Shout! Factory // 1961 // 145 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // April 1st, 2012
Ha ha. It is to laugh.
Do not attempt to adjust your television set. Those merry funsters at Shout! Factory are trying to do it for you, by releasing Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials, an appetite-whetting sampler featuring the final TV work of the videotape innovator and comic genius before his tragic death in an auto accident at age forty-two.
It's my sad duty to inform Kovacs collectors and connoisseurs that this collection of specials was part of The Ernie Kovacs Collection box set Shout! released in 2011 as Episodes 4 through 8 of his monthly series. The existence and availability of the first three episodes are regularly debated on internet blogs, and Shout! declines to weigh in on the subject anywhere in this set.
While some may call this repackaging a rip-off, the studio is affording a great many who've only heard about the cutting-edge comedy of Kovacs a chance to sample his wares. Caution: Though the audio and video here are relatively unblemished, the age of this material does need to be taken into account. You'll see punch lines of many sight-gags coming a mile away, simply because they've been "borrowed" many times over the years. You'll also notice the lack of MTV (split-second) editing, despite the fact these episodes are almost entirely comprised of comic blackouts. TV audiences hadn't yet been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder.
With some minor exceptions, the cigar-chomping Kovacs (who resembles Gomez Addams without so much Red Bull) remains the man behind the curtain here, turning over the bulk of performing duties to a pair of funny looking men, (Bobby Lauher and Joe Mikolas) and a pair of extremely photogenic women (Jolene Brand and Maggi Brown). Kovacs always employed stunning beauties, and the reason was two-fold: The comedian insisted a pretty girl getting hit in the face with a pie was much funnier than any man doing the same gag, and he liked looking at them.
In terms of presentation, don't be alarmed with the lack of color and preponderance of blacks, whites, and greys. Once upon a time, almost every television program looked this way. You'll also find a minimum of dialogue. That's not to say these are silent films. On the contrary, there's a fair bit of voice over, as much of Kovacs' work involved lampooning commercials. Kovacs employed a great deal of music in his bits, be it classical (Tchaikovsky, Satie, Bartok) or contemporary. You'll hear the "Tennessee Waltz" translated into a Scandinavian tongue, "Mona Lisa" sung in Polish, and "Mackie Messer" better known to English speaking audiences as "Mack the Knife."
Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials only includes one extra, but it's a treasure: A collection of Kovacs' commercials for his long-time sponsors, Dutch Masters cigars. No, really. Start watching and fail to laugh. I dare ya!
Guilty like Copernicus and DaVinci.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 145 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Vintage Commercials