Benny Hill inspires no middle ground. Either you embrace him as is the funniest man in the history of British comedy or spurn him as a sexist embarrassment. Personally, I take the first approach and thus I can cheer this three-disk DVD collection, which is burdened with an abnormally long title but blessed with the funniest Benny Hill moments from his peak TV years.
This anthology offers a treasure chest of the funnyman’s most inspired lunacy. His spoof on the Marty Robbins song “El Paso” turns the Old West into a Keystone-worthy skein of outlandish sight gags and knockabout. “The Beach of Wakiki” is the most ribald of his songs, taking Polynesian protocol to saucy limits in its tale of a hula girl who is more than a match for groping hands. “Gavin Blod: A Man and His Music” engages in Hill’s hilarious awkward squad military humor, with drill exercises gone awry due to his inability to stay in step with his fellow soldiers. And of course, the incompetent but sunny Mr. Scuttle is on hand to discuss his latest misadventures (particularly his description of the British spaceship Indestructible 2 – so named because Indestructible 1 fell apart).
Much of the humor is rooted in its time: there are several parodies of the iconic TV detectives of the era (the chameleon-like Hill does wonderful impersonations of Kojak, Cannon and Ironsides). A skit in which Hill parodies Australian singer-comic Rolf Harris will have no impact on Americans who never heard of Harris, which is a shame since Hill does a brilliant take-off. But his Orson Welles imitation (as “Orson Buggy”) will be immediate recognizable and appreciated.
And yes, all of Hill’s perceived flaws are clear and present here. Sexy women find themselves chased, ogled, leered after, and in one case goosed with a thick brush covered in black paint. Hill engages in a lot of ethnic humor that is rather un-P.C., but at least he is an equal opportunity offender. And there is the inevitable gag with some male getting crunched in the crotch (complete with a painful sound effect to drive home the discomfort).
But then again, some comedy was never meant to be fully universal. As there are those who look at the fans of the Three Stooges, Jerry Lewis or Woody Allen and wonder why the other side is laughing, so there is a gap between those who despise Benny Hill and those who adore him. If you adore him, this DVD set is for you.