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The Dick Cavett Show: Hollywood Greats DVD Review

The Dick Cavett Show: Hollywood Greats

October 12, 2006

Director: David Barnhizer,
Starring: Dick Cavett, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Groucho Marx, Kirk Douglas, John Huston, Marlon Brando, Robert Mitchum, Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock,

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DVD Review

In our current soundbite culture the art of conversation is dead. Talk shows (both day and night) are merely vehicles for actors, authors and musicians to promote their latest movie, book or record. They are given very little time to have a conversation between commercial breaks. With the exception of The Charlie Rose Show, which is on public television and has no commercials, there are very few shows were people can talk to each other for longer than five minutes without an interruption.

In the 1970s, The Dick Cavett Show was a great source of fascinating conversation. He interviewed a diverse group of people during the various incarnations of his program and this new boxed set features an impressive collection of Hollywood icons who normally shunned these kinds of shows and the Hollywood scene in general. Cavett gets notoriously private stars like Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis to open up in wonderfully unpredictable interviews. At first, they seem uncomfortable or, in Hepburn’s case, even confrontational but Cavett, like any good interviewer, makes them feel at ease. This, in turn, makes them feel comfortable enough to talk about their lives and careers.

One show features a killer line-up of movie directors: Mel Brooks, Frank Capra, Robert Altman and Peter Bogdanovich. Altman speaks intelligently about the nature of filmmaking and how he uses screenplays as a guide that allows for improvisation. Brooks is his usual entertaining self, breaking into a comedy routine as soon as he comes out. He then segues into a Humphrey Bogart impersonation that cracks Cavett up. Bogdanovich talks about why he shot The Last Picture Show (1971) in black and white. Finally, Capra tells several amusing and entertaining anecdotes. It is great to see all of these amazing filmmakers in the same room together, laughing with each other.

Marlon Brando was one of those unattainable guests. He simply just didn’t do talk shows. However, it turned out that he was a fan of Cavett’s show and agreed to do it if he could talk about the Native American Indian cause that he was passionate about at the time. Brando is the definition of movie star power with undeniable charisma that manages to captivate Cavett and the audience with a simple grin. He ends up talking about the clichéd, often negative portrayals of ethnic minorities in Hollywood movies and its damaging effect that gets a little too preachy for his own good.

Another potentially tough interview subject, Robert Mitchum, comes across as quite pleasant and engaging as he tells all kinds of entertaining Hollywood stories. He clearly felt comfortable enough around Cavett to speak candidly about his career. He talks about his lifelong struggle with insomnia and nonchalantly about his stint on a chain gang, alluding to his escape from it. There is a real absence of ego (as opposed to Brando) as the actor speaks humbly about his reputation. Mitchum was one of those rare movie stars unafraid to speak his mind. The man led a colourful life and was someone you could listen to for hours because he was such a good storyteller.

By the time Cavett interviewed Orson Welles, the filmmaker had been completely ostracized by Hollywood and was reduced to shilling products on T.V. in an attempt to scrape together enough money to finish a myriad of uncompleted movies. Welles is his usual charming self, talking about how he hates watching his own movies because he always wants to go back and change them. Welles cites the studio’s meddling with The Lady from Shanghai (1947) and one scene in particular in which music he did not want was put in ruining the intention of the scene.

Finally, rounding out the set is an interview with Alfred Hitchcock around the time that Frenzy (1972) came out. The veteran filmmaker displays a wickedly cheeky sense of humour as he mentions how a lawn mower (from an ad during the break) would be a good murder weapon.

Special Features:

The first disc features “Katharine Hepburn Uncut,” showing her with Cavett before the show started getting ready. It allows us to see them in unguarded moments that provide fascinating insight on the legendary actress.

Discs two, three and four include promos for various shows. Also on this fourth disc is “Seeing Stars with Dick Cavett and Robert Osborne.” The two men talk about the differences between talk shows when he did them and that state of them now. Cavett speaks about how he became a talk show host and how his hero was the legendary Jack Paar. Osborne takes Cavett through some of his more famous guests (complete with clips) and offers his recollections of them.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 85%

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