DVD Review HTF REVIEW: A Day At The Races (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED).

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, May 2, 2004.

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  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]




    A Day At The Races





    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 1937
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 109 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.37 Standard
    Audio: DD Mono
    Color/B&W: B&W
    Languages: English
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    MSRP: $19.97
    Package: Keep Case





    "That looks like a horse pill to me. Are you sure doctor, you haven’t made a mistake.

    You have nothing to worry about. The last patient I gave one of those to won the Kentucky Derby…"



    The Feature:
    On May 4th, 2004, Warner Brothers will be releasing all seven Marx Brothers’ films under their control. The titles included in the set, (all of which were originally produced by MGM, RKO & UA), A Night at the Opera (1935), A Day at the Races (1937), Room Service (1938), At the Circus (1939), Go West (1940), The Big Store (1941) and A Night in Casablanca (1946) are being released on DVD for the very first time, as part of The Marx Brothers Collection, a deluxe five DVD gift set priced at $59.92. A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, and A Night in Casablanca will also be available as single discs priced at $19.97 SRP.

    A Day At The Races was an unlikely project for director Sam Wood who also directed a Night At The Opera, and was known for his direction of such drama films including Our Town, Goodbye Mr. Chips and The Pride Of The Yankees. A Day At The Races was the second film for the brothers under the MGM banner and the bar was raised after their success with the film’s predecessor, A Night At The Opera. There was also concern for the brothers in terms of their future at MGM as their greatest supporter, the young genius Irving Thalberg, died during the production of the film.

    Louis B. Mayer didn’t find the humor of the Marx Brothers’ particularly funny which ultimately lead to a huge confrontation between the studio head and Groucho during the film’s production. After an exchange of words, Mr. Mayer never forgave the wisecracker for his comments and held a grudge resulting in a lack of resources for the brothers and their films throughout the remainder of their tenure at MGM. And so, it would seem, (perhaps with the exception of A Night In Casablanca), that A Day At The Races was the last truly great film that the brothers would appear in.

    The film which boasts an almost identical cast from its predecessor, A Night At The Opera with the exception of the leading lady, Maureen O’Sullivan (probably most known for her appearances in the many MGM Tarzan films) whose character, Judy Standish, runs a sanitarium which is on the verge of bankruptcy. Her only hope in keeping the institution afloat is to appease her wealthiest resident, Emily Upjohn (played by longtime Marx Brothers’ co-star Margaret Dumont). Emily has a long history with a certain physician, Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush (played by Groucho Marx) and is insistent that he is brought in as the facility’s Chief of Staff. Problem is, well… the good doctor is not really a psychiatrist, he’s a veterinarian – a horse doctor. While others scheme to get Judy to sell her facility for a planned building project, her boyfriend, Gil Stewart (played by Allan Jones) has recently purchased a horse and they plan to use the winnings from the upcoming race to keep the sanitarium from going under. At least that’s the plan…

    Fans will be pleased to hear that all five discs from this set (containing the seven films) have finally arrived from Warner Brothers in single keep cases. Here’s hoping the trend continues.



    Video:
    After just having watched A Night At The Opera, I was curious to see how the 2nd installment would compare from the boxed set and again it did not disappoint. In fact, I’d even give the slight edge to A Day At The Races.

    The black levels were exceptionally good and contrasted nicely were the whites. The film has a decent level of contrast which affords a better than average level of grayscale. There is a moderate and appropriate amount of fine film grain. While the level of image detail is just slightly on the soft side with occasional instances of sharpness, the overall image is very pleasing.

    Thankfully, anomalies such as dirt, debris and scratches were almost non-existent. The overall image was also quite stable with only a few instances of slight light shimmer. I found this transfer to be cleaner than even I anticipated. Thankfully, there were no problems with to respect to compression errors or haloing etc.

    Remember, this film is almost 70 years old - I give this video transfer a pretty good grade. Very nice job indeed.



    Audio:
    The audio on the DVD is a good monaural Dolby Digital presentation. Unlike my previous experience with A Night At The Opera, this track is virtually hiss free (there was only a slight hint of hiss but it was negligible at best). Personally, one of the biggest distracters I find in terms of watching classic movies is hiss (even more troubling than poor VQ), which is no doubt exacerbated by my electrostats. So, many of these titles require a fine balance by allowing the track to sound as natural as possible without crossing over to a muffled or compressed sound and this one is just right.

    Dialogue was always clear and intelligible and the track sounded quite natural. During the many musical numbers (unlike A Night At The Opera), lyrics were always clear and distinguishable. Sure, the track is rather thin but beyond the inherent limitations of the Mono track, it exceeded my expectations.

    We couldn’t ask for anything more…!



    Special Features:
    There are several special features on this disc starting with:
    [*] A Commentary by Author Glenn Mitchell who was responsible for book, “The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia”. It’s obvious that Mr. Mitchell knows a great deal about the brothers and does a pretty respectable job at offering up a number of interesting tidbits relating to the brothers and the film. In fact there is a great deal of focus on the recurring themes that appear throughout the films of the Marx Brothers. We also learn of the tension that exited between director Sam Wood and Groucho. There is a little more dead time than I would have preferred but this is still worthy of your time.
    [*] On Your Marx, Get Set, Go!. Is a short documentary that features the same group of guests that were included on the A Night At The Opera special feature, Remarks On Marx. Those in attendance include actor Dom DeLuise, writers Irving Brecher and Anne Beatts, Carl Reiner, film historian Robert Osborne, Larry Gelbart as well as several comments previously recorded from the late actress, Maureen O’Sullivan. There are a number of comments and historical tidbits offered up relating to the brothers as well as the feature film. Also discussed was the loss of what may have been the brothers greatest alliance, the death of Irving Thalberg who died during the production of A Day At The Races. Duration: 27:37 minutes.
    [*] A Night At The Movies is a short MGM feature which illustrates a couple’s outing to the theater where, if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Duration: 10:00 minutes.
    [*] Up next are three Vintage Cartoons. The first two are MGM’s, A Captain and The Kids cartoons both of which are in black & white. They are:

    - Old Smokey. Duration: 7:35 minutes.
    - Mama’s New Hat. Duration: 8:25 minutes.
    - Gallopin’ Gals directed by Hanna and Barbera Duration: 7:27 minutes.

    All three of the shorts are in reasonably good condition.
    [*] The Audio Vault contains two features starting with “A Message From The Man On The Moon” which is an audio recording of Allan Jones’ rendition of the song once thought to be lost, which was recently discovered by WB and included on the DVD. Duration: 2:36 minutes. The other inclusion is a Leo Is On The Air radio promo to promote the upcoming film, A Day At The Races.
    [*] Finally, the Theatrical Trailer is included which is also in respectable shape. Duration: 2:58.



    Final Thoughts:
    Admittedly, the quips and retorts in A Day At The Races are in shorter supply than that of its predecessor, A Night At The Opera and you know what…? I like it every bit as much. It’s still a very well structured film with a well written storyline and a slew of marvelous musical performances. To be honest, I could sit and watch Groucho recite the phonebook and be in hysterics for two hours with his sardonic wit and rolling eyes. His delivery was uniquely identifiable and will never be equaled.

    As I said in the A Night At The Opera review, buying these films individually, makes very little sense, when consideration is given to a cost per film basis. If you’re even remotely interested in the three bigger named films in the set (A Night At The Opera, A Day At The Races and A Night In Casablanca) as most fans will be, the set is the only way to go. My recommendation is not just limited to the reviewed film itself but most definitely the box as a set.

    Highly Recommended…!!



    Release Date: May 4th, 2004
     
  2. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

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    I'm counting the hours until Tuesday when I can buy this Marx boxed set.

    Thank you to Herb for his usual thorough & highly entertaining review. I love A DAY AT THE RACES as much as A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. My favorite scene is Groucho's attempt to seduce Esther Muir ("If I hold you any closer, I'll be in back of you!"):wink:
     
  3. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    The set's on its way to me now - great stuff Herb, I can hardly wait!

    ---
    So many films, so little time...
     
  4. Garrett Adams

    Garrett Adams Supporting Actor

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    I think the studio head was Louis B. Mayer, not Leo.
     
  5. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    Would that classify as a Freudian slip...? [​IMG]

    Herb.
     
  6. CraigF

    CraigF Cinematographer

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    After watching a few of the movies in this set, I realize I've become very spoiled by the Fox Studio Classics restorations. I think everything Herb has said about ADATR and ANATO are bang on, he made specific remarks about the quibbles I had in mind. Since I don't have the background in older films that Herb does, what he calls "moderate" grain I would call "just about the most grain I've ever seen in any film" grain. It did not detract from my enjoyment though. Much less hiss than ANATO.

    Fox still seem to be the masters of this stuff (pre-50's films) for the masses, but then I have no idea how the sources other studios have were cared for, or what they were made out of.
     
  7. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

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    To get some informative background on why these films look the way they do, check out Robert Harris' most recent column on THE DIGITAL BITS...


    http://www.thedigitalbits.com/articl...ris040704.html

    Although he doesn't discuss the Marx Bros. films specifically (which he recently did with an HTF posting just a few days ago), he does describe the state of B&W film elements from the 1930s, especially noting several titles that were reissued frequently throughout the past several decades (as many of these Marx Bros. films were).
     
  8. CraigF

    CraigF Cinematographer

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    Thanks Roger. I had read those threads/articles, but truthfully most of it is way over my head (the film tech stuff). I do recall the gist of it and that is why I wasn't condemning. It's just that most (all?) of my 20's films look lots less grainy, same for my 40's films, even the cheapie DVD's like A&C, so I was kinda wondering about the condition of these ones. I do not otherwise have a lot of 30's films, so didn't know what to expect (got the '32 Scarface the other day so will soon see how it compares).
     
  9. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Having said that I watched The Ghost & Mrs Muir the other night followed by the Rex Harrison documentary on the disc, and I was immediately struck by how much better the clips on the docu of the film looked; by comparison Fox looked to have overcooked the contrast on the film by a good margin. Casablanca, Alice Adams, The Prince & The Pauper, Now Voyager, Mildred Pierce (to name but a few) are prime examples of Warners transfers that look at least as good as anything Fox has produced from the (excellent) Studio Classics range.

    BTW Scarface has come in for a bit of stick from some, but I think it's a decent, if not stellar, job by Universal.

    ---
    So many films, so little time...
     
  10. CraigF

    CraigF Cinematographer

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    I have noticed that on many films, even some very recent ones (like last year!). At least, the docu clips look more to my taste. I think it was A&C Vol. 1 where some of the extras looked and sounded superior...I speculated it was because they hadn't been copied etc. so much. There was an instance where we speculated parts of the trailer had possibly been spliced into the film...better condition but an identical give-away flaw.

    Anyway, by "for the masses", what I meant was "cheap". So that people would maybe buy stuff that wasn't all boom and sizzle, in B&W even.

    I have good older stuff from many studios, so I don't have any favorites, but Warner, Fox, Criterion all do fine stuff, to my unprofessional eye... I don't have that much from Uni and MGM, but the little I have is OK.

    I will have to revisit RH's comments on 30's film stock, and put the info into the context of life, economic and otherwise, in 30's America.
     
  11. ToddF

    ToddF Agent

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    I watched 'The Inn of the 6th Happiness' yesterday and I was amazed at how much better the 'before' samples looked compared to the 2002 restoration. The new version seems too soft as if the film grain was sucked out of it....
     
  12. Clinton McClure

    Clinton McClure Casual Enthusiast

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    "Remember me? I was in the book business!"

    I can't wait!
     
  13. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    this is an absolute must to watch and am counting the days until the box set arrives ...
     
  14. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    I need to buy the code book before I get the DVD. "Get yer Tuitsy-Fruitsy Ice Cream..." [​IMG]
     

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