us care. All either of us are thinking about is “I’m standing behind this counter because in a moment of wild enthusiasm, I sold my pants.”


So Benny gets told he’s not the only man in the world named Jack, a fact we can attest to, and he realizes he only signed his first name and Don Wilson might be so dumb as to not know which “Jack” sent the wallet. Mel Blanc takes this badly, and has a traditional fit over it. Seriously, you could replace a couple of nouns and this would be the cufflinks show from 20 years earlier. He complains about each step that this process has taken and ends with telling Benny he can’t change the card because he sent the package to the delivery department. Benny demands he go get it and we melt into another bit of comedy from a supporting player, again using a gag from 20 years ago. It was a very different time, before video and internet. Then Benny and Blanc talk about the package before the break for commercial comes and YES, YES. I’M DOING THE COMMERCIAL SEE? Did they just pass by? No, better actually do a commercial then. Don’t want the tazers to come back.

We raise a glass to the Dark One.

You ever heard of Iron City Beer? It’s a Pennsylvania brand, it was local to Pittsburg and is now somewhere else. Well, people who ski clearly love Iron City beer and that sort of formless jazz that was popular in the mid-60s. That sort of single drum and flute combination that makes you want to claw your eyes out and shove ice picks in your ears. And I say that as someone who likes west coast jazz. While our skiers have stopped to build a snowman, an announcer tells us that great times and great beer go together. I’m guessing lousy beer and domestic abuse also go together, but never mind that now. We’re then told that there is no better beer for great times than Iron City, which must be a distinct disappointment to most the world as I’m pretty sure Iron City isn’t a national brand. It seems that Iron City has thick foam that holds and holds. In fact, they even insert a miniature ski poll into the beer to demonstrate its holding power. Interestingly, this is the only beer commercial I can think of where the foam isn’t shown sloshing down the side of the mug, almost every other beer commercial makes it part of the package. I guess that’s how well the foam holds. It seems you’re ahead with Iron City, because it’s the beer drinker’s beers. Again, sadly, not available in my area. Also, I can’t find this particular commercial online. I make sad face now. 😦

A poor broken man.

The DVD has a long blank spot here. Ten full seconds go by before we fade back in and find Benny looking for the card. Blanc shouts at him, and freaks out when Benny tells him that he forgot to sign the card. We’re then treated to another bit that’s from 20 years ago. A lingerie sales man who needs gloves because “touching that stuff with me bare hands makes me a nervous wreck” and explains that the black ones are the worst. It’s sort of a strange joke that just doesn’t work today. Benny comes back and finds Blanc a broken wreck of a man. Now, Benny should be recalcitrant and guilty, but Blanc is playing up his part so well that Benny is actually having trouble keeping it together. It sort of adds to the horror of the situation that Benny is doing his damnest not to bust out laughing. He then, of course, decides to change out the $40 wallet for the one that costs $1.98 which breaks the poor clerk. Blanc pulls out a revolver, checks it for loads and then wanders off to commit suicide. It’s not just implied, we hear the shot and people come running and Benny comments that he was a nice young man before raiding the till. That’s pretty frickin’ dark for a Christmas show. I’ve made jokes, but they actually did it! Then it cuts to commercial, but as I know they’re not around right now… I think. Did you hear that? No, it’s nothing. I think I got away with it… OH FUDGE! NO! NO! NOOOOO!!!!! C’mon! The show is over already!

He seems to be enjoying this, actually.

Whew, that got ‘em! All there is left is Benny walking on, telling us to have a Merry Christmas and walking back off. Then there are some closing credits that get cut off so I don’t know exactly what year this was. I’m going with 1960 because an internet source says that’s when this was broadcast, but who knows if that’s right? It’s not a bad show, it’s just lifted from the radio show and as such, I know all the jokes before they come. That wasn’t a problem back when this was first made and no one remembered one gag from 20 years ago. I can’t rate this very highly, but it’s not actually bad.

Official Score:
10 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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