Television Report: The Best of Groucho: You Bet Your Life (1961)

Book coverI picked this DVD up at a church garage sale four years ago (which, come to think of it, was the last time our church had a garage sale, it seems). I watched Duck Soup and Horse Feathers in 2021, but I guess my recent viewings of old Twilight Episodes got me more in the habit of watching a couple of old shows in an evening instead of watching a film. So it continues here.

This show aired the same time as the Twilight Zone episodes: 1961ish, when television was still black and white. Color was coming a couple years later, although widespread penetration would continue into the 1970s–both my beautiful wife and I remember secondary television sets in our homes were black and white.

At any rate, this DVD features two episodes of the game show wherein a set of couples essentially play one category’s worth of Jeopardy! and try to amass a higher dollar amount than other participating couples. Each round begins with Groucho reparteeing with the couples, and this really amounts to about half of the show. Then the couple gets to choose questions from a category that they’ve previously selected with dollar amounts up to $100. If they get it right, the amount is added to their score, and if they get it incorrect, an amount is deducted–so you can see how I compare it to Jeopardy! At the beginning of the show, the duck drops down with the Secret Word, a common word, and if either of the contestants mentions it, it is also added to their score. The winning couple gets a crack at a question of higher value at the end of the program, and if no one gets it right, the value increases for the next program. That’s basically it. Groucho hamming it up and a couple of questions for contestants in between.

I found one particular thing interesting. The show looks to have three cameras: One on the contestants, one on Groucho, and one wider view. Most of the show uses camera’s one and two, but when they begin the question and and answer period, they go to the wider shot for a second, and the announcer comes in, and the viewer sees how small the set is. The contestants are on the left, the announcer has a hanging mike on the right, and Groucho is on the right, and the space between them is that of a small kitchen table (although they’re standing, and it’s not actually a table). Compared to modern game show sets, it’s tiny and intimate.

So I found it more interesting as an artifact of what was on television sixty years ago and because I like Groucho Marx more than a quiz show, although I did okay and the questions were, again, akin to the things you would find on Jeopardy! today. Maybe a little dated, but certainly closer to my wheelhouse than modern trivia nights. Where, I guess, I do okay which is not winning.

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