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You Bet Your Life – The Lost Episodes

Editorial review of You Bet Your Life – The Lost Episodes courtesy of Amazon.com

With 18 shows that remained unseen since their original broadcasts in the 1950s, You Bet Your Life: The Lost Episodes offers another welcome example of the way DVDs are preserving our precious television heritage. Of course, this long-running game show (1950-61) was barely a game show at all. Instead, it was a perfect showcase for the wit and whimsy of Groucho Marx (1890-1977), who clearly relished the third major chapter (after stage and movies) of his illustrious career.

You Bet Your Life - The Lost Episodes

With his mischievously elevated eyebrows and ever-present cigar, the great comedian was right at home with average and above-average civilians, recruited from the studio audience in offbeat pairs to answer quiz questions and win typically modest sums of cash. “Say the secret word and split a hundred dollars,” said Groucho as each contest commenced, and a mangy stuffed duck named Julius (Groucho’s real name) would drop from the rafters to reveal the secret word.

While there was a modicum of preparation before these shows were filmed, most of Groucho’s one-liners and snappy comebacks are impressively off-the-cuff, hilariously demonstrating the mastery of humor that Groucho–still vital in his well-heeled sixties–had honed over decades of live performance. His frequently nervous contestants are equally amusing, sometimes giving as well as they got from their rapier-witted host. They are also occasionally exceptional: professional baseball umpires; super-athlete Bob Matthias; a decorated Korean War hero; a Mr. And Miss Universe; a celebrated mystery writer; TV comedian Ernie Kovacs; British “hipster” comic Lord Buckley; and even Gary Cooper’s mother appear as contestants.

With a revealing glimpse of ’50s popular culture, these well-produced DVDs also include a wealth of You Bet Your Life artifacts: the “stag reels” showcase Groucho’s deft handling of “mature humor” edited from the original broadcasts; a behind-the-scenes film reveals the show’s inner workings and primary staff; and ads for Plymouth/DeSoto dealers (the show’s sole sponsor) are quaintly charming by latter-day standards. Best of all, Groucho’s original radio audition is included, along with a priceless 10-minute radio clip featuring Groucho and Bob Hope–a comedy gem that led to Groucho’s long-term employment on television. For Marx Brothers and Groucho fans, this is a treasure trove of smile-inducing nostalgia. –Jeff Shannon

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