The Marx Brothers TV Collection
BW & Color
Running Time: 10.5 Hours
Release Date: August 12, 2014
The Marx Brothers were perhaps the very first comic entertainers that I embraced as a child. I have so many fond memories of sharing laughs with my father as we watched their early films on television. Watching a Marx Brothers movie was an "event" in our household.
During my teen years I collected their films on Super 8mm. When VHS arrived in the late 70s, I either bought whatever became available or made my own copies of what was broadcast on television.
Now as an adult, once yearly, I still take the time to pop in a DVD of one of their films. As many times as I have seen their movies, I still laugh just as hard as I did when I was kid sitting with my father. Watching a Marx Brothers film today is still considered an "event" in my home.
I was raised on the RKO/Paramount titles that Universal now owns. Most Marx Brothers fans consider their 5 films from the late 20s and early 30s to be their best work. I certainly share that opinion. I also feel that with the exception of Night of The Opera and perhaps A Day At the Races, all the later films the brothers did with MGM and United Artists were pretty substandard compared to their earlier efforts.
Alas, by 1941 the team's film career had come to an end. However, as one door closes, another opens. Television was just coming into its own and it was Chico Marx who realized that this was a medium where money could be made.
Of course, Groucho went on to have the most successful career in television as host of You Bet Your Life from 1947-1961. Harpo and Chico weren't nearly as successful, going their own separate ways appearing in various film shorts and television specials either together or solo.
I was too young to realize any of the Marx Brothers solo material initially aired on television. Through clips I had seen in documentaries such as The Unknown Marx Brothers or Inside the Marx Brothers, I became rather curious about their televised careers. Fortunately, a great deal of Marx Brothers television material has been unearthed and compiled for a brand-new set about to be released by Shout Factory!
It's quite apparent, upon receiving The Marx Brothers TV Collection on DVD, that Shout Factory put quite a bit of effort into making this a worthy collector's item for fans everywhere. In addition to 3 discs filled with over 50 variety show appearances, commercials and interviews, there is a 39-page booklet that gives a wealth of background information (and photos) on the individual paths the brothers took after ending their prominent film career as a team. A highly informative episode guide takes you through all the content included on each disc along with extensive background information provided by Marx Brothers film historian Robert S. Bader.
In fact, it's this very comprehensive guide that will act as a roadmap, encouraging viewers to read and select the content that is of particular interest to them. That is the exact method of which I chose to view this set, skipping around from disc to disc watching content I was specifically interested in discovering.
Each of the three included discs breaks down content by Full Shows, Bonus TV Clips and Bonus Short Films.
While there is too much content here to completely cover, I thought I'd highlight some of the more notable content I enjoyed watching on this set...
Disc One begins with the infamous The Incredible Jewel Robbery, presented by The General Electric Theater and hosted by Ronald Reagan. This half hour 1959 television special plays like a silent movie featuring Harpo and Chico as bungling robbers. It's actually the very first and last televised effort where the brothers all appear together (with Groucho in a very brief cameo).
Over on Disc Three, we can watch an almost unrecognizable Harpo in his only role as a dramatic actor, starring in A Silent Panic(1960). Harpo plays a deaf-mute performing as a wind-up mechanized man in a department store window who witnesses a murder. It's a rather odd performance for fans not used to seeing Harpo out of costume, but nonetheless, it's an interesting watch.
Still on Disc Three, one of my favorite clips, I've Got a Secret (1955), featuries Don McNeill and Chico Marx as they try to stump a panel of celebrity guests while dealing with a very chilling handful of ice.
Let's go to Disc Two where we find The Sunday Spectacular: Inside Beverly Hills (1956) which features one of the very few moments that Groucho and Chico appeared together on television.
Still on Disc Two, we have The Red Skelton Hour from September of 1962. I immensely enjoyed watching this show not only for the comedy of its host, but a segment featuring Harpo Marx as a inept guardian angel.
Back to Disc Three. He sings! He Dances! Watch Groucho be....well...a Marx, as her romps around NBC's The Arthur Murray Party(1953).
Still on Disc Three, a highly interesting segment from The Sunday Spectacular: Inside Beverly Hills hosted by Art Linkletter, which brings viewers to the home of Harpo and his family on Canon drive. What's interesting about the footage is that surviving kinescopes of the show have the color segments in black and white. What is included here is the original colorized segment that was saved by Harpo's wife, Susan.
One of the most interesting, and certainly most personal moments in this collection is the Marx Brothers Home Movie Collection, compiled and narrated by Harpo's son, Bill. It features one of the earliest known footage of Groucho at his Long Island home in 1928. There's some really cool footage of Groucho and friends Gary Cooper (and his wife) on vacation, and a tennis match with none other than Charlie Chaplin (to celebrate the opening of the Beverly Hills Racquet Club). There's rare footage of Harpo playing his instrument of choice during a 1933 appearance in Russia. Speaking of Harpo, you may not only be shocked knowing that he was one of the original nudists of his time, but there's actually included footage of him in the buff. There are only brief appearances of Chico to be found within this home movies. One of particular interest is aboard ship with his wife, Betty, while sailing to England in 1930.
What if you were to put a dime in the Coca-Cola machine and found one of the Marx Brothers working inside it? That's the premise for a Candid Camera segment from 1961 featuring Harpo Marx promoting his new book, Harpo Speaks!
Check out a very young Carol Burnett as she hosts The Wonderful World of Toys. It features Harpo Marx prancing around one of his favorite childhood stomps, Central Park, as he checks out various toys and hangs out with some celebrity friends. The condition of this segment is rather poor in areas.
A very touching short film, Beds (1976) features Groucho's very last film appearance prior to his death in 1977. The short was produced to promote Groucho's paperback edition of his long out-of-print book. A fitting touch is that it also features his longtime pal, You Bet Your Life announcer George Fenneman.
Video and Audio Quality
Purchasers of this set shouldn't expect anything miraculous when it comes to overall picture quality. It seems that the content has been thrown together with all its inherent warts which include fading, scratches, dirt and warping. The amount of underlying hiss varies pending on the content, but I never encountered any segment that was audibly unclear. Some of the footage has been derived from surviving kinescope material. For the most part, the material is quite watchable.
What is interesting is that either my Blu-ray player or display upscaled the 4:3 image to 16x9, which normally does not happen. I am wondering if most viewers with large-screen displays will experience the same conversion process. In any event, I didn't notice any extreme stretching or distortion, but I would estimate that the conversion probably amplified the problems within the source material.
Knowing the possible limited appeal that this set may have, I can understand the fact that Shout Factory didn't perform any extensive digital cleanup. Personally, if I dare say this, I am just happy to have some of this stuff in my collection no matter what the condition.
The Marx Brothers TV Collection does not represent the team's best work. That's only natural for the fact that their best work was as a team. That being said, I found myself utterly fascinated by the treasure chest of material that has been unearthed -- some of which is being made available for the very first time. With Harpo's son Bill Marx and film Historian Robert S. Bader at the helm, you can tell a lot of love and care went into this compilation.
Certainly, The Marx Brothers TV Collection caters more towards the die-hard fans. I highly suspect that if you qualify as such, you are going to immensely enjoy the many hours of viewing this collection has to offer.
Those who order early directly from Shout Factory will receive a limited edition poster and additional DVD (which we were not provided with for review).
The Marx Brothers TV Collection
1. The General Electric Theater: The Incredible Jewel Robbery (March 8, 1959)
2. The Jack Benny Program (April 3, 1955)
3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (October 20, 1962)
4. The College Bowl (March 26, 1951)
Bonus TV Clips:
1. Labatt’s Beer commercial # 1 (1960)
2. I’ve Got a Secret (April 21, 1954)
3. All-Pure Evaporated Milk commercial # 1 (Fall, 1951)
4. The Colgate Comedy Hour (March 30, 1952)
5. All-Star Revue (October 4, 1952)
6. All-Pure Evaporated Milk commercial # 2 (Fall, 1951)
7. All Star Revue (October 4, 1952)
8. Showtime (October 4, 1959)
9. Foster’s Freeze commercial # 1 (Fall, 1951)
10. U.S. Royal Showcase (January 20, 1952)
11. The Dinah Shore Chevy Show (October 4, 1959)
12. Labatt’s Beer commercial # 2 (1960)
13. Kraft Music Hall with Milton Berle (January 14, 1959)
Bonus Short Films:
1. You Bet Your Life Stag Reel # 7 (1960 – 1961)
2. Showdown at Ulcer Gulch (1958)
3. The Marx Brothers Home Movie Collection, with music and narration by Harpo’s son Bill Marx
1. The Red Skelton Hour (September 25, 1962)
2. The General Electric Theater: The Hold Out (January 14, 1962)
3. Celebrity Golf (April 23, 1961)
4. Championship Bridge with Charles Goren (October 16, 1960)
5. Groucho (July 1, 1965)
Bonus TV Clips:
1. The Colgate Comedy Hour (March 30, 1952)
2. All-Pure Evaporated Milk commercial # 3 (Fall, 1951)
3. The RCA Victor Show (February 1, 1952)
4. The Swift Show Wagon (May 21, 1955)
5. All-Pure Evaporated Milk commercial # 4 (Fall, 1951)
6. U.S. Royal Showcase (January 20, 1952)
7. McCall’s Magazine commercial (May 1961)
8. The Colgate Comedy Hour (March 30, 1952)
9. Labatt’s Beer commercial # 3 (1960)
10. The Perry Como Show (December 15, 1956)
11. I’ve Got a Secret (May 3, 1961)
12. Pepsi Cola Refreshment Musicale (November 27, 1957)
13. The Sunday Spectacular: Inside Beverly Hills (January 29, 1956)
1. The DuPont Show with June Allyson: A Silent Panic (December 22, 1960)
2. The Arthur Murray Party (November 16, 1953)
3. The DuPont Show of the Week: The Wonderful World of Toys (November 12,
4. Who Said That? (May 10, 1955)
Bonus TV Clips:
1. Labatt’s Beer commercial # 4 (1960)
2. The Colgate Comedy Hour (March 30, 1952)
3. Foster’s Freeze commercial # 2 (Fall, 1951)
4. The Sunday Spectacular: Inside Beverly Hills (January 29, 1956)
5. I’ve Got a Secret (August 17, 1955)
6. All-Pure Evaporated Milk commercial # 5 (Fall, 1951)
7. The Jackie Gleason Show (October 14, 1967)
8. Celebrity Billiards (July 19, 1968)
9. Candid Camera (May 14, 1961)
10. The Martha Raye Show (April 17, 1956)
11. The Dick Cavett Show (March 20, 1970)
12. Right Guard Commercial (May 1972)
Bonus Short Films:
1. Skidoo trailer (1968)
2. Beds (1976)