DVD Review: Sid Caesar: The Works

Sid Caesar’s legacy for way too many people has been reduced down to Coach Calhoun in Grease and Grease 2. But there was more to this comic actor than wearing a red ballcap and blowing a whistle at John Travolta. He was one of the legendary pioneers of those days of black and white TV when you had to twist your antenna just right to get a tiny image in the living room. Sid was a giant of that era. Thankfully Sid Caesar: The Works is a boxset that gives a retrospective exploration of his early career and the greats that made a majority of TV viewers in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s twist their rabbit ears to see his antics.

Sid Caesar’s TV career nearly at the birth of the new medium that brought moving images into the living rooms of people who could afford the new invention. After finding success in movies and Broadway, Sid got noticed during his guest appearances on Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater in 1948. This led to him getting his own series called The Admiral Broadway Revue. Admiral was a leading television manufacturer and was able to get the show on both DuMont and NBC. The show was majorly important since it teamed Sid with Imogene Coca. The duo worked as perfect partners. There are a few bits from this time . The series ended quick because Admiral couldn’t keep up with the demand for TV sets and thus didn’t need to advertise. There’s not need to cry since Sid’s next effort Your Show Of Shows would have him team up with several people who would be iconic themselves.

The variety series became a smash success right out of the gate. Along with Imogene Coca, the new show featured Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show) and Howard Morris (Magilla Gorilla). Ten From Your Show of Shows was a theatrically released movie that was released in 1973 that contained prime sketches from the series. There’s also numerous additional sketches in the collection. The show was broadcast live so the footage is from kine-scopes so it’s a touch rough on the resolution. Watching Harold Morris is a treat since his career has been reduced to playing Ernest T. Bass on a handful of Andy Griffith Show episodes. He does so much in the sketches to prove he belongs on the stage with the rest of the cast. I once saw Morris on a new show where the host kept going on about Ernest T.Bass and Harold pointed out he had done a few other things in his long career. The sketches had quite a few great comic minds in the writer’s room including Neil Simon (The Odd Couple), and Mel Brooks (The Producers).

Things changed in the Fall of 1954 as Sid starred in Caesar’s Hour. Imogene Coca left for her own show and Nanette Fabray (One Day At A Time) became the lead female in sketches. Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H*) joined the writing sketch. The show kept Sid on the cutting edge of comedy in the late ’50s. The boxset contains two episodes of The Chevy Show from 1958 that had Sid working with Art Carney, Shirley MacLane and Audrey Meadows. A joy is The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special reunites the band for a color special in 1967. The show was produced by Jack Arnold who directed Creature From the Black Lagoon and featured sketches from Mel Brooks and Bill Persky. They even revisit one of the sketches that’s also on the boxset.

While the boxset doesn’t have any complete episodes of Your Show or Caesar’s Hour, cutting to the best sketches gives a true sense of why Sid was a powerhouse in those early days of TV. He knew how to surround himself with talent. He even had Woody Allen scribbling away for him. What makes Sid Caesar: The Works an amazing collection is that it makes sure that we know about all the talent Sid surrounded himself with on the shows. He didn’t try to pass himself off as the genius who did it all. In the past few years Shout! Factory has given us amazing collections of Ernie Kovacs, Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor and Steve Martin. Now they’ve been able to give Sid Caesar his rightful place as a man who knew how to have fun on TV. Sid Caesar: The Works provides hours of joys for fans of comedy and early television broadcasts. After watching all 14 hours, you’ll not think of Sid Caesar as merely the coach at Rydall High.

The video is 1:33:1 full frame for a majority of the sketches. The transfers look fine even though they are 70 years old. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The levels are much better than imagined.

Friars Club: Sid’s 50th Anniversary in Showbiz (20:39) has highlights of the evening as Hal Kanter, Jonathan Winters, Howard Morris, Nanette Fabray, and Jeff Ross poke fun of him.

The Dick Cavett Show (15:46) originally aired on March 15, 1971. It’s a great chat between the two.

NYU Master Class (28:14) is rough video shot when Sid visited with the college kids.

Caesar’s Writers (30:56) has Sid sit on stage with many of the men that gave him such great material including Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Carl Reiner and Larry Gelbart.

In the Beginning: The Caesar Years (46:26) covers the early years. Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner talk about the time.

The Paley Center for Media’s Salute to Sid Caesar (107:28) is part memorial service and part tribute to the actor after his passing. Billy Crystal talks with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner about their pal. There’s clips of Sid’s best moments.

Shout! Factory presents Sid Caesar: The Works. Starring: Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Nanette Fabray, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks and Howard Morris. Boxset Contents: 14 Hours on 45 DVDs. Released: September 4, 2018.

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