I’ve been a fan of Danny Kaye for a long time. While some know him for his films The Inspector General, White Christmas or Hans Christian Andersen, my personal favorite has always been The Court Jester, a parody of Robin Hood about how a simple jester is mistaken for a legendary outlaw.
Knowing him for his vast film catalog, it was a complete surprise to find that he actually had his own variety show that ran from 1963 to 1967 and had won several Emmys during its television run. The show consisted of multiple sketches interspersed between musical numbers while featuring a major headlining guest each week.
The first DVD featured three of the earlier episodes that were shot in black and white. This disc was the better of the two in the set as it featured Jackie Cooper, Gene Kelly, and Art Carney. While the sketches were significantly better, the audio and video qualities were not. The video was very grainy with visible lines throughout and the audio was okay as long as you kept the volume down because once you turned it up above a normal conversation it became very distorted.
The second DVD was filmed in color and featured episodes with Harry Belafonte, Liza Minnelli, and Ella Fitzgerald. The video quality was better, but was still grainy and had lines that periodically showed up. The audio was improved as well and had a greater threshold before becoming distorted.
While it’s normal to expect restored video form the ’60s to have its share of issues, the most important aspect is the quality of the programming. In this regard, the black and white episodes were superior by far. It wasn’t because of the guest selection or the musical numbers but because of the sketches. They were more coherent, had more slapstick humor, and were just simply written better. In the newer episodes, it was a lot more difficult to get the joke, sets weren’t used as often, and a lot of them came across as hokey.
The one thing that worked throughout all of the episodes was the musical numbers. A lot of the songs I had never heard before and usually after a couple songs in a row something comical, like the sudden dropping ping pong balls on their heads, would occur to lighten the atmosphere. Hearing Belafonte and Kaye singing “Hava Nagila” was both very strange and very cool at the same time. Thankfully, on each of the DVDs one of the options is to go directly to the different songs and skip over the rest.
Overall, I have a mixed reaction to this compilation. I enjoyed the first disc, but the second disc dragged so much that by the time I was done watching it I couldn’t imagine ever going back and re-watching any of the episodes. Hardcore Danny Kaye fans might like having it in their library just so they can have it, but if you have a choice between watching this DVD release or watching one of his classic movies, you’d be better off picking the movie.