Saturday Night Live: Best of John Belushi – DVD Review

The greatest hit collection is essential for a casual music fan. Most of the time, they don’t want to deal with collecting all the records, they just want the songs worth playing over and over. The Doors’ Greatest Hits, Bob Marley’s Legend and The Who’s Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy all found their ways onto millions of turntables. This concept found its way into home video with the release of Best of John Belushi in 1985. It had been three years since the star of Saturday Night Live, Animal House and Blues Brothers had overdosed at the Chateau Marmont. His short life had been mucked by Bob Woodward’s Wired. He’d been reduced to a tragic figure in the pages. Popping in the Best of John Belushi tape reminded folks that he was hilarious in his Not Ready For Prime Time days. Saturday Night Live: The Best of John Belushi contains all the clips from the old VHS along with more bits. The sketches prove there’s been nobody in 35 plus years to top his late night tenure.

“Wolverines” opens the special and the series. Michael O’Donoghue (Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video) gives a foreigner (Belushi) English lessons. Michael keeps teaching him nonsense phrases involving Wolverines. “Samurai Deli brings out John’s Japanese character that did everything with his sword. This time he makes a sandwich for Buck Henry. “Little Chocolate Donuts” spoofs Bruce Jenner’s Wheaties ads. What’s the secret of how Belushi won the Gold Medal in the Olympics? Why it’s little chocolate donuts. Bruce Jenner would go on to be a spoof of himself as a member of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. There’s a couple of short bits with Belushi as Beethoven working on his music. “Godfather Therapy” lets Belushi explore his Marlon Brando impersonation. He’s in a group therapy session led by Elliot Gould (M*A*S*H). His problems get picked over by a Valley Girl (Laraine Newman).

“Greek Restaurant” continues the adventures of a diner that only serves cheeseburgers, chips and Pepsi. “Star Trek” remains a Top 10 sketch. This is how the iconic sci-fi series ended with network executives boarding the Starship Enterprise. They’re more destructive than the Klingons and Khan combined. Belushi’s Kirk is spot on. “Wilderness Comedian” mocks Grizzly Adams. Belushi retreats to the woods to tap into jokes for critters. Belushi and Dan Aykroyd became musical stars with their creation of the Blues Brothers. They rip through Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man.” After this performance, the song dominated the radio n 1978. Their success allowed Eddie Murphy to eventually create “Party All the Time.” “Celebrity Corner” features Belushi’s grotesque impersonation of Elizabeth Taylor being interviewed by Bill Murray.

“Samurai Night Fever” adds an Asian flavor to Saturday Night Fever. The Samurai takes the place of John Travolta. O.J. Simpson takes the role of the priest brother. Instead of wanting to leave the church, Simpson announces he’s through with being black. Is it OK to laugh at O.J. Simpson knowing that he’d later be convicted of killing two people in a civil court case after beating the criminal charges? Luckily Belushi is the bigger comic element in the sketch. “Joe Cocker” combines John’s amazing physical skills and fantastic voice. He pays tribute to Joe’s version of “A Little Help From My Friends” while exaggerating Joe’s body motions. He flops around, but never blows the song. Superman (Bill Murray) and Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) host “Party” with their Superhero friends. Belushi arrives as The Hulk. He’s better than Ed Norton in the green role. “Don’t Look Back In Anger” is the definition of ironic comedy. An elderly Belushi takes us to a cemetery where all the original Not Ready for Prime Time players are buried. He’s the last alive. In a few years, he’d be the first to die. This sketch ought to be in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. Luckily we’re not left with this as the final moment. Belushi and the Killer Bees come out to sing “King Bee” with future-Oscar winner Howard Shore’s band.

After a quarter of a century, the greatest hits collection of Belushi speaks louder of his legacy than squalid biographies and lame bio-pics. This is the perfect introduction to a youth who only associates the name Belushi to Jim Belushi. The biggest difference between this re-issue and the original VHS tape release is that if you adore this sampler of Belushi, you can buy his complete Saturday Night Live legacy. All four of his seasons on the series are out in DVD at reasonable prices. Like a perfect Greatest Hits collection, Saturday Night Live: The Best of John Belushi gives so much goodness on one disc.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The show was recorded on video so there’s not quite the resolution as today’s tape. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. Levels are fine to hear John’s mishmash of Japanese. The sketches are Closed Captioned.

Original Screen Test (3:47) has John sitting before a microphone doing a few characters including his Brando. He practices his eyebrow lifts.

Photos (1:08) is a montage of publicity stills from his time on the show.

Rolling Stone magazine article covers the time before his final season on the show when he was doing various films and working on the Blues Brothers music career.

TV Appearance (7:19) has John and Dan being interviewed on the Today Show by Gene Shalit in 1981. Gene’s hair is that thrilling poodle poof. The guys are on the show to promote the Best of the Blues Brothers album.

An Inside Look (18:59) appears to be the segment from a larger show about the early years of SNL. Why hasn’t the video for The Lemmings Dead In Concert been released on DVD?

More Sketches include “Samurai Hotel,” “Samurai Tailor,” “Peckinpah,” “Farbers Meet the Coneheads” and Weekend Updates guest spots focused on Skylab and Songs about the Weather. Richard Pryor turns Japanese for “Samurai Hotel.”

Saturday Night Live: The Best of John Belushi brings together his finest moments. The last two decades of SNL doesn’t touch the comic genius found on this single DVD. Belushi wasn’t a one note comic who could only flog a single character. He could play it cool or go completely over the top. He’s the man that every cast member of SNL gets measured against. None have come close to his heights. If you have the original VHS tape, it’s time to upgrade.

Lionsgate Entertainment presents Saturday Night Live: Best of John Belushi. Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtain, Laraine Newman, Gilda Radner and Richard Pryor. Running Time: 78 minutes. Released on DVD: Feburary 1, 2011.

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