Red Skelton was as gifted a clown as there ever was on the small screen. The gentle, self-effacing and timeless funny man is the perfect subject for Catcom's TV Classics Four Episodes of The Red Skelton Show complete with 10 classic commercials.
Clem Kadiddlehopper, Freddie Freeloader are both featured in this four episode collection along with Skelton's live performance at the United Nations which was broadcast live by CBC the feed picked up by CBS at the time. The beauty of the first episode - the live show at the U.N. - is the utter seamless understanding that a truly great pantomime can extract from such a diverse audience as the members of the United Nations. With the sole exception of a song in the middle of a great series of pantomimes this has to be one of the more memorable episodes in television history and well worth the time to
The second episode starts with a couple of clever pantomimes before leading into a bizarre story of modern art gone mad. The hapless Clem Kadiddlehopper is aided and abetted in this comic piece by the great character actor John Carradine as an artist cum agent who discovers the artistic talent of Clem. One of the little touches which make the watching of these Skelton episodes out of the ordinary for modern viewers are Skelton's frequent ad-libs which when they first occur seem to be mistakes until you realize that this was live television and any mistakes were already committed to the airways. This isn't so different from today's live to tape process which sends out live shows unedited but the freedom the stars had to ad lib was much greater then than it is now. Anyone who follows modern art and the likes of Mark Kostabi will appreciate Clem's meteoric rise to fame.
The third episode features Skelton's greatest creation Freddie the Freeloader. Freddie must protect a secret something left in his possession by a strange man. Edward Everett Horton is featured as a fellow gentleman of itinerant domicile though those quick with television faces will recognize Richard Deacon (who played Mel Cooley on the Dick Van Dyke Show) in a small roll as the man who drops the mysterious package into Freddie the Freeloaders hands. The play between Skelton and Horton is well done and well worked out dialogue the problem comes later in the story when either the wheels come off the script on live television of the tendency to ad lib goes one step too far.
The final episode could have been one of the most charming episodes in Skelton history. It had the ingredients. Jackie Coogan, Vincent Price and a great story line. Unfortunately the wheels come off the script early and the story of Freddie the Freeloader finding a Da Vinci limps on home with only enough of the script left in tact so that the viewer can understand the story. Price, who himself was an amazing actor and a noted artist and collector, is completely wasted in this piece.
It could just be modern sensibilities, it could be that the variety show really has seen it's day and we just don't get it, or it could be that Sherwood Schwartz who worked with Skelton was just honing his writing skills for Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch who is to blame for the skits in these episodes. No matter how you slice it the only good thing is when Red Skelton is on the stage by himself doing stand-up or pantomime in the first episode and the first five minute of each subsequent episode then he is pure gold - the rest is mildly entertaining but forgettable.