Marxist Mayhem!!

BOX SET BONANZA IS BACK ON THE AIR!!!Today on the big big show…WB unleashes a septet of Classic (and not-so-classic) comedy with THE MARX BROTHERS COLLECTION…How do you get an elephant in your pajamas? Read on! “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I’ll never know.”While that famous line may be from ANIMAL CRACKERS, there are a billion more like it in the 7-flick set THE MARX BROTHERS COLLECTION which includes the legendary films A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, A DAY AT THE RACES and A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA. Also included are two exclusive double headers featuring less popular (but mostly hilarious) flicks GO WEST, AT THE CIRCUS, ROOM SERVICE and THE BIG STORE.A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935)“And now, on with the opera. Let joy be unconfined. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons, and necking in the parlor.”OPERA was the first film the Marx Brothers, Groucho, Chico (pronounced Chick-O) and Harpo made for friend and MGM uber-producer Irving Thalberg. Following the poor reception for 1933’s DUCK SOUP, now considered their finest film, the brothers had assumed their careers to be over. Thalberg gave them a new lease on life with one of their best films, in which the trio tries to help a couple of aspiring Opera singers, in their careers and in love. Stalwart Groucho foil Margaret Dumont plays a hoity-toity matron of the arts, and much chaos ensues, including the legendary state-room scene, where the wacky ermanos cram a dozen people into a closet-sized room. There is much to recommend here, several hilarious scenes between Chico and Harpo, great Groucho-Dumont banter, and some of the best examples of the schtick that made them legends.The video and audio are good, although there is noticeable hiss on the mono track, and a few moments of choppy editing, where shots were dropped from the negative. Most of the issues are archival, and nothing that can be improved upon today. The extras consist of a shmaltzy Leonard Maltin commentary, an excellent 30 minute feature called REMARKS ON MARX which includes interviews and reminiscences from friends and celebrity fans of the brothers, a 5 minute clip of Groucho on the Hy Gardner TV show, the Oscar-winning short HOW TO SLEEP from Robert Benchley, and a studio short called SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE TROCADERO, that features singing, dancing and a multitude of cameos, including Groucho. A nice impressive start to the set.A DAY AT THE RACES (1937)“Ice Cream… Get your Tootsie-Fruitsie Ice Cream…”Bigger and flashier than OPERA, A DAY AT THE RACES continued the tradition set out in the earlier films, and followed the now-familiar formula, with the brothers trying to save a sanitarium, a race horse and two young lovers in jeopardy. Groucho plays Doctor Hugo Z. Quackenbush, a horse doctor being persued by a hypochondriac socialite, played of course, by Margaret Dumont. Quackenbush pretends to be a real doctor, and proceeds to turn the Sanitarium upside down, with the help of an orderlie/con-man (Chico) and a mute jockey (Harpo). This is one of my favorite Marx Brothers flicks, filled with epic routines, like the Tootsie-Fruitsie Ice Cream man, “Doctor, Doctor”, and many more, not to mention most of the best scenes Groucho and Margaret Dumont played together.Maureen O’Sullivan and Allan Jones play the put-upon lovers in this outing, and Douglass Dumbrille and Leonard Ceeley make much better villians than are usually found in these comedies. The picture is a little rougher than OPERA, with some fading and blur, but it is still infinitely watchable, and decent for a 70 year-old film. The audio has the same hiss as OPERA, though less pronounced, and the film contains one of the best MB musical numbers in “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm/Nobody Knows The Trouble I Seen” featuring Ivie Anderson and The Crinoline Choir. Extras include a commentary from Glen Mitchell, another 30 minute reminiscence documentary called ON YOUR MARX, GET SET, GO!, a deleted song, 3 vintage cartoons and the Robert Benchley short A NIGHT AT THE MOVIES. Giddyup!A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA (1946)“I shall be in the Supper Club.”“The Supper Club?”“Yes. Will you join me?”“Why? Are you coming apart?”When Warner Brothers found out that Groucho et al where planning to film a picture called A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA, they served Groucho with a letter stating that the title infringed upon their film CASABLANCA, and insisted upon a name change. Groucho was thoroughly indignant and sent them an infamous letter that now sits in the Library of Congress. It is without a doubt, one of the funniest things I have ever read. Check it out here .The brothers are quite visibly slowing down by this point in their careers, and this film marked the last time all three were on-screen together. Still, the wit and mania are there, and this is one of the best Marx Brothers films there are. Originally conceived as a full-blown parody of CASABLANCA, the boys eventually toned it down into the story of a Hotel Manager, two young lovers and a cadre of war mongering Nazi treasure hoarders. Hilarity, as always, ensues.The video on this one is about the best in the set, and the audio is equally good. Extras include the Bugs Bunny cartoon ACROBAT BUNNY, the Joe Doakes short SO YOU THINK YOU’RE A NERVOUS WRECK, and a few more treats.ROOM SERVICE (1938)“Shhh. Money.”This is probably the least Marx-esque (couldn’t rightly say “Marxist” now could I?) of the set, and has gotten a bad rap from critics as slow and flat. I disagree. While it does stray from the usual formula (it was a Broadway hit trimmed up for the brothers), it still has much of the Marx brothers humor and frivolity that make these films so special. This one concerns a down-on-their-luck stage troupe trying to sit-in at a hotel long enough to score their big backer and open their show. Things are complicated by a naïve playwright and a front-office flunkie who’s out to boot them from the hotel. Groucho Chico and Harpo are their usual gregarious selves, and are joined by Lucille Ball (all but wasted in a standard ingenue role), Ann Miller and Donald McBride. Almost entirely situated in a single hotel room, this claustrophobic farce is even better for the focused mayhem that the confined quarters provide.Culled from two disparate prints, the video is mismatched in spots where scenes have been spliced from a decent copy and a worn version. The audio fares much better. Extras include the Our Gang short PARTY FEVER and one of the very first Daffy Duck cartoons, DAFFY DOC.AT THE CIRCUS (1939)“I bet your father spent the first year of your life throwing rocks at the stork.”Every fan of the Marx brothers should see this film, for two specific reasons – to see Margaret Dumont hanging upside down on a trapeze, and to see Groucho’s inimitable performance of “Lydia The Tatooed Lady”. Compared to the previous Marx films, this is a little weak, but as it’s own comedy, it succeeds just fine. IN this one, the brothers end up in the Circus trying to save the show from a crooked owner, with Groucho playing a friendly lawyer named Loophole. Several bits are pure gems, like a bandstand floating out to sea – with the band still playing – and the aforementioned “Lydia”, for example. Audio and video are both decent for this film, which B-Sides ROOM SERVICE. Extras include Our Gang’s DOG DAZE and the hilariously demented JITTERBUG FOLLIES vintage cartoon.GO WEST (1940)“I give you my solemn word as an embezzler I’ll be back in ten minutes.”The brohams head for the Ol’ West in this madcap frenzy of hustlers and rustlers. Chico and Harpo play brothers looking to get rich in the Gold rush. Groucho is S.Quentin Quale, conman, embezzler and all-around phinagler. Many people overlook this film as an end-of-career flop, but I think this movie is hilarious. From the first scene where Chico hustles Groucho while Groucho hustles him is priceless, and other scenes, like Groucho and Chico getting lit with some saloon girls while Harpo cracks a safe, are equally enjoyable. This also has a tremendous ending with a Buster Keaton style chase on a speeding train, and a musical number where Harpo plays a loom. The only misstep, in my humble opinion, is a tired and unneccessary scene in a Native camp, where the “Injuns” are played up as tastelessly stereotypical. But, in the end, the film is highly enjoyable and more fun than a barrel of monkeys.Audio and Video are good and extras include a travelogue of San Francisco, a trick photography feature and the vintage cartoon MILKY WAY, which is an old favorite from way back when.THE BIG STORE (1941)“You mean a woman of your culture and money and beauty and money and wealth and money would, would marry that imposter?!”The B-Side to GO WEST is the unarguable low-point of the Marx Brothers ouevre. The brothers last film for MGM found them totally miscast in an unfunny movie, co-billed with second-rate muse-actor Tony Martin, and relegated to glorified cameos. Flimsy acting from the rest of the cast and a weak ending left the brothers little to work with, but somehow they still manage a few laughs. Apparently, the dissapointment of this experience led them to really kick out the jams for A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA, which is reason enough for this film to exist.Audio and video are decent, and extras include the early Hannah-Barbera carton OFFICER POOCH, as well a deleted song. The highlight of the disc is FLICKER MEMORIES, a hilarious dubover of a silent film that is funnier than the feature and well worth a look.In the end, wether you are a die-hard Marx fan, or a casual watcher of classic comedy, how can anyone pass up a set like this? The single dissapointment aside, this 7-flick set is worth three times the retail asking price. Pick it up… Thank WB for putting together another tremendous collection of legendary film… then watch… enjoy… laugh… and laugh again.

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