Groucho and Cavett: A Touching Documentary

Groucho Marx and Dick Cavett on the Dick Cavett Show, June 1969. Photo by Ron Baldwin.

Groucho and Cavett explores the relationship between talk show host Dick Cavett and a frequent guest, comedian Groucho Marx.

Groucho Marx–one of the Marx Brothers–was one of the most popular guests to return time after time on Cavett’s show. What you might not know about the two is that Marx was also Cavett’s mentor of sorts. After watching a young Cavett perform stand-up on The Merv Griffin Show, Marx later wrote a letter and offered tips for his performance. This isn’t something that he was known to do so it was very much out of his wheelhouse. It’s a touching gesture that would later result in the third act of his career as a talk show guest. Prior to Cavett transitioning from writer to performer, he first met Cavett while attending the playwright George S. Kaufman in 1961. The rest is history.

Groucho was less restrained whenever he appeared on Cavett’s shows. It was anything goes almost as soon as he was introduced. This fact is just one of the reasons why his appearances are so entertaining to watch. When you’re working with someone with that kind of razor sharp wit, it is going to be fun! This probably wasn’t the case for appearances on other talk shows but again, the relationship between the two is why it works. Plus, I love the interactions between Groucho and Cavett’s bandleader, Bobby Rosengarten, during the song performances.

What surprised me the most in watching the film is that filmmaker Robert S. Bader chooses to air the song performances in full. He could have just done snippets but let’s be honest: any Groucho fan will want to watch them in full. Whether it’s “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady” or “Show Me a Rose,” audiences will have fun watching him sing. Speaking of Lydia, composer E.Y. Hamburg shares an anecdote in archival footage. There are only a handful of archival interview clips but Bader makes them count. Every now and then, Cavett appears on screen to answer some questions and it segues into the next clip.

The documentary only runs about an hour and a half. The initial run time was much longer but there are several deleted scenes that will be available on the film’s DVD. We’re talking about Groucho Marx here! As a fan of both Groucho and Cavett, I honestly could have watched the film beyond its run time. Anyway, Bader has most of the appearances at his full disposal. Unfortunately, the morning show has less footage available just because of ABC erasing the tapes every few weeks. What footage survives is because of clips airing on Cavett’s primetime specials. In any event, this documentary will prove to be invaluable resource for comedy lovers in the generations to come.

Groucho and Cavett is a touching documentary on their friendship during the comedian’s third act of his career.

FEATURING: Dick Cavett, Groucho Marx, Jack Paar, George Burns, E.Y. Harburg, Woody Allen, Erin Fleming, Dan Rowan, Phyllis Newman, Shelley Winters, Truman Capote

American Masters: Groucho and Cavett premieres December 27 at 8 PM ET on PBS (check local listings) and will be available to watch on the American Masters website and on the PBS Video App. The DVD will be released on January 3, 2023. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.