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The Dick Cavett Show – Hollywood Greats (A TV on DVD Review)

Updated: May 11, 2022

The Dick Cavett Show - Hollywood Legends

The Dick Cavett Show – Hollywood Legends

The Dick Cavett Show

Hollywood Greats (Shout! Factory-2006)

Marlon Brando flies all the way from Tahiti to warn us about the plight of the American Indian, whether we want to hear about it or not. Bette Davis calls the film Myra Breckenridge “a disgrace.” Fred Astaire treats us to his singing and dancing until we want to beg him to stop. Alfred Hitchcock unintentionally shows us his Alfred Hitchcock impression. Groucho tells tiresome stories as we watch his mind slip away before our very eyes. Orson Welles relates to us his sitting next to Hitler during some social function (probably not a bar mitzvah). And for all her excellent breeding and private-school education, Kate Hepburn has terrible posture: she sits low on her spine with her knees up to her chin and her dogs on the coffee table.

Watching Dick Cavett: Hollywood Greats is like enduring a long weekend at your grandparents’ house. You love ‘em; you want to spend time with ‘em; you value their contribution to your world; you know they won’t be around forever and you want to appreciate ‘em; but STOP! Please, please STOP!

Cavett, wearing seventies ties that are larger than he is, is the darling of the intellectual set and the preferred interviewer of the mahvelous old-time stahs of grand old Hollywood. They pretend to be humble, but they never seem to tire of talking about themselves. And why should they? Cavett’s audience of leftover fifties fuddy-duddies and sixties freaks and eggheads, all badly dressed, feed their egos.

For instance, take Groucho. Please. He’s the emperor sans his clothes. Genius maybe, but not here. Maybe at some point, but not during his overlong interview, where he sucks more air out of the room than his cigar and Dan Rowan’s cigarette.

In between ranting that President Harding was a crook and spinning other stories that go nowhere, Groucho wheels out his latest lay (just call her Groucho’s Yoko). She’s a young chippie and “aspiring actress” named Erin Fleming who is about one-third his age. She claims to be his “secretary.” “That’s the euphemism of the year,” responds Groucho, as only Groucho could, eyebrows and all. Still, he has moments of clarity: he realizes that his old “pictures” are now a huge hit on college campuses (“the kids are crazy about these pictures.”) and that “it’s no fun being married after two years.”

Speaking of crazy, Marlon Brando makes a very rare TV appearance, at the height of his moviemaking legend (The Godfather, Last Tango in Paris, and Cavett quips to him, “seen any good movies lately?”). Brando, in a jean jacket and scarf and about two hundred pounds lighter, is here to tell us, in his vaguely scary way,  “We have so little time to talk about Indians and there is so much to say.” He manages, though. Oh, boy, does he manage.

There are other social issues in the early seventies, even for big movie stars. New York City was crime ridden and nasty, but does that mean that Bette Davis had to walk on stage carrying her purse? Couldn’t she trust anyone to hold it for her while she appeared on national television, or couldn’t they have at least rented her a locker? And when Cavett tells Davis that he’s for Women’s Lib, she clarifies by asking, “You mean you’ve liberated a lot of women?”

If these old coots are, on some level, our extended family, then we have at least one cool relative to hang out with. His name: Robert Mitchum. The macho star, previously infamous for being busted for possession of marijuana before it was “in,” has one-word answers for everything (Cavett: “What’s the secret to [your] thirty-year marriage?” Mitchum: “Deviousness.” Cavett: “Were you ever kicked out of school?” Mitchum: “Often.” Cavett: “What drives people in Hollywood?” Mitchum: “Fear.”).

Director John Huston, when asked, while filming The African Queen, what he used for leeches, he answers, “Leeches.” Equally practical is Huston’s advice that Hollywood should remake bad pictures better rather than remake good pictures worse (advice that is still relevant – and necessary!).

Orson Welles is the uncle with the magic tricks, who tells us that he hates being called a boy genius, but he wears black, the color worn by all boy geniuses, and not just because it’s slimming. “I like when people talk to me, not when they talk to Orson Welles,” he warns us. And Alfred Hitchcock, who, by 1972, still is but still really isn’t Alfred Hitchcock, promotes his new flick, Frenzy, about the body of a murdered girl who has fallen off a potato truck.

The movie-going public, with much more meat and potatoes on their plate these days, did not work themselves into a frenzy over this Hitchcockian effort. And pity poor, bearded Kirk Douglas, who is as passé as his son Michael is new and fresh on the scene, and who says, “I wanted to do a picture, Dick, that’s sheer entertainment.”  Whatever that “picture” was, it was forgettable and ignored.

Our favorite bohemian aunt, Kate Hepburn, lectures that “kids today” are pompous because they don’t listen, and yet she throws around the word “stupid” a lot.

It’s a time when ninety-minute conversations are more tolerated by viewers not conditioned by remote controls and five-hundred channels, and these old-time legends are not as legendary these days as they were even thirty years ago (take a random man-on-the-street poll today, and see how many citizens know who these people are). We are still required to worship them, but the services are less sparsely attended and the idols are being replaced by lesser quality imitations.

Ronald Sklar

Copyright ©2007  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 14, 2007.

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