Have you ever seen Robert Redford’s excellent Quiz Show? If not, shame on you for not doing so, but if you have, then you will appreciate and better understand shows like Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life. This was a game show that ran throughout the 50’s and the early 60’s and was hosted by comic legend, Groucho Marx. Marx’s film career had sputtered out by the 50’s and he was pretty much looking for a second career that would provide him with a comeback. Marx was initially resistant to going on television as it was not something that film actors did (a prejudice still generally held by film actors today). However, Marx did end up hosting this show and it turned out to be a resounding success.

Clearly, the appeal of this show is not in trying to play the game or seeing how much the contestants are going to win. You Bet Your Life is all about Groucho Marx. Each episode is like a 30 minute stand-up routine by the comedian. Now I’ve never found the actor to be hilarious, but he is certainly witty and the entertainment value you get from him is the intelligent remarks he makes.

For those of you interested in Hollywood history, the history of the Marx Brothers is one of the most fascinating show business stories there is and I urge all of you to read the many books out there about them. Of the brothers, Groucho was the more cantankerous one and the one with the mean streak. You see shades of that on You Bet Your Life when he converses with the contestants. It being the 1950s, many of the things Groucho says on the show about women would have definitely gotten him fired. He says a lot of inappropriate and sexist things about women and, in general, there are many moments where you can tell the contestants are uncomfortable by his biting remarks. Although Groucho never held a degree, he was a voracious reader and quite self-educated. When a contestant on the show misses an easy question, you can see the annoyance in Groucho’s face.

An equally if not more interesting aspect of You Bet Your Life are the contestants who appear on the show. The episodes on the DVD contain many colorful characters and their life stories are very interesting to listen to. Its interesting to see how people spoke and lived during the 1950’s and watching these episodes is like viewing a time capsule of that era. Some of the contestants are famous guests like Phyllis Diller, Johnny Weismuller, a young Candice Bergen, and Groucho’s brother, Harpo. Whats more interesting, however, are the contestants who have weird talents or backgrounds. Groucho has a field day with these people and the interactions are absolutely classic.

An unsung hero of You Bet Your Life was the announcer of the show and sidekick of Groucho’s, George Fenneman. Fenneman is a great foil and companion to Groucho and the chemistry the two had compares to great duos like Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. There is one particular episode where one of the contestants has a huge crush on Fenneman and every time he opened his mouth to speak, she would swoon and giggle. Its a great episode as you watch Fenneman struggle to say his lines in the presence of the young woman contestant.

I was not expecting to enjoy You Bet Your Life anywhere as much as I did.

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