Fanciful, disturbing, and wildly original, it announces the arrival of a fresh, bold voice in American cinema.
This is a must-see and one of the best documentaries - and films - of this year.
It’s sentimental, ridiculously long and only occasionally funny
John T. Ryan
MUCH IN THE same tradition of his contemporaries in comedy, Red Skelton made the transition from Radio to the new world of TV with nearly a bump in the road. Notable colleagues who also blazed the trail to the "tube" were: Bob Hope, Groucho Marx and Jack Benny.* HAVING ALREADY STOCKPILED a stable of characters in his Bull Pen, all Red need do was to go ahead and visualize what the magic of Radio accomplished using our imaginations. Hence, we were treated to the likes of Clem Kadiddlehopper, San Fernando Red, Willie Lump-Lump and Cauliflower McPug in the flesh**. Missing in action and never having made the transition to the small screen was Junior, the Mean Widdle Kid.*** THE HOUR COMEDY/VARIETY series proved to be remarkable durable, having lasted a remarkable 20 or so seasons and two network switches. We all seemed to lock in on the Tuesday evening time slot and its customary presentation of Red and his guest stars. Along with these, his regulars included master Announcer, Art Gilmore and David Rose & His Orchestra. Mr. Skelton's theme song for so long was 'Holiday For Strings'; which is of course, a composition of Maestro Rose's.HEARKENING BACK TO those days of yesteryear, one will doubtless observe that Comedy-Variety programs were a very popular staple of the networks' scheduling. Contrasted to the recent and present times, this genre seems almost non-existent Surely there are some very capable souls out there to give us the next RED SKELTON, JACK BENNY, CAROL BURNETTE or whoever have you.COME ON NOW, you big-shot network "suits"; do it! NOTE: * Others worth mentioning are ABBOTT & COSTELLO, JACKIE GLEASON and EDGAR BERGEN & CHARLIE Mc CARTHY. As for SID CAESAR and MILTON BERLE, while their shows were very successful, they weren't as popular on the Radio. (Schultz says that Sid Caesar was not on the radio very much, if at all) NOTE: ** Mr. Skelton's characterizations were popular enough that Walter Lanz's Cartoon Studios based their character HOMER PIGEON on them.NOTE *** Although a visual version of JUNIOR did appear in Red's starring feature film, THE FULLER BRUSH MAN, it was done with a child actor in the role. Junior was a casualty of progress; as was Lou Costello's SEBASTIAN ("....I'm a Bad Boy!")
The networks always took the trouble until the very end with Red to write scripts & provide an orchestra (Nelson Riddle) & create an outstanding forum for Red to perform on. In turn Red showed how he could clown in every direction. Each show would open with some music & dancing. Then Red would do a monologue & he could do a monologue very well. Johnny Carson, as a writer for Red, went to school & learned from Red how to do monologues which served Johnny well for 30 years when he took over the Tonight Show & late night TV. He had learned from the best. In fact, Red taught Johnny how to ad-lib and Red was the master of the ad-lib. No matter what part of the show something went wrong in, Red would ad-lib something & make it funnier for his viewers. After the monologue, there would always be a sketch with Red as one of his characters. This is usually when his guest stars for that show would appear. Almost everybody appeared as a guest on his shows. It didn't matter if they were other comedians or serious dramatic actors, they would appear with Red and he would play off all of them with his unique comedy. After the sketch, some shows would then feature either a musical guest or a Nelson Riddle number.Then would come the "silent spot". These were classic sketches in which you hoped the picture on your screen (pre TV cable) wasn't too snowy so you could see what was so funny. In a way, the Silent Spot & Jackie Gleason's "The Poor Sole" who also did silent comedy were the only silent comedy the Vietnam Generation were really exposed too. Then Red would close the show by coming on stage & politely wishing all a "good night & God bless." He was right, God did bless us that his talent was with us so many years on this show. Skelton's comedy was never cerebral, just always funny.His prowess with Physical Comedy was only rivaled by Jackie Gleason, but Red was just a little better at the physical. Even in later years when Johnny Carson did sketches on TONIGHT which he tried physical comedy, a lot of his inspiration came from working with Red. This was an era of kinder, gentler comedy. There were no dirt, or lewd routines. Red did do political humor. Johnny Carson picked up on that too.I wish they would produce some of the entire seasons of The Red Skelton show on DVD. The singlets I have seen on VHS & DVD so far don't do overall justice to him. Red's movies were too few, though some of them were quite good. If the seasons came out, a couple of Red's shows that would be interesting would be the night Johnny Carson replaced an injured Red, & the often forgotten show where Red was ill & Ed Sullivan stepped in to replace Red!!. Red later returned the favor on the ED SULLIVAN SHOW when Ed was ill too. Those were the days, & now all these folks are gone. If DVDs get far enough into the Skelton archives, they won't be forgotten.
Red Skelton was watched weekly even before I was born. As I watched the shows, it was if he was part of our family. My father would laugh and giggle along with the rest of us. What made the show funny was not only the rehearsed script, but the ad lib comments. He included us as if we were right there with him. While some considered him as unprofessional by causing others to crack up on stage, we the audience found it funny to see the serious characters laughing and smiling on screen. I am sure the performers came on the program to enjoy a bit of lighthearted performing. If the program had been a professional polished perfect performance, I don't think the program would have lasted as long. It was funny, entertaining, and at times, very poignant. I think one of my most memorable performances was Freddy the freeloader with the Raggedy Ann doll that changed to a 'live' partner. It taught me that all people crave someone. It touched my heart then and every time I think of it. It was a Yuletide performance and it is in my memory as a child. Red Skelton wasn't only a performer, but a human being to share his humor and wit. It is one of the programs such as Leave it to Beaver, Father knows Best, and others to build a set of standards that make me a better man today! The statement God Bless was a statement at the end to wish everyone in every aspect of life to have their life improved.
F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Red Skelton's TV show was a well-produced variety hour that had an impressively long run, largely due to the big-name guest stars who appeared opposite Red. Although I sometimes laugh at Skelton, I'm not hugely a fan of his work. Red Skelton was one of the most undisciplined performers in the history of showbiz (which is saying a lot!), and he was notorious for 'corpsing' his guest-stars: trying to make them break character and laugh. Supposedly, Skelton had a wide range of comedic characterisations, but most of them were just Red Skelton playing himself with minor changes in costume and situation. Freddie the Freeloader was Skelton playing himself as a hobo, San Fernando Red was Skelton playing himself as a con-man, Cauliflower McPugg (a real Al Capp name!) was Skelton playing himself as a boxer, George Appleby was Skelton playing himself as a henpecked husband, Willie Lump Lump was guess-who as a drunk, Sheriff Deadeye was guess-who as a cowboy, Forsooth was Skelton again as a mediaeval peasant, and so forth. I find Skelton's customary sign-off very annoying: 'Good night, and may God bless.' God bless what or whom? Why couldn't Skelton say 'God bless YOU', or 'God bless us, every one', or something that makes grammatical sense? His other famous catchphrase was 'I dood it', but in this case he doodn't.The most original part of Red Skelton's show was the closing segment of most episodes. Called 'The Silent Spot', this featured Skelton in a wordless skit, utterly silent except for sound effects and the audience's laughter. TV TRIVIA: The guy who invented the laugh-track machine used audio recordings of Red Skelton's 'Silent Spot' segments as the source for his canned laughter: these contained no dialogue, so the inventor merely cut out the sound effects and had long audio samples of undiluted laughter. Skelton always performed his silent skits alone, sometimes abetted by stuntmen and mute bit players but without any co-star. The only time Skelton varied this formula was (fittingly enough) with guest star Harpo Marx in a World War One sketch, with Skelton as a doughboy and Harpo as a German officer sharing a dugout in No Man's Land.The 24 September 1968 episode of Red Skelton's show had the unfortunate title 'He Who Steals My Robot Steals Trash'. This episode guest-starred Vincent Price and Boris Karloff in a prolonged spoof on horror movies. Skelton portrayed Clem Kadiddlehopper, who was (as usual) Red Skelton playing himself as a hillbilly. In the first half of the two-act skit, Vincent Price played a mad scientist in search of a brain for his robot. Guess whose brain he decides to use. Encountering farmboy Kaddidlehopper in a field (a very obvious indoor stage set), Price lures him to his lab. All the gags can be seen a mile off. When Clem's hillbilly father learns that Clem has been abducted by a mad scientist, he sadly mourns "I've lost Clem, I've lost Clem..." only to immediately become elated and rush offstage cackling "I've lost Clem! I've lost Clem!"The second act takes place in Price's lab. It turns out he's the junior partner in a father-and-son team of mad scientists. And now here comes his father, to huge applause from the studio audience: Boris Karloff! The skit itself is unfunny, although it's pleasant to see Karloff gamely guying his own image.After the commercial break, Karloff and Price take a bow as themselves and perform a jolly little song about their screen careers, in which Price sings the line 'I was the Fly'. It's a bit disorienting to hear him sing this; Vincent Price did indeed star in 'The Fly' but he did NOT play the title role, and he often encountered film fans who thought he HAD played that role.I'm a fan of Karloff, but at this point (only a few months before his death) that great actor's health was so bad that his appearance is very distressing. Throughout this episode, Karloff spends his entire screen time sitting down, clearly too weak to stand. In the lab sketch, he makes his entrance (and it IS quite an entrance!) aboard a motorised chair that looks like something Blofeld might favour. The chair is extremely bulky, suggesting that Karloff's oxygen tank is stowed aboard. By this time, the lung complaint that would eventually end Karloff's life was so severe that an oxygen cylinder was always close at hand.During the third-act musical number, Karloff and Price are both seated on a platform that mechanically trundles through the proscenium curtain. Again, it's an effective entrance, and Price's presence aboard the platform makes it less obvious that Karloff is too weak to stand.I've seen Vincent Price on a much earlier episode of Skelton's show, from the 1950s. His hammy personality worked well with Skelton's humour. Karloff too had made at least one 1950s appearance (famously referenced in a 'Honeymooners' episode) on Skelton's show. If only Karloff and Price had appeared together opposite Skelton circa 1957, when Karloff was still comparatively healthy, that might have been a comedy skit to cherish. As it is, though, Karloff's (inappropriately) cadaverous appearance makes this guest shot a very depressing one indeed. And, given its spookfest atmosphere, I wonder why this pre-recorded episode was aired in September, rather than delaying it another month and showing it at Hallowe'en.