Appellate Judge James A. Stewart wonders how many new DVD formats he'll see by his 100th birthday.
"I've reached the point now where I get a standing ovation for just standing."
In his life of 100 years, George Burns had a career few could match. After a slow start in vaudeville, he became the stage partner—and soon the husband—of Gracie Allen, a bright young star who made the "Dumb Dora" routine into an art form with her oddball malaprops and non-sequiturs. The couple branched out into movies, radio, and television (The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show). After Gracie retired from the popular TV show in 1958, George's acting career went into decline (although the Burns and Allen production company did produce Mister Ed).
Even during the couple's radio days, Burns and Allen changed gears—they first played themselves as singles, but switched to marital mishaps. So it's little surprise that Burns came back onto the scene when he was nearly 80, winning an Oscar for his role in 1975's The Sunshine Boys. After making his comeback at age 80, he worked almost till the end of his life in movies, TV, and live performances.
In 1982, he took the stage in Hamilton, Ontario, only 49 years after his last stop there (as he notes in his patter). That concert, featuring an act tinged with nostalgia that makes light of his golden years, was taped by Canadian TV. It's out on DVD as George Burns Live in Concert.
If you've seen anything of George Burns in his post-Sunshine Boys incarnation, the material here will be familiar to you. The iconic figure, cigar in hand, makes jokes about dating younger women, bombing in vaudeville, and his interaction with the new generation. As always, Burns is self-deprecating ("People discovered I had a big talent. They were right, and I was married to her for thirty years") while making the most of his rare comeback ("Why shouldn't I be a country singer? I'm older than most countries").
His material has a sly wickedness to it, as in this line about his bashfulness: "Even today, when I put my cigar into my holder, I close my eyes." Think about it. There's also a lot of joking about age, such as when he talks about his habit of reading the obits every morning: "If my name isn't in it, I have breakfast. The day I see my name in it, I'll still have breakfast. I'm not leaving on an empty stomach."
Burns also sings in his gravely voice. His tunes are mostly from the vaudeville era, though he does one number, "Old Bones," from his then-recent country album. Not sure about the rest of the album, but this one's done in Western swing style.
The digitally-remastered picture was better than I expected. While the orchestra in the background is in soft focus, George Burns is sharp and clear as the center of attention. The transfer showed little flaring or bleeding, though I noticed hints of it during the brief title sequence. I'm not sure what kind of sound was used here, but it works well enough for the material.
The concert breaks no new ground for Burns fans, but it does draw laughs. He doesn't talk much about his work with wife Gracie Allen here, but his material otherwise could be taken as a "Greatest Hits" collection from his later years. For a DVD priced around six bucks that will probably be an impulse purchase, it's not a bad memento of his work, although you'd think Somerville House could have come up with a bio or outtakes from the concert, at least.
If you're not already a George Burns fan, you might want to check out some episodes of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show rather than starting out with this one. That classic comedy series, as you might recall, features George's monologues along with Gracie's malaprops.
While you'll want more after watching this 56-minute TV special, it's nice to have a George Burns concert preserved in good shape. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Somerville House
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