On his shows, Dick Cavett let his guests shine in the spotlight

Critics' Picks : New Dvds

February 19, 2006|By CHRIS KALTENBACH

THE DICK CAVETT SHOW: COMIC LEGENDS / / Shout! Factory / $39.95

Of all the Johnny Carson-wannabes trotted out by the networks, Dick Cavett was probably the best -- precisely because he didn't act like Carson. On The Tonight Show, it was often a toss-up who deserved the spotlight more, Carson or his guest. Rather than competing with his guests, Cavett instead chose simply to ask questions, serve as an audience surrogate -- and let the chips fall where they may. Cavett's shows may not have been as entertaining as Carson's were, but they were invaluable as showcases for his guests' talents. (Not that Cavett wasn't funny in his own right; he began as a writer for Jack Paar and even penned jokes for Carson for several years.)

FOR THE RECORD - A DVD listing in the Feb. 19 Arts & Entertainment section incorrectly identified the director of the 1946 film The Stranger. The film was directed by Orson Welles.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Spread over four discs and nearly 14 hours, The Dick Cavett Show: Comic Legends is distilled from programs that aired from 1968-1974 and captures the Yale-educated Cavett at his best. There's a priceless, hour-long interview with Groucho Marx ("If you applaud, you'll only waste time that I could use talking to you," the great comic chides the audience); a nearly 90-minute conversation with Bob Hope (in which Hope, for once, doesn't seem worried about coming up with a quip every few seconds), and a show featuring Jack Benny (in which the comic billed as the world's cheapest man and worst violin player reveals he's in New York to sub for the great violinist Isaac Stern).

Also featured are wonderfully engaging interviews with Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Jerry Lewis, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, the Smothers Brothers and Mel Brooks.

Special features: In addition to the shows (all presented in their entirety, so you get the occasional non-comic guest, like Ruth Gordon or Joe Frazier) are contemporary interviews with a reflective Cavett; a recently discovered compilation of some of the best moments from his morning show, which aired from March 1968-January 1969; various outtakes; and even a 1968 interview Cavett conducted with Carson's then-wife, Joanna.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

THE ORSON WELLES COLLECTION / / Passport International / $29.98

The perfect gift for anyone who thinks Orson Welles' greatness stopped at Citizen Kane, The Third Man and Touch of Evil. This five-disc set includes a Shakespeare adaptation (a 1953 production of King Lear, with Welles in the lead), a Franz Kafka adaptation (1962's The Trial, which he wrote, directed and narrates, and which he claimed was his best film), a biblical epic (1960's David and Goliath, with Welles as King Saul), and a film, directed by Sam Spiegel, in which Welles plays a New England academic accused of being a Nazi war criminal (1946's The Stranger).

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chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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