Questar // 1951 // 412 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Roy Hrab (Retired) // December 21st, 2008
"And I wish to remind you that the smile is the shortest distance between people, and the more we smile, the less we fight. Because to my knowledge, no one ever fought smilingly...and won. So not goodbye, then. Never goodbye. Just...so long." -- Victor Borge
A little over 20 years ago, when I was a young lad, my dad took my brother and me to see Victor Borge perform live. I had no idea who he was. The show started with Borge, who would have been in his 70s at the time, walking across the stage towards a grand piano. He asked "Are there any children in the audience?" Receiving an affirmative response, he pointed to the exit and said "Out!" and then remarked that, because of the presence of children, he wouldn't be able to do the second act in the nude. Laughter ensued and by the end of the night I was hooked on the humor of this zany old man, who seemed to do everything he could to avoid playing the piano that shared the stage with him. I would later recognize him during his appearances on Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and PBS specials.
Victor Borge passed away in 2000 at the age of 91. He was born on January 3, 1909 in Denmark. A classically trained concert pianist, he developed his music and comedy act in the 1930s. Borge toured Europe before coming to the United States prior to World War 2. In celebration of his 100th birthday, is the 6-disc Victor Borge Classic Collection, covering Borge's career from the 1950s to the early 1990s.
"The Best of Victor Borge: Acts One & Two" (90 minutes): This is a great concert performance given by Borge in Minneapolis. It appears to be the same act that I saw as a younger man, meaning that it features some fine stand-up, slapstick, and piano playing comedy, including "Phonetic Punctuationion" (Borge reads from a book while making sound effects to signal punctuation), "The Timid Page Turner" (a stage hand, actually Borge's son, tries to assist in turning the page music), "Inflationary Language" (Borge inflates words that contain numbers, for example, "Tonight" becomes "Threenight"), and Borge putting on a seat belt when accompanying an opera singer. There's also some serious piano playing, too.
"The Legendary Victor Borge" (68 minutes): This is a clip show hosted by the violinist Itzhak Perlman. It includes several bits featured on Disc 1, plus some vintage clips, such as Borge appearing with Fozzie Bear on The Muppet Show, and Mike Wallace interviewing composer Franz Listz (Borge) via a "time machine."
"Victor Borge's Funniest Moments" (75 minutes): Another clip show. Indeed, discs 2 and 3 are virtually identical. The main difference between the discs is the order of the clips and the absence of Itzhak Perlman on Disc 3.
"Victor Borge: Then & Now" (84 minutes): This is a concert given by Borge at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. It's a mixture of live routine (similar to Disc 1) and some clips projected on screens hovering over the stage (most of the clips appear on discs 2 and 3).
"Lost Episodes of Victor Borge, Volume 1" (42 minutes): This disc is an episode of one of Borge's "Comedy and Music" specials that aired during the 1950s. The show was sponsored by Pontiac and contains some funny plugs for Pontiac by Borge. The sketches show you how Borge's act did and did not evolve over time as well as reveal that he always had impeccable comic timing.
"Lost Episodes of Victor Borge, Volume 2" (53 minutes): The first part of this disc is Carnegie Hall performance by Borge in the 1950s followed by some more clips from some of his television specials.
Borge, nicknamed "The Clown Prince of Denmark" and "The Great Dane," was truly great. He was a master of verbal (e.g., "Phonetic Punctuation") and physical (e.g., slipping off his piano bench) comedy. His humor is the perfect fusion of intelligence and ridiculousness. Fans of the Marx Brothers will love Borge. Most of all, however, Borge endures because of his friendliness and interaction with the audience and other performers. This is especially true during the concerts, where he directly interacts with the audience, for example, commenting to people entering the theater late: "I'm from Copenhagen and I made it here before you did." This style of rapport makes Borge more than a performer, he is a true entertainer. His routine is so natural and conversational that it's easy to picture him doing the same thing over drinks as a guest at your house.
Further, you can tell that Borge loves what he is doing. Indeed, the man was performing 60 shows a year when he was 90! He is almost always grinning or smiling. And when he does have a frown or scowl upon his face, it's for a laugh. And even though you know that he has gone through these routines countless times for decades, you never get the impression that he is going through the motions.
The technical aspects of the collection are, to be charitable, passable. The video, especially the black and white footage from the 1950s, is not in particularly good shape. There is scratch and grain galore, but that shouldn't be a surprise. The color performances are cleaner, but the detail and brightness are not great. The 2.0 stereo sound is not the best either. And, again, the audio on the newer footage is in better shape than the old. However, at the end of the day, the audio and video are good enough that they don't detract from Borge's superb talent.
There are no extras.
If you want a full measure of the career and gifts of Borge, this collection is for you. And skipping Discs 2 and 3 will do the job in the most time efficient manner. You don't need to watch either of them because most, if not all, of the material appears elsewhere in the collection. For example, The Muppet Show clip appears three times and the Mike Wallace clip four times. The "Phonetic Punctuation" and "Inflation Language" bits, along with others, make multiple appearances throughout the set, too.
Borge's humor is broad, clean, good-natured, and, most of all, timeless. I enjoyed his show as a child and I enjoy it now. It is something special that can be appreciated by all ages.
Review content copyright © 2008 Roy Hrab; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 412 Minutes
Release Year: 1951
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: The Best of Victor Borge: Act One & Two
* IMDb: Victor Borge
* New York Times: Victor Borge's Obituary