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Groucho Marx - You Bet Your Life (Disc 1 of 3) back to product details

A classic of TV's golden age
written by EPetersen June 23, 2004 - 3:39 PM PDT
3 out of 3 members found this review helpful
With many TV series getting DVD box set releases these days, I had hoped that this classic from TV's golden age would make it onto disc, but I didn't hold my breath. You can imagine my delight when this set came out! It's a fitting tribute to the comedy genius of Julius "Groucho" Marx.

You Bet Your Life began on radio in the 1940s. Game shows were incredibly popular and exciting, but this game show wasn't really about the game. It was about Groucho's banter with the contestants. While the Marx Brothers movies were hysterical, Groucho was at his best in a live, unscripted forum. He was a master of improvisational comedy. If you think that Robin Williams and Jonathan Winters are great, wait until you hear Groucho!

With the huge success of the radio show, it was inevitable that You Bet Your Life would cross over to the new medium. It began its TV run on NBC in 1950, sponsored by the DeSoto-Plymouth division of Chrysler, but it would have different sponsors through the years.

The You Bet Your Life TV show used the same, simple format as the radio show. Groucho asked the contestants questions, and if they answered them correctly, they got a shot at the jackpot question. And, if a contestant happened to say the Secret Word, a duck that looked like Groucho would drop down from the celing with a $100 prize.

Groucho never knew what to expect from his contestants, and neither the contestants nor the audience knew what to expect from Groucho. The contestants were chosen at random and were people from all walks of life - from average joes to the truly weird and eccentric. Groucho would get them to talk about themselves, which provided Groucho with fodder for his rapid-fire jokes, zingers, and double-entendres. It was the stuff TV legends are made of.

You Bet Your Life ended its 10+ year, 400+ episode run in 1961. It went virtually unseen until the early 1970s, when NBC decided to destroy all the episodes to free up space in its archives. Thankfully, Groucho and his producer convinced NBC to syndicate the show instead of destroying it. The show was retitled The Best Of Groucho and was a hit once again, attracting a new generation of fans - myself included. I began watching the show on a local station in 1977. I was 7 years old, and I just loved Groucho.

This box set is a major find for You Bet Your Life fans. The 18 episodes contained in the set were thought to have been lost. They are complete and uncut original shows, not the cropped, edited, and retitled syndicated episodes. There are lots of great extras including "stag reels" - short films comprised of uncensored outtakes shown at DeSoto-Plymouth conventions. They are risque, but mild compared to what censors do allow on today's TV shows.

Other rare extras include behind the scenes footage, original sponsor commercials, and complete audio selections such as Groucho's audition and a Christmas record Groucho made as a freebie to be handed out by DeSoto-Plymouth dealerships.

You Bet Your Life is classic, timeless TV. This DVD box set is classic TV done right. It's an absolute must for Groucho fans. Show it to your kids and they'll be surprised at how good it is. Not all 1950s TV was bland and boring! Now, at the age of 34, I still laugh just as much as I did when I saw the show 27 years ago.

- Eric Petersen


(Average 6.67)
3 Votes
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