Judge Steve Evans isn't against half-naked girls—not as often as he'd like to be, anyway.
Our reviews of Benny Hill Complete And Unadulterated: The Hill's Angels Years: Set Four (1978-1981) (published January 31st, 2006), Benny Hill Complete And Unadulterated: The Naughty Early Years, Set One (1969-1971) (published September 6th, 2004), Benny Hill Complete And Unadulterated: The Naughty Early Years, Set Two (1972-1974) (published February 16th, 2005), and Benny Hill: The Complete Megaset, The Thames Years 1969-1989 (published March 30th, 2011) are also available.
"I never yell, I never tell, but I'm grateful as hell."—Benny Hill when asked about rumors that he had affairs with women who appeared on his comedy shows.
There was a time on British television when Benny Hill and his troupe of eccentrics were the kings of comedy, rivaled in popularity only by Monty Python. Benny and the boys tossed off witty bon mots, sang inspired songs of lechery and lunacy, and zipped through wild chases videotaped in fast motion. In the course of all this foolishness, Benny sometimes "accidentally" grabbed women's breasts or bumped obliviously into the ladies' curvaceous, bent-over buttocks with an accompanying "a-oooga" horn on the soundtrack. Such was the naughtiness of Benny Hill. This is much funnier than it sounds in a review of his work. Today Hill's shtick comes off as rather tame compared to programming on cable. Hill had neither a theme nor politics, nor any discernible message—other than that laughter is good. And that's good enough. He was a high-concept comedian and inspired lyricist whose act always offered a taste of the absurd, flavored by beautiful women frolicking—yes, that's the right word—in halter tops and hot pants.
Facts of the Case
Distributed by A&E Home Video, this three-disc boc set contains some of the best comedy material broadcast anywhere during the 1970s and '80s. In it, the late British comedian slap-dashes through 10 classic episodes of his often hilarious and occasionally bawdy variety show. This is the third DVD package in a series chronicling The Benny Hill Show, which ran for a decade on Thames television during the 1970s before finding new life in U.S. syndication. It's fun to see the original shows uncut, with a running time of 50 minutes each. This same material was hacked and condensed to fit a half-hour time slot in U.S. syndication, so few Americans have ever seen a complete episode of The Benny Hill Show.
The craziness of The Benny Hill Show is on par with anything done contemporaneously during the legendary run of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Hill and his band of hooligans tended to be preoccupied with a juvenile obsession with sex, but they always went about their mischief in a playful and faux-innocent way—implying that the dirty minds of their audience were the real source of any naughtiness. They dealt in sight gags, performed in drag, dropped one-liners on the dance floor, spoofed commercial and popular television programs, and served up broad physical comedy drawn straight from the Three Stooges' playbook. The most familiar stooge on the Benny Hill Show was Jackie Wright, who played the much-abused little bald man. Diminutive Jackie was forever being spurred along by Benny's rapid slaps on the head and barrage of withering insults.
In this box set we hold up for particular praise Benny's spoof of kung fu movies—"Behind the Bamboo Curtain"—which is among the funniest 10 minutes of nonsense ever to air on television. The sketch begins with a TV interview of J. Arthur Mein (Hill), dubbed the "King of the Kung Fu Cult." After a few minutes of awkward Chinese English ("Hood evening evely body"), the action switches to a clip of the director's new chop-socky epic, "Behind the Bamboo Curtain." This is shot in ridiculous fast-motion, using primitive special effects such as playing film back in reverse to achieve amusing results like a 15-foot leap straight up into a tree. Benny's kung fu battle with a wandering black bear had my seven-year-old son and 77-year-old father laughing together on the couch.
A highlight of every show is the raucous finale, always some variation on Benny being persecuted by at least a dozen people chasing him in fast-motion across open countryside while his sassy saxophone theme wailed on the soundtrack. Some of these little skits, even when obscured by scrolling credits, are priceless comedic gems.
Fans will celebrate the arrival of another unexpurgated package of Benny Hill material. Many of these shows haven't been broadcast in a quarter-century and most U.S. fans have probably never seen the complete episodes.
The box contains 10 episodes offering more than eight hours of programming, plus Hill's short silent comedy, "Eddie in August," and an interactive trivia quiz with 15 questions. Diverting, but A&E could keep the trivia quiz and include more biographical material, instead. The box does contain a printed tri-fold of short notes on Hill and his troupe, most of whom died more than a decade ago (Hill passed away in 1992), but a more complete biography of the comedian would be welcome. By most accounts, the private Benny Hill was a quiet and unassuming man, frugal in spite of his wealth and reportedly indifferent to his fame. Despite the gleefully lecherous characters he portrayed on his show, Hill was never involved in any scandal or made the subject of a paternity suit. Insight into his personality would be more interesting than a trivia game. Nor is any mention made of the handful of films Hill made during his career, notably the original version of The Italian Job with Michael Caine.
Video and audio are clean by the standards of 30-year-old technology, and in any event probably look and sound better here than fans will recall from watching the show in its heyday on a mono television set.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Benny Hill's material is politically incorrect, cheerfully sexist, and often juvenile. Guys of a certain age will love this stuff; others beware.
Although pricey for a three-disc set (suggested retail hovers around $50), the collection contains some of the comedian's most familiar and outrageous material. This arguably makes it the best of the three Benny Hill packages on the market.
Benny and his band of troublemakers stand guilty of providing much merriment, while A&E is commended for packing plenty of nostalgia in a DVD box set.
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Scales of Justice
• Silent Short: "Eddie in August"
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