A&E // 1979 // 500 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Steve Evans (Retired) // January 31st, 2006
"I'm not against naked women. Not as often as I'd like to be." -- Benny Hill.
A&E turns loose the fourth boxed set of Benny Hill's bawdy and uncut television show. This edition features episodes broadcast from 1978-81. The package is resplendent with beautiful, half-naked women displaying cleavage and cheeks galore, plus lewd humor, deranged slapstick, silly songs and some of the funniest high-speed chases ever shown on British television. "Yes, it's the Benny Hill Show!" as the announcer enthused each week before rosy-cheeked Benny and his band of merry pranksters produced belly laughs equal to those of their only serious rivals on television during the 1970s -- Monty Python's Flying Circus.
This box contains almost 8 1/2 hours of laugh-out-loud entertainment, unless you're an über-feminist, in which case you're already pissed off.
British funnyman Benny Hill made a handful of movies (The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine, is perhaps the most enduring), but his forté was always comedy. Hill specialized in songs with scandalous lyrics, although his penchant for slapstick revitalized a form that had all but died with The Three Stooges. Still, with a distinguishing spark of intelligence, Hill's act was infinitely superior to anything by Curly, Moe, and Larry.
This latest three-disc box plays up the lovely Hill's Angels, who were a late introduction to the show -- Benny Hill had been on the air for a decade before he formally added a baker's dozen of beautiful babes to his formula. Their function was unmistakable: to wiggle and jiggle provocatively while serving as wide-eyed foils for the leering Hill. Yes, and they managed to be gorgeous with no effort at all.
Now, before women reading this review blow a gasket, it's important to note that even though the show was criticized for frequently lecherous comedy, Hill and the other men on the program were such buffoons that there was never any hope they would consummate their clumsy seductions. If anything, in terms of sophistication, the women on The Benny Hill Show were light years beyond their television contemporaries in America, like the bimbos of Charlie's Angels or Three's Company.
Regardless, Benny Hill understood there should be more to life than just sex: There should be cigarettes for smoking afterwards.
The Benny Hill Show was broadcast in more than 100 countries during a 20-year run that began in 1969 on Britain's ITV. It remains in syndication (on BBC America since 2004), although few Americans had seen an uncut program until A&E launched this series of unadulterated episodes on DVD. When Benny Hill first appeared in the United States in 1979, Thames Television produced edited versions of the original 50-minute shows, removing most of Benny's racier material and hacking whole sketches to fit the programs into a half-hour U.S. time slot. Unlike the original Region 2 United Kingdom DVD sets featuring this program, A&E has taken the thoughtful step of presenting the episodes not only uncut but in order of the original broadcast dates. Kudos to A&E.
Some of the topical and English political humor is obviously dated, while many of Hill's little subreferences and asides are by now either anachronisms or remain a subtle part of British culture. So contemporary U.S. viewers shouldn't expect to get all the jokes. This doesn't really matter.
Hill's occasional high-speed antics are the best part of these programs. Like live cartoons, Benny and his band of lunatics slap-dash all over the countryside at pixilated speed (the technique of animating people so it appears they can accomplish the incredible). This enables the comedian to fly into trees, run insane wheelchair races down mountain roads, climb walls, and generally act very silly. In between this mischief, Benny will occasionally pause and paw a beautiful woman's breasts, with an accompanying "a-oooga" on the soundtrack. Yep, most guys (if they're honest) think this sort of thing is hysterically funny. That's just how it is.
So let's be clear: Benny Hill was a rambunctious and damn-funny son-of-a-bitch. (Full disclosure: I have a seven-year-old son and, although I would not let him watch any of the racy material on these discs, both of us were on the floor sputtering with laughter at some of Hill's warp-speed shenanigans.)
Virtually all of the episodes end with Hill being persecuted by dozens of people chasing him on foot at what appears to be 75 mph, across acres of open land, as his theme song, "Yakety Sax," wails over the credits. This nonsense was a highlight of my misspent youth -- when I wasn't studying the films of Bergman, Fellini, Kubrick, and Hitchcock, of course.
All this low-brow comedy contrasts nicely with Hill's other sketches involving rhetorical acrobatics and especially his songs, which are frightfully witty miracles of rhyme, rhythm, and sly wordplay.
Video and audio look and sound terrific for source material that's nearly 30 years old. No complaints on either score. But the extras are limited to a short featurette and an interactive trivia quiz -- not much for such an expensive boxed set.
Some of Benny Hill's material has dated badly, though it remains gleefully politically incorrect. Feminists may cringe, but guys of a certain age and outlook will find these shows irresistible, especially if beer is involved.
A&E packs plenty of nostalgia into these boxed sets, although extras are scant considering the price (suggested retail hovers around $40 for this three-disc set).
Guilty of causing convulsive laughter, The Benny Hill Show is hereby free to continue annoying the uptight and prudish while amusing those of us who never grow tired of Benny chasing (but never catching) beautiful bikini-clad women. The delightful Hill's Angels act like they'd rather do nothing more in this world than go-go dance and shake their fine, mmm-hmmm, selves. This court turns them loose, too. Res ipsa yowsah.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 500 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* I Was a Hill's Angel Featurette
* The Benny Hill Cheeky Challenge Trivia Quiz #4