Newhart reprises comedy classics

CRITICS' PICKS: NEW DVDS

September 17, 2006

BOB NEWHART BUTTON DOWN CONCERT -- Fox Home Entertainment / $19.98

His eyes dart to the right, to the left, as if searching for escape. His eyelashes flutter like the wings of a bird aiming to land on -- and overshooting -- the branch. You can practically see him sweat. There's no doubt about it -- comedian Bob Newhart is Everynebbish.

In the Bob Newhart Button Down Concert, a new DVD being released Tuesday, the Golden Globe-winning comic reprises many of the classic bits from his years as a stand-up funnyman before making it big on television.

Whether as a public relations consultant trying to dissuade President Abraham Lincoln from trading in his stovepipe hat for a cardigan, or a security guard at the Empire State Building confronting King Kong, Newhart plays a variation of the same earnest, befuddled character struggling with life's absurdities.

He acknowledges that little, if any, of his material is new; at one point, he tells his audience that he's not surprised that many of them know each of his bits by heart. Still, he says, it throws him off when he sees them mouthing all the words.

But some of Newhart's material cries out for updating. A piece on no-frills airlines first performed 30 years ago still is hilarious. But it would have been even funnier had the comic addressed some of the realities of airport travel in a post-9/11 world. Surely a wit as fertile and gentle as Newhart's could find fodder for his routine without injuring still-raw sensibilities were he to offer a wry joke, perhaps, about the logjams going through airport security, or the now-routine removal of shoes.

Special features

The DVD includes an interview with Newhart and archival photographs from his personal collection.

Mary Carole McCauley

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

ALSO ANTICIPATED

THE BORIS KARLOFF COLLECTION --Universal Home Video -- $29.95 --In plenty of time for Halloween, this three-disc set features the master of the macabre in five of his lesser-known films, all of them plenty enjoyable. The pick of the bunch might be 1939's Tower of London, in which he plays a murderous executioner helping the nefarious Duke of Gloucester (Basil Rathbone, in full scoundrel mode) eliminate all those standing between him and the throne (including a young Vincent Price's Duke of Clarence). In addition, the set includes 1937's Night Key, 1944's The Climax (with Karloff as a mad doctor obsessed with an opera singer), 1951's The Strange Door and 1952's The Black Castle (playing a doctor yet again, but this time a heroic one).

The set includes no extras, but all the films are appearing on DVD for the first time, so let's not quibble.

Chris Kaltenbach

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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