- Jul 6, 2003
The Marx Brothers – Silver Screen Collection
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: Various
Aspect Ratio: Full Frame (1.33:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English – Monaural; Spanish – Monaural (All Films Except The Cocoanuts)
November 9th, 2004
The Marx Brothers: Groucho (aka Julius), Chico (Leonard) , Harpo (Adolf) , and Zeppo (Herbert) are icons of vaudeville-type comedy that most of today’s youth are unfamiliar with…but whose comedy is no less timeless! Indeed, the Marx Brothers’ brilliant conglomeration of slapstick comedy, musical numbers, and clever plays-on-words have delighted movie lovers for over seventy years, and been lauded by the American Film Institute, which ranks five Marks Brothers films among its “100 Greatest Comedies”. Incidentally, Duck Soup, which is arguably the most famous of their films, sits at number 85 on the AFI’s prestigious “Top 100 Movies” list!
Born to Sam and Minnie Marx, the five Marx Brothers began performing (in various combinations) almost a century ago. After honing their craft for many years, they finally hit it big on Broadway with I’ll Say She Is, in 1924. From there, further success followed, but the lineup was shaken up a bit when Milton “Gummo” Marx elected to leave a career on stage/screen behind after their show Home Again, to devote his energy to managing his brothers and working as an agent. As you probably know if you are even a casual fan of their work, Gummo’s place in the act was taken by the youngest Marx brother, Zeppo.
In any case, the Marx Brothers’ notoriety continued to grow, and their leap to the big screen and even greater stardom was facilitated by The Cocoanuts, the first of their Broadway shows to be adapted into a feature film. Their second film,Animal Crackers, was also a stage production before it was made into a feature film.
Once Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers hit the big screen, the brothers focused their efforts on making further feature films, and appearing in them as “The Four Marx Brothers” - Chico, Groucho, Harpo, and Zeppo. Flash forward a few years, and after the commercially unsuccessful masterpiece, Duck Soup, Zeppo decided to leave show business, but the remaining brothers still pressed on, making 8 more film between 1933 and 1950. At that point, Chico and Harpo basically called it quits, but Groucho stayed in the spotlight, as the host of the popular television program You Bet Your Life.
The five films in this collection are the seminal Paramount-released classics that started it all, so without further adieu, let’s take a look at…
THE COCOANUTS (1929)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
After a successful run on Broadway, the Marx Brothers’ show The Cocoanuts was adapted into the boys’ first feature film and released through Paramount Pictures. In the movie, the motor-mouthed Groucho plays Mr. Hammer, the proprietor of a dilapidated hotel that has plunged into serious financial trouble. In an effort to wriggle out of his predicament, Mr. Hammer tries to swindle anyone and everyone who enters his hotel, from his own employees to a wealthy socialite named Mrs. Potter (Margaret Dumont, a frequent Marx Brothers collaborator). Incidentally, Mr. Hammer is also interested in Mrs. Potter romantically, but she continually rejects his advances, both subtle and overt.
Apparently, however, Mr. Hammer is not the only crook in the hotel, as Chico and Harpo (their characters are nameless) play con men that are working the joint. The observant Mr. Hammer is on to them immediately though, as he hones in on the fact that the suitcase the duo is carrying around contains nothing but air! Later on, when Mrs. Potter finds some of her jewelry missing, these two charlatans are among those suspected of pilfering the baubles. But did they really? This being a Marx Brothers film, hilarity ensues as the authorities attempt to track down the perpetrator(s) and recover Mrs. Potter’s jewels.
The Cocoanuts has all of the Marx Brothers’ trademarks – Groucho firing off one-liners, Harpo eating everything, and so forth. It is rather primitive however, in terms of its technical aspects, as the fact that it was made during the infancy of motion pictures with soundtracks seems to have had a significant impact on The Cocoanuts. For instance, the staging of the film’s musical numbers was done in a rudimentary, almost unimaginative manner, and the nearly static camera diminishes these sequences to a degree. This is a shame, because the legendary Irving Berlin’s music is delightful. I can’t say they are his very best works, but even so, they are elegant, memorable musical numbers that instantly recall the tradition of “old Hollywood”!
Now as you have no doubt noticed, I have elected to refrain from delving into the plot in any significant detail, which is really not a big deal, since I doubt most viewers watch Marx Brothers films for their compelling stories. Basically, as is the case with most of their work, the plot is fairly simplistic, almost an afterthought existing mainly to carry viewers through to the next set piece or to create the ideal situation for a play-on-words (or ten if Groucho is involved).
Interestingly, the filming process was not as simple as the plot, and not entirely pleasant for the Marx Brothers. In the booklet that accompanies this set, it is reported that Groucho felt that co-directors Robert Florey and Joseph Santley, negatively impacted the film, since one (Florey) “…did not understand English and the other (Santley) did not understand comedy.” I had a discussion with a big Marx Brothers fan about this very topic a while back, and if memory serves, he said that Mr. Florey was tabbed to helm the film because of his experience working with sound technology, as opposed to his qualifications to direct a comedy or his fondness for the Marx Brothers.
Personally, I think pacing is another small problem with The Cocoanuts, as at a running time of over 90 minutes, this film does drag a little in places. In large part, this is because it contains an abundance of lengthy musical numbers and superfluous romantic subplots that seem to have been a key component of the moviemaking formula during the period. Interestingly, as their career progressed, the Marx Brothers’ would slowly veer away from this formulaic approach to filmmaking, but their first film to do so completely, Duck Soup, was a financial failure! In any case, it seems that the multitude of musical breaks in The Cocoanuts cause more problems for the film than they solve, despite Irving Berlin’s wonderful tunes.
Pressing on, in terms of performances, I think Groucho was the standout here, spouting off his trademarked one-liners and zingers throughout. The gut-busting “Why a duck?” sketch he is featured in is easily among the Brothers’ very best, and most beloved. The rest of the Marx Brothers are also in fine form, even the reputedly “least talented” of the brothers, Zeppo, who does a commendable job as the hotel’s desk clerk. However, with the exception of an utterly superb performance by Margaret Dumont (one of the greatest “straight men” in motion picture history), the lot of the supporting cast is somewhat forgettable.
To sum my thoughts up, I believe that The Cocoanuts effectively captures the spirit of the live show it was adapted from, minus the improvisational magic of the Marx Brothers, of course. To be sure, it has a few “flaws”, such as too many lengthy musical numbers, static camerawork, and a rather slow pace in places, but there are more than enough of the Marx Brothers’ hijinks on hand to make this film a must-see for fans of their work – or fans-to-be!
At the very least, The Cocoanuts is a far better film than their later efforts like Love Happy, which were made long after the Brothers’ creativity had waned. And I suppose it is important to make a distinction here – even a mediocre Marx Brothers film is more imaginative and funny than most “good” comedies, from the 1920s all the way up to the present day!
ANIMAL CRACKERS (1930)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
In my opinion, Animal Crackers is not only an absolute classic, but a far more ambitious film than The Cocoanuts. In large part, I attribute this to the film’s director, Victor Heerman, who knew how to work with the Marx Brothers better than the co-directors of The Cocoanuts, and thus ably rectified many of the problems that I noted in the Marx Brothers’ debut film.
More specifically, although Animal Crackers is also an adaptation of a Broadway show, Mr. Heerman rightly decided to place more of an emphasis on what moviegoers loved about The Cocoanuts – the Marx Brothers! To realize his vision of what the film should be, the amount of musical numbers was cut down, the notable exceptions being the wonderful “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” and a couple of romantically-themed tunes, in favor of more comedy. Strangely, the film actually has a longer running time than the Marx Brothers’ debut film, but it doesn’t seem nearly as long!
Expository scenes are also pared down, and the film’s storyline is further simplified (if you can believe that!) as well. Basically, any such scenes are much more focused, moving the narrative forward in a minimal amount of screen time. I can only speak for myself, but in the case of the Marx Brothers, I think this effort to streamline things was a very welcome one. True, Animal Crackers may not be entirely faithful as an adaptation of the Broadway hit, like The Cocoanuts was, but I think the greater creative license the Marx Brothers were given, and its efficiency, make it a much better film.
Among other things, Animal Crackers is the film that introduced one of Groucho’s most beloved characters, Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding, whose theme would be reprised on Groucho’s long-running “You Bet Your Life” quiz show. With the exception of his “strange interludes”, the character was exceptionally funny; his antics highlighted by his ridiculous, and yet hilarious, discourse on Africa, and his many swipes at both the upper class and his wealthy hostess.
Of course, the other Marx Brothers got to show more of their skills in this film as well. Among their better scenes is a spirited card game between Harpo, Chico, and society matrons Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) and Mrs. Whitehead (Margaret Irving), and the crazy painting theft/return sequences featuring Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo, among others. The interplay between Harpo and Chico, who are trying to pilfer a painting on a dark and stormy night, made for particularly great fun!
Essentially, what story there is begins when the aforementioned Captain Spaulding, whose middle initial apparently stands for Edgar (hey, it’s a Marx Bros. Film, so don’t bother asking), is invited to the stately home of Mrs. Rittenhouse for an extravagant social gathering. At this overblown affair, thrown in honor of the famous African explorer Captain Spaulding, a $100,000 painting is to be unveiled by a wealthy art patron, Roscoe W. Chandler (Louis Sorin), making Mrs. Rittenhouse’s party the social event of the season.
Unfortunately, for various reasons, a number of Mrs. Rittenhouse’s guests have their sights set on the painting. These folks, including Signor Emanuel Rivelli (Chico), the Professor (Harpo), and Mrs. Whitehead, attempt to remove the original masterpiece and replace it with a fake. After one of many fakes is unveiled at the party, the subsequent search for both the painting and the thieves sends this gem of a film spiraling towards it conclusion via creative vaudeville-style gags, a couple of short musical interludes, and of course, plenty of clever word play by Groucho Marx.
In my opinion, Animal Crackers is not only a great film, and a significant improvement on The Cocoanuts, but it also is one of the Marx Brothers’ funniest films, bested only by Duck Soup and A Night At The Opera!
MONKEY BUSINESS (1931)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Monkey Business, the third film by the Marx Brothers marks an interesting transition, in that it was the first written specifically for the screen. As the film opens, Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo portray four stowaways on a luxury ocean liner. Of course, they end up being spotted and pursued by the ship’s crew, and despite each taking a unique approach to conceal their identity, they eventually end up becoming bodyguards for rival gangsters Alky Briggs (Harry Woods) and Big Joe Helton (Rockliffe Fellowes).
After many misadventures, the ship reaches port, and the brothers attempt to trick their way off the boat by presenting copies of a famous passenger’s (Maurice Chevalier) passport. When the ship’s crew notices the passport photo does not match the man in front of them, each attempts to prove he is Chevalier by singing the song he was known for. Without question, this is one of the most rib-tickling sequences in the Marx Brothers’ catalog, but the film also has many other highlights, including Harpo’s attempt to escape detection aboard the ship by putting on a hilarious puppet show.
The majority of the film clicks along at a brisk pace, but unfortunately, when the ship reaches shore, Monkey Business also runs aground, thanks to a very uninteresting subplot involving Zeppo, who chases after a kidnapped woman to close out the film after the aforementioned impersonation bit. Now as was the case with their previous films, the plot of Monkey Business is not really substantial at all. Indeed, the plot once again serves as more of a bridge between set pieces than anything else. Of course, there are the usual outstanding set pieces, but in this particular case, the wafer thin plot hinders the film a little more.
All in all, while Monkey Business does have its moments, I do not think it is not as rewarding an experience as some of the Marx Brothers’ other works, like A Night at the Opera or Duck Soup. Not to beat a dead horse, but this is particularly true of the silly, overlong fight sequence that caps off the film…in a manner that leaves much to be desired, no less.
HORSE FEATHERS (1932)
Running Time: 67 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
As is only natural, I suppose, the Marx Brothers’ films exhibited a consistent progression, becoming increasingly complex and streamlined with each successive outing, especially in terms of their technical aspects. More specifically, each successive movie seemed to be a bit more skillfully directed, edited, and shot than the last, which greatly enhanced the quartet’s attempts to make folks laugh.
With that in mind, while I do not think Monkey Business was quite as funny as Animal Crackers, I do think it was a slightly more ambitious film. Similarly, Horse Feathers was another significant step forward from its predecessors, in terms of comic style and streamlined structure, for the Marx Brothers. This time around, director Norman McLeod returned to the helm (he also directed Monkey Business), and crafted a film that is more put skillfully together than previous Marx Brothers efforts, and in my opinion, funnier than all its predecessors but Animal Crackers.
Yet another familiar face in Horse Feathers was the lovely and feisty Thelma Todd, who played Connie Bailey, a beautiful woman out to undermine the efforts of the Huxley College football team. However, for all of the similarities it has to previous Marx Brothers films, Horse Feathers’ story takes place in a very different setting - the campus of the aforementioned Huxley College, an institution of higher learning where extracurricular activities seem to take precedence over students’ academic pursuits.
If you ask me, I think Huxley is one honked up college, as would be any school where Groucho serves as its President. In addition to his capacity as an administrator, however, Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho) is the father of a student (Zeppo) whose grades have dropped off due to his relationship with an older “college widow” (Todd). Soon, Groucho starts to fall under her spell as well, although he is not swayed enough by her charm and beauty to give her the Huxley football signals as she asks.
Perhaps already spreading himself thin, Professor Wagstaff has yet another duty to the school – to help the football team achieve victory over rival school Darwin at any cost. To do so, the Professor heads to a speakeasy, with the intent of hiring some professional football players to take the field in Huxley gear. Unfortunately for him, Darwin beat Wagstaff to the punch and hired the real football pros, but to the benefit of our funny bones, he mistakenly recruits Pinky (Harpo) and Baravelli (Chico), whose football skills are highly suspect to say the least.
The particular scene in which their services are retained is one of the best in the film, highlighted by an exchange between Groucho and Chico over a password at the entrance to the speakeasy, but the aftermath is just as amusing. Specifically, since Pinky and Baravelli have been recruited to play for Huxley, they must maintain the appearance by attending classes at Huxley. As Baravelli is a dimwit and Pinky is a skirt-chasing mute, their masquerading as scholars obviously places the duo in some interesting situations, again, much to the amusement of viewers.
As I already mentioned, I believe Horse Feathers is a better film, technically, than its predecessors, and as usual, the acting is quite good as well, especially as it relates to the Marx Brothers and their madcap antics. Perhaps most impressively, though, is how the nearly overwhelming pace of inventive comedy is kept throughout the film, and how that leads to what is arguably the most satisfying conclusion to any Marx Brothers film made up to that point. Really, the quartet put their stamp on what is surely one of the most bizarre, insane games of football ever played, and since they were a part of it, you can be sure it involved not only a flagrant disregard for sportsmanship and rules, but also other unexpected things, like a horse drawn chariot! Crazy? Surely. Ridiculous? Perhaps. But it sure makes for a great capstone on Horse Feathers and a fun movie to watch…
DUCK SOUP (1933)
Running Time: 69 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
I love Duck Soup!!! Not only is it arguably the Marx Brothers’ greatest film, but for my money, it does perhaps the best job of intricately balancing the quartet’s unique approaches to comedy. Interestingly, however, despite now checking in at #85 on the American Film Institute’s “100 Greatest Movies” list, audiences of the time did not embrace the film at all. Indeed, Duck Soup’s less formulaic nature made it a dismal failure at the box office, which in turn caused Paramount to end their relationship with the Marx Brothers. Subsequently, they would go on to make films with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), which ironically did much bigger business than the now highly-regarded Duck Soup.
These things notwithstanding, as Duck Soup opens, we learn that a very wealthy and prominent woman, Mrs. Teasdale (the incomparable Margaret Dumont), will only provide the funds needed to kick the floundering economy of Freedonia into high gear if Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) is made its leader. Unfortunately for Freedonia and its economy, the ambassador from the country of Sylvania, Trentino (Louis Calhern) has a secret plan to thwart hers, using the world’s oldest weapon - love. To be more blunt, he intends to romance and marry Mrs. Teasdale, so he can take control of Freedonia instead of Mr. Firefly.
Forget any notions of serious political intrigue though, as the plot is merely a thread that weaves together more of the screwball comedy of the Marx Brothers! Indeed, shortly into the film, at a gala held in honor of Firefly, any perceptions that Mrs. Teasdale had built in the audience of Rufus Firefly being a “progressive and fearless fighter” are shattered when he appears in a somewhat crude and unceremonious manner! Maybe this is a stretch, but in a way, I believe the way Firefly appears sets the tone for the rest of the film. More to the point, the Marx Brothers use the “straight” supporting characters to bounce some truly wild comedy routines off of, but they serve little purpose otherwise.
As usual, much humor springs forth from the sharp contrast between the film’s very more “serious” dramatic elements and its comedy, especially when the two collide in the same sequence. For instance, when Mrs. Teasdale describes Firefly as “a progressive, fearless fighter”, he almost instantaneously contradicts her praise in his opening song, with the line “If you think this country is bad off now, just wait until I get through with it”! Though I have seen this film many, many times, that line always gets me to laugh…
The struggle for power that ensues propels the film along, and leads to some truly incredible comedy routines, which hit viewers from all angles at a breakneck pace! The steady stream of laughter is then kept flowing by Trentino’s trusted spies, Chicolino (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo), as well as a seductress (Racquel Torres) employed by the Sylvanian ambassador to try and cause a rift between Firefly and Mrs. Teasdale.
As you might expect, a large quantity of Duck Soup’s humor comes in the form of jokes and puns delivered verbally, but there are also some clever sight gags employed throughout the film. One sequence I remember vividly involves Chicolino and Pinky’s first conference with Trentino, the ambassador to Sylvania. During this particular scene, sight gags are successfully integrated amongst the many puns and plays-on-words, and thanks to smooth editing, the two approaches to harmoniously coexist for the benefit of the picture.
In another departure from their previous films, no Marx Brother performs a solo musical number. Though very impressive (especially Chico’s piano playing), I always felt that they had a tendency to feel forced, and to take me out of the previous films. Indeed, it seems as though all extraneous material or “fat” was trimmed away from Duck Soup, and to that end, director Leo McCarey deserves a lot of credit, for what is left is less a vaudeville act and more a tight, sassy comedy that revolves around the zany antics of his stars. To that end, I think McCarey’s brilliance lay with his ability to understand that people go to see films like this to see master comedians make them laugh, not to see them hamstrung by having to play characters that behave predictably or by the need to maintain the logic/cohesiveness of the screenplay.
Now, with relation to the performances in this film, I find that they are superb across the board. It almost goes without saying that each of the four Marx brothers are great, but the supporting players are better than usual in Duck Soup. This is particularly true of Margaret Dumont, who again makes a fantastic “straight man” for the wild and crazy Marx Brothers, most often Groucho, to play off. I have always liked her work in the Marx Brothers’ films, but I think she really hit her stride here!
In closing, unlike many of the Marx Brothers’ other Paramount Pictures films, such as The Cocoanuts, Duck Soup offers viewers very little chance for viewers to catch their breath. Again, director Leo McCarey did a fabulous job of leaving all superfluous material aside, which allows his stars’ creativity to fire on all cylinders. If anything negative can be said about this film, it is that the sheer volume of puns and gags in it requires multiple viewings to take them all in, but I can’t fault the Marx Brothers for such unadulterated ambition, especially when so much of said material works.
In simple terms, Duck Soup is a great, great movie!!! Let the debate over whether this or A Night At The Opera is a better film rage on…if you want to sit back and laugh, Duck Soup is a great film to do it with!
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
The good news: The DVDs in Universal’s five-film “Silver Screen Collection” feature decent transfers of the source prints for all five of the films!
The bad news: Said source prints have been somewhat ravaged by Father Time, and look their age.
To me, the most noticeable issue is that the image is peppered with grain and a significant number of spots and scratches throughout each film. The image in each film also flickers quite a bit (more so in the first couple of films), and occasionally exhibits a slight “jitter” as well. Given the age of these films, however, I cannot say I am too surprised.
Unfortunately, there is also some more serious and distracting print damage that manifests itself from time to time. Perhaps the worst example is a white vertical line that runs through the screen at 12 minutes into The Cocoanuts, which is visible for at least several seconds. I must note that the earliest films, The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers are the worst for wear, particularly in terms of detail, but each of the five suffers from the imperfections that I have listed above. That being said, for “old” films that do not appear to have been given major (and costly) visual overhauls, they have still been cleaned up to the point they are serviceable, in terms of image quality. Indeed, just look at Animal Crackers’ dark, dingy theatrical trailer, and see just how bad things could have been!
On a more positive note, beginning with Monkey Business, the transfers exhibit deeper, truer blacks, clean whites, and a fine gray scale. Further, overall detail improves just a bit, although the image is still soft, especially when characters and objects are in the background of a given shot. Sadly, a touch of edge enhancement is also visible throughout this series of films, though thankfully, it doesn’t create too much of a distraction.
All in all, given their age, I was expecting a variety of problems, and my expectations were fulfilled, although the source material is undoubtedly the cause of most (if not all) of the problems with the image quality. To put a finer point on it, it frequently looked as though I was watching the Marx Brothers’ perform their act through a dirty window! Interestingly, it also seemed as though some frames are missing from the films, an occasional issue, but one which is especially noticeable in Horse Feathers at approximately 33 minutes in.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
In this “Silver Screen Collection”, Universal Home Video offers the soundtracks for all five of the Four Marx Brothers classics in their original monaural form, and although they are nowhere near reference quality, they do succeed in one very, very important respect. Specifically, each presents dialogue in a clear manner, allowing every word to be heard.
In other areas, particularly as it relates to The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers the soundtracks are not quite as pleasing, although there is little doubt that the source material limited what could be done to clean them up. For instance, Harpo’s solo harp performances in Monkey Business and Horse Feathers exhibit a substantial amount of distortion. Other sound effects and musical performances tend to be similarly brittle and rough-around-the-edges, with the rudimentary recording techniques employed at the time frequently making themselves evident.
As might be expected of monaural soundtracks several generations old, the soundstage is entirely center-oriented as well, but again, this does not appear to be any fault of Universal’s transfer. Of course, the tracks appear have been cleaned up some, likely to squeeze every last drop of fidelity out of them and remove the most audible problems, but Marx Brothers fans should be prepared to expect the faint hissing and crackle that reveals the age of these films.
All in all, although they are not as crisp and clean as today’s multi-channel sound recordings, they should not be! Listening to each soundtrack carefully, I believe that this is a close approximation of how these soundtracks may have sounded originally, and not only that, it is likely that they have not sounded better on home video to this point.
NOTE: All of the films in this set have been subtitled in English, French, and Spanish!
The original theatrical trailer for Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers, and Duck Soup are included on the discs that contain the films.
The bonus disc contains three relatively brief interviews from “The Today Show”, taken from Inside the NBC Vault.
--- May 3rd, 1961 (Interview with Harpo Marx)
In this 7-minute interview, which is in extremely poor shape, Harpo was appearing on the Today Show to promote his autobiography, “Harpo Speaks”. As it turns out though, he chose to fool around and amuse his hosts instead!
--- November 8th, 1963 (Interview with Groucho Marx)
During this interview, which runs 4 ½ minutes, Groucho reminisces about auditioning and working with the great Marilyn Monroe. He also makes a candid comment about the film Love Happy.
--- July 17th, 1985 (Interview with William Marx, Harpo’s son)
During this interview, which also runs for about 4 ½ minutes, William Marx appears to speak about the reissue of “Harpo Speaks”. He also shows a few excerpts from home movies, which show Harpo without his wig, playing with his kids, fishing, and goofing around.
(on a five-point scale)
Films: :star: :star: :star: :star:
Video: :star: :star: :star:
Audio: :star: :star: :star:
Extras: :star: :star:
Overall: :star: :star: :star:
THE LAST WORD
Without question, the Marx Brothers were some of the most talented comedians ever to grace the silver screen. The sheer diversity and imagination of their comedy, which included plays-on-words and sight gags, among other things, was remarkable. In addition, the fellas also proved to be exceptionally gifted musicians and dancers!
Although it took a while for the Marx clan to become polished enough to realize success on Broadway, they eventually did. Moreover, their jump to the big screen made them household names, and for good reason. This DVD set features the first five films in their catalog, all of which are at least “good” by most accounts, including my own. Climaxing with the superb Duck Soup, this set offers fans the ability to watch the quartet progress as actors/comedians over the course of an extremely creative four-year period!
Unfortunately, as DVDs go, this set does leave something to be desired. The Digipak keepcase is pretty nice, and looks much like a book when closed. The included 40-page booklet (which is firmly attached to the packaging) is also nice, featuring poster art, photos, and a few bits of information on each of the five films included. Sounds good so far, right? Yeah, well the rest of the extras are a big disappointment, consisting of only the trailers for Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers, and Duck Soup, and approximately 15 minutes of “Today Show” interviews. I would have expected much more from a whole disc of bonus material, especially after seeing the excellent selection of value-added material in the previously released The Marx Brothers Collection DVD Set that highlights their years with MGM.
The audio/video quality also ranges from serviceable to below average, although I suspect that this has more to do with the condition of the source material than anything done by Universal to prepare them for DVD. In any event, in terms of image quality, it frequently appears as though the Marx Brothers are performing in front of a dirty window, which can be quite a nuisance. The sound is not too bad, though, as the characters’ speech is always audible. Just don’t expect too much else.
So, where does that leave us? Well, at the end of the day, getting five films this good for about $45 street seems like a good deal to me, even if the A/V quality and extras are below average overall. Since I would not have regretted ponying up the dough for them, I feel comfortable in recommending a purchase, although I would be much more enthusiastic about it if the visuals had been cleaned up a little more.