The first part of the nearly four-hour Woody Allen: A Documentary, the latest of the American Masters specials on PBS, premiered Sunday evening. Part two airs tonight. The chief virtues of the documentary, in my view, are 1) new, extensive interviews with Allen himself, and 2) archival footage from throughout Allen’s career, including his early days as a comic doing everything he can to make it big—including, at his managers’ insistence, basically every television appearance that came his way.
That latter category includes the documentary’s most surprising scene: Woody Allen, in 1966, on television, boxing a live kangaroo. The unlikely altercation was staged for an episode of the short-lived TV series Hippodrome, a one-season variety show that actually came out (in truncated form, apparently) on DVD in 2008. In September of that year, someone uploaded a full clip of the interspecies bout to YouTube.
Allen is a great physical comedian, and he earns a few laughs from the delighted audience by striking his own jittery versions of classic pugilistic poses. But watching the entire awkward routine feels more uncomfortable than side-splitting—mostly because the kangaroo looks decidedly unhappy to be there. Though Allen and the animal seem content to dance around each other, the kangaroo wrangler keeps pushing the two together, until we get, here and there, something approaching real fisticuffs.
There is one consolation to sitting through the whole demeaning business, though: If you watch to the end, you get to see the wrangler receive his well-deserved and rather painful-looking comeuppance.