Benny Hill: Golden Greats (1983-1989)
"I'm not against half-naked girls. Not as often as I'd like to be."- Benny Hill
Stars: Benny Hill
Other Stars: Jackie Wright, Henry McGee, Bob Todd, Sue Upton, Louise English, Hill's Angels, Hill's Little Angels
Director: Dennis Kirkland
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language, off-color humor, comic violence)
Run Time: 05h:05:01s
Release Date: 2001-08-28
DVD ReviewComic Benny Hill (1924-1992) was one of the last English music hall comics, and also the best known, thanks to his television exposure in nearly 50 countries at the height of his popularity in the 1980s. Here HBO video has compiled six one-hour episodes (rather than the half-hour reductions offered on US television) from this period.
Hill's style is broad baggy pants comedy, with slapstick, pantomime, bawdy songs and sniggering looks at lasciviousness and cuckoldry. Always energetic and fast-moving, his comedy actually holds up well, though it's certainly not for the overly sensitive. In particular, in these episodes he shows that he could have been a genius of silent film had be been born 20 years earlier; many of his best skits are completely wordless and rely on his exquisite comic timing and pliable cherub face. Not above smiling shiftily at his own jokes, Hill can induce many a laugh in this set of episodes.
Not only is Hill exceedingly funny, but he surrounds himself with a capable supporting cast that isn't afraid to indulge in thoroughly British cross-dressing and ludicrous activities. Though not the inspired lunacy of Monty Python, there's plenty of entertainment here. The Hill's Angels troupe of buxom young beauties fits perfectly into the saucy humor of Hill, and is easy on the eyes besides. In Hill's world, women are either sex objects or shrieking harridans. Obviously, these programs will not go over well with humorless strident feminists. But Hill's not a misogynist; he clearly loves the ladies, and he's also making fun of everyone and everything else. One of his particular targets is the British class system (yes, an easy target, I know, but it's still funny) and the mechanisms of government. Bobbies come in for particularly harsh treatment.
"That is the most disgusting suggestion I've ever heard. Besides, where could we go?"
The set starts off with a bang, with plenty of goosing, off-color jokes and slapstick humor, silly and lewd songs and comic blackouts. The highlight of this episode is an extended burlesque on Carmen, with very funny lyrics. A staple of comedy programs over the years, this comic treatment is one of the better ones I've seen, including Chaplin's.
"When our pastor said, can you name the five disciples my son/ I said well I sure can, they're Matthew, Mark, Olivia, Newton, John."
The song this time out reflects a humorous and punny fascination with movie stars ("I'd like to see more of Jane Seymour") that's good for some chuckles. Probably the best segment of this program is an extended sequence of hapless painters in a banana republic trying to paint over unfavorable graffiti, but with little success. More than any other, this episode features brief blackout sketches of only a few seconds' duration making a description difficult. However, the rapid flow keeps the entertainment moving, so I've no beef about it.
"She has a black belt in cookery. She can kill you with one chop."
This episode features one of my favorite skits—actually fairly highbrow for Hill—a musical version of Pepys' diary. I found this quite witty and bawdy as well. Hill also takes a turn as a marriage counselor reminsicent of Eric Idle's classic turn. Hill's Angels do a very erotic interpretation of the theme to Happy Days that would surely make Richie Cunningham quiver. The episode concludes with Hill taking Hill's Little Angels, a precocious group of brats that were semiregulars on the program, on a picnic, with predictably disastrous results.
"They said this show was full of innuendoes—I thought they were Italian suppositories."
This show is all over the map. The opening song finds Hill in the Old West, learning that his girlfriend is marrying another. Recurring character Fred Scuttle (Hill), an aspiring entrepreneur, is setting up a TV network, Scuttlevision. Benny also spends a saucy day at the seaside, as well as at a decadent German institution called Club Bizarre that permits a good many song and dance numbers. The piece winds up with the adventures of bank robber Fingers McNee (Hill), leading into the inevitable undercranked chase sequence under the credits. How can you hate a man who uses "Yakety Sax" as his theme song?
"She asked the soldier why he was bowlegged, while she was drunk/ She said, was it cavalry, fat horse? He said, No, infantry, short bunk."
Hill starts off in a sequence as a vagabond, followed by an eyepopping sequence of the Hill's Angels doing aerobics and skipping rope. Hill then returns as a doctor with a musical scheme for reassigning the locations of body parts. There's plenty of bed humor and an extended ballet sequence. Before launching into the concluding hospital sequence, there is a two-minute segment of Hill madly vamping to eat screen time. Probably the most off-color of the shows on the disc, it's also plenty funny. The Angels do eat up a lot of the screen time, however.
"Eat a plate of beans on Sunday/Have a bubble bath on Monday."
One of the better sequences on the disc features Hill as an exasperated butler at a birthday party for spoiled rich children (the Little Angels again). Some of the humor here is quite vicious. Fred Scuttle returns with a newspaper, the Daily Scuttle. This segment made reference to so many obscure British figures of the 1980s that I was quite lost; it might have been better to replace this segment with that from another program, but it does show that Hill wasn't afraid of topical or political humor. There's also a hilarious bit of Hill attempting to discreetly eat a meal during a lengthy and tedious speech by a blowhard politician that's a real gem of physical comedy. Wrapping up the disc is a funny bit with Hill as a crusading TV reporter in the mold of Geraldo. His mishaps and uncooperative camera crew are good for quite a few laughs.
In all, much more highly entertaining than I was expecting (though the actual running time is 40 minutes shorter than claimed on the case. It's quite sad that Hill was forced off the air by political correctness at the very height of his popularity; no doubt this contributed to his untimely death shortly thereafter. But at least we have these shows to remember him and his irreverent music hall style. Now, cue the "Yakety Sax."
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The picture looks like mid-1980s videotape, frankly. The picture is exceedingly soft and smeary. On occasion, video dropouts are visible. Color is mediocre, as are black levels. However, I expect this is probably as good as this material is ever likely to look for the most part. During the hospital sketch on Golden Sniggers there is some hideous artifacting that should have been caught in QC.
Image Transfer Grade: C-
Audio Transfer Review: The 1.0 mono is relatively undistinguished for the most part. However, hiss and noise are kept down, which is surprising for television of this age. The songs and dialogue come through well, with minimal distortion. Overall, as good as can be expected.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 106 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Packaging: Double Scanavo
- Photo galleryPhoto Gallery
- Thematic scene access
In addition to a photo gallery that seems to be frames extracted solely from these six episodes, there is also the option to play certain segments on each disc by theme. One can select all of the song and dance segments, those where Hill is a doctor, Benny in the bedroom, the Fred Scuttle segments, and all of the credit roll chase sequences. These are simply duplicates of material in the main programs and thus not really anything additional. However, fans of this type of vaudeville music will appreciate the option to play all of the musical numbers (also written by Hill) together. Still, some bonus footage would have been nice.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsA funny aggregation of six one-hour episodes from Hill's series during the 1980s, with loads of innuendo and slightly smutty humor without using foul language. While not for everyone, there's plenty of entertainment here for those in the right frame of mind. Some surprisingly good extras are included as well; I particularly like the ability to play just the songs separately.
Mark Zimmer 2001-12-21