481 of 493 people found the following review helpful
The Marx Brothers hit their peak with "Duck Soup". Sure, "A Night at the Opera" and "A Day at the Races" were both bigger box office hits and, while both those latter films have their moments they just can't quite compete with the inspired anarchy of "Duck Soup". Let's start with the positives first. It doesn't look like most of the films have any footage missing as near as I can tell. Sure, some of the editing still looks ragged but most of their early films (and films from that era for that matter) have that "look". The first three movies are a bit static looking (since the first two were based on their stage plays that's not a surprise--they look like photographed stage plays). With "Monkey Business" and "Horse Feathers" The Marx Brothers began to develop a style that was a bit more cinematic. All five films are essential for fans.
Now the bad news. Universal has been slapping together boxed sets lately of older films and TV series with little to no extras and without any effort at restoration. They're where Warner Brothers was about 6 years ago. The prints often don't look as sharp as they could and there's plenty of analog blemishes to muddy up the picture as well. Digitally many of these flaws could easily be corrected on these prints. Since the original negatives are long gone (they were shot on nitrate stock. Nitrate stock is quite unstable begins to disintegrate and shrink after a couple of decades). Unfortunately, we're left with prints that are several generations removed from the original negatives which means that these will probably never look perfect. Could they look better? Absolutely as there's been minimal effort to clean them up and none of them look as if there has been an effort to restore them. "Horse Feathers" still appears to be missing some material (unfortunately most of it is probably permanently lost)that probably could have been restored from foreign prints. These are an improvement on the old Image discs with better contrast.
The extras are a bit skimpy at best. We get some older "The Today Show" interviews. There's no documentary on The Marx Brothers career, the challenges they faced in reaching an audience and why, ultimately, MGM put them under contract only to dilute their best qualities. I'm also disappointed that there's no audio commentary. Surely former UCLA Professor Howard Suber would have been available to do a commentary on these terrific films? What about vintage newsreels discussing the previews of their movies?
While I appreciate the book, the introductory essay is skimpy. The quotes of Groucho from various films and images from the films/posters was a bright idea it's just that Universal didn't go far enough. A nice short documentary incorporating the interviews included here would have been nice. I appreciate the idea of the book but I also wish that it could be removed from as it is a bit cumbersome in the middle of the accordian style set. Still, the design of the set is quite nice.
I give the films 5 stars for the quality of these classics but 2 stars for the inferior presentation from Universal. It's a pity as Warner has most of the lesser Marx movies but did a marvelous job of restoring them and adding extras including commentaries to them. Considering that Universal has a very good restoration department and that they've done a marvelous job of restoring Hitchcock's classic films "Rear Window" and "Vertigo", I'm really disappointed that more effort wasn't made here. Since, in the studio's view, the audience for these type of films continues to shrink, Universal didn't see the value of doing a massive restoration like what Criterion might do with these titles. It's an example of Hollywood not valuing its past.
95 of 96 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2004
In summary, I will echo what's been said already about this collection. The films are worth having, because after 70+ years of existence, this is apparently the best Universal will do with the classic Marx Brothers performances of their day.
Now I will heap on some gripes of my own. First, there's just over six hours of material spread over six DVDs. You do the math--they're obviously NOT TRYING VERY HARD here. They could have easily fit this all on 3 discs, or fewer. It's not like there's a COMMENTARY TRACK or even a RESTORED PRINT that would make each film worthy of its own disc. Universal did the BARE MINIMUM knowing that real fans would buy these crappy prints anyway, and will pay again if they release restored and augmented versions later. (The Warner Collection beats this one hands down, but with different titles. Hell, even Universal's treatment of ABBOTT & COSTELLO was done better.)
The "exclusive book" is fluff; it has credits and pictures but NOTHING you can't get elsewhere (like IMDB). And the "extras" disc is pitiful. The Today Show interviews of Harpo and Groucho are so brief, and in need of restoration themselves, they're actually cruel to watch. C'mon Universal, this is the BEST STUFF you could find? It's not like you were limited to supplemental material from the 1930s. These interviews are from the '60s and '70s!
The only thing that remotely redeems this collection is the price--the Amazon price, not the retail price. Buy this for the movies if you love them, but this is a collection that ONLY MINNIE (the Marx Brothers' mother) should love.
194 of 203 people found the following review helpful
If you already own the previous DVD or Laserdisc releases of these great classic movies, you may want to think twice about investing more money for only 15 minutes total of "Today Show" interviews with Harpo, Groucho, and Harpo's son promoting their books. There is some fun here, but you want to kick the Today Show Director when they interrupt Groucho's story, after only 5 minutes, because they have other things to get to. Groucho really looks stunned and put out that he was stopped.
There are also 3 trailers (Cocoanuts & Monkey Business have none) strangely tagged at the end to promote the MCA 1980's Home Video Tape release.
I guess Universal forgot that they own the rights to the Marx Brothers half-hour 1950's TV special "THE INCREDIBLE JEWEL ROBBERY". This would have been a great addition to the box set! I have never seen this except for the old Castle Films home movie clip.
Restoration? Well, Universal never used that word in their description, and they certainly didn't do it.
The choppy splices are still there in several movies.
The missing footage is still NOT there.
Some reels are still out of focus.
Some reels are still many generations away from the original negative and look very contrasty.
Some reels still have a bouncy picture (warped negative).
About 75% of the time the films do look good.
This really looks like a quick patch-together box set by Universal (Owned by NBC, that is why their Today Show clips are used) to keep up with the competition (WB's DVD Box Set).
BUT, if you never got the previously released DVDs or Laserdiscs, then this is a Must-Get box set!
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
OK, so Universal seems to have dropped the ball on this set. The extras are sorely lacking. But the films look and sound pretty good for their age, and I doubt anything short of an expensive restoration would improve them. Unfortunately, some of the missing footage (like one of Groucho's lines in the opening song of "Animal Crackers" and a few Hays code edited hijinks from Harpo in "Horse Feathers") are considered lost forever. The films remain the Marx Brothers' best, however, so don't hesitate buying this set for the movies:
"The Coconuts"- This films suffers from extreme staginess and poor sound technology, which makes sense since it was one of the first sound films. The brothers when on screen are still hysterical, but they don't seem to have quite as much screen time as usual. Most consider the "viaduct" routine to be the classic bit from this one. (3 of 5)
"Animal Crackers"- While "Animal Crackers" still feels like a play (which it was), the technical side seems a lot smoother. The story involves a missing painting at a high society party, but it fortunately doesn't matter. Groucho is Captain Spaulding, the African explorer, and proceeds to insult his host repeatedly bith directly and in soliloquy. Harpo, while funny as always, is a little disturbing in this one as the theiving professor. The film is a little long, but contains great bits like Harpo and Chico's bridge game, and Groucho and Chico's insanity-inducing attempts to solve the mystery. (4 out of 5)
"Monkey Business"- This one finally gets out of stage mode as this was the Marxes' first Hollywood production. The brothers are stowaways on an ocean liner. During the course of the picture, the brothers provide interesting insights on the barber trade, hiding from the authorities, and doing a Maurice Chevelier (sp?) impersonation. (4 out 5)
"Horse Feathers"- The start of the Marx Brother's peak (along with "Duck Soup" and "A Night at the Opera"). Groucho is the dean of a small college who is soon to play a football game against their long term rival. But who cares about a plot when you've got songs like "I'm Against It" and the swordfish routine. Margaret Dumont, the quintessential Marxist foil, is unfortunately AWOL for this film (and Monkey Business), but Thelma Todd fills in quite well. And besides, she's more fun to look at. (5 out of 5)
"Duck Soup"- Very likely the funniest film of all time. Groucho is Rufus T. Firefly, the new ruler of Freedonia. After putting down his iron fist, he begins to pick a war with the neighboring country. Chico (as "Chicalini") and Harpo are extremely poor spies trying to keep track of Firefly. This film really does provide intelligent non-stop laughs. For better or for worse, it remains as timely as ever with its war setting. High points include "Hail, Hail Freedonia," and the mirror sequence. I've always had a strong affinity for Firefly's cabinet meeting too. (5 out of 5)
49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2004
I have been an ardant, if not fanatical fan, of the Marx Brothers. I have been a "fan" of so many pre-1950's films, when plot and character development, lighting, brilliant composition which were characters in and of themselves also made these films great when compared to the CGI glitz of plotless celluloid.
I have been very excited that so many of the "GREAT" films have been meticulously restored, not just "re-mastered" (a fancy name for a lot of glitzy box designs and extra pages of information about the actors/comedians, and their directors/producers, timelines in the evolution of great film making or whatever trivia they can fill in 2nd rate DVD releases of many films of this era which demand only the highest of restoration.
I would rather purchase beautiful visual and audio restorations of The Greatest of the Marx Brothers films in a brown box with simple Black Lettering than constantly be teased by yet another slightly better copy of such classics.
YES many films have been gloriously Restored by some reputable companies and Universities (UCLA just came out with the complete Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone of course) series full and meticulously restored to the look of an opening night presentation.
And there are many others as well: Universal has done Hitchcock films DAMN right. The beautiful Restoration of Vertigo and Birds and Rear Window gave me insights into the true use of color that was so vital to the mystery and tension of Hitchcock's concepts as one of the greatest film makers..
So why can't we finally get such TRUE RESTORATIONS worth our money from the Marx Brothers Classics and STOP having to keep trying to buy the next "effort" at producing the TRUE Restoration these films deserve for as long as the term Archival has come to mean in this rather interesting age of potential global catastrophe.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2005
These are arguably the five best of "the boys'" films. Unfortunately, these are also five of the worse copies of their films. The first film (THE COCONUTS, 1929) is not watchable! Looks like the original source material was a tenth-generation 16mm. As we more forward in time (ANIMAL CRACKERS, etc) , the video gets marginally better, but still remains pretty poor. Much better copies have been previously released on laser disk and VHS. Perhaps what we have here is a lack of pride of ownership-Universal released this thing, but Paramount (on the East Coast) was where the films were shot. There are six discs. Disc number six is called BONUS MATERIALS which is far from a bonus unless you are satisfied with three brief chats from old TV shows with a total duration of less than 30 minutes. Disc six seems to be there for packaging symmetry! Bottom line: if you love the Marx Brothers, wait for the blue-laser releases in a year or two. Or try to find copies on laser disk or VHS.
William Flanigan, Ph.D.
70 of 79 people found the following review helpful
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
While the Marx Brothers may have enjoyed their greatest commercial successes at MGM, their first films, for Paramount, offer the purest essence of their genius, undiluted; irreverence, bawdiness, spontaneity, and an 'outside the box' approach to society that made everyone a potential target!
With the oft-maligned Zeppo as their resident 'straight man' (a misconception, as the youngest Marx could be every bit as funny as his older brothers), the Marxes were a sensation on Broadway, and their earliest films (THE COCONUTS and ANIMAL CRACKERS) were actually produced in New York, while the brothers continued performing on stage, each night. While these films are dated, and a bit stiff, their cinematic potential was clearly evident, in Groucho's sly asides to the audience, Harpo's brilliant pantomime, and hedonistic, Pan-like pursuit of women, and Chico's comic fracturing of the English language.
MONKEY BUSINESS, their first feature made in Hollywood, benefits greatly from the more sophisticated Paramount production facilities, and a script far wittier than the 'pie-in-your-face' slapstick that Hollywood was cranking out. If you think A NIGHT AT THE OPERA offered the ultimate 'stowaway' sequence, watch MONKEY BUSINESS, and see the mayhem the boys could REALLY produce when they cut loose! HORSE FEATHERS is equally good, as Groucho runs a grand old college to the ground, while his 'son', Zeppo(!), pursues the 'Campus Widow'...along with Harpo, Chico, and even Groucho!
DUCK SOUP, their final film at Paramount, is the very best of the collection, and one of greatest film comedies ever made, period! Groucho mismanages the country of Freedonia into war, as Chico and Harpo 'spy' on him. For a film over seventy years old, the film is remarkably timely, with a musical climax, as Groucho manipulates the government and people into a war-crazed frenzy, that seems astonishingly topical, considering our own political climate!
Ultimately, the Marx Brothers were, perhaps, too sophisticated for audience's tastes, DUCK SOUP flopped, commercially, and Paramount dropped the team, opening the door for MGM and Irving Thalberg to hire and 'reinvent' them (as Zeppo moved on to become an agent/manager).
Combined with the recently-released boxed collection of MGM/RKO/UA Marx titles, the Paramount collection nearly completes the entire Marx output as a team, with only LOVE HAPPY, Harpo's 'pet' project (which could only be financed by appearances by Chico and Groucho), not included in the collections (the brothers would all appear in THE STORY OF MANKIND, seven years after LOVE HAPPY, but not as a team).
This boxed set is a MUST, whether you're a Marx fan, or just someone who loves classic comedy! Buy it...I guarantee you WON'T be disappointed!
59 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2004
I received the set for Christmas...being an avid Marx Brothers fan, I was appalled. The sound quality was awful...very muffled and many times not even understandable. The films were chopped up, I thought commercials were coming up. The worst part is that parts of the picture at the bottom were chopped off, some of the best parts were no longer there. I have these on VHS that I recorded from TV and the VHS recordings are better than these DVD's. At least the VHS has all the scenes and the bottoms of the screens are there. From now on, I will read these reviews before purchasing or asking for something for Christmas. Everyone who bought this should get a replacement with the films fixed.
42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2004
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Dear God, what a disappointment!!!! I'm disappointed with the set, not the movies (the funniest films of all time)....
First of all, why weren't the movies restored properly? I have the Image DVD versions and they look absolutely the SAME! I cannot believe, in this day and age, that those movies couldn't be restored. For example, I have Harold Lloyd's "Slapstick Symposium" (which features shorts from the 1919-1922 period), on DVD, and these films are SEVEN TO ELEVEN YEARS OLDER than the Marxes' first film, "The Cocoanuts" (1929). The restoration is SUPERB and those films look better than "Cocoanuts"!
What really gets me about "Cocoanuts" is that you can see exactly where the "dupe copy" takes over from the original print. You can't tell me there was no way to take care of this problem with today's technology......UGH.
Also, there is the glaring omission of restoration on "Horse Feathers". The scene in Thelma Todd's bedroom still looks like CRAP......I'm going to assume all the footage that was originally cut from the movie is lost forever. You can still see the jumps in the film, it doesn't look like Universal even took the time to try to recify this problem. Or cared.
It's stuff like this that makes you realize that Universal only cares about how much money THEY make instead of doing the RIGHT thing and putting money into restoring the movies to their original comic glory.
It really bugs me that these films are not being recognized as the gems they are. The overall quality of the prints is mediocre for a DVD release. Take a look at the Warners' set, and you will see what I mean. You would have thought after the complaints from fans over the Image DVD versions Universal would have been on the ball and taken great care to restore these films.
Why do they even bother having these films in their catalog if they don't care to make them the best quality possible?
The 40-page booklet is not a very distinguishing review of the brothers' career and the "bonus disc" is a major rip-off! 15 MINUTES OF FOOTAGE? You have got to be kidding.....no other fillers, nothing. They might have as well skipped the 6th disc all together.
Still, I love these movies despite the problems. These are the five movies that made the Marxes LEGENDS, and you would think Universal would recognize this. We Marxists deserve better and so don't The Marxes.
I'm sure if Groucho were here today he'd have a comment for Universal's shabby treatment of the movies as well: "I'd horsewhip you, if I had a horse".
This Devoted Marxist is not feeling any "Love Happier" with this release.....
P.S. 11-18-04: I just wanted to add to my review that I went to Universal's website and complained about the movies through their "Contact Us" page. I suggest all fans disappointed with this release do the same. I did receive an e-mail back from Universal that they have sent my e-mail on to the "appropriate department" We'll see what happens.....
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
First let me add to the chorus that these five films are all classics. Other than "A Night At The Opera", the Marx Brothers were never again to reach such heights.
As for the DVD set itself, it is certainly welcome and the graphic artist who designed the package did a fabulous job. It looks splendid!
But as mentioned countless times, the discs themselves contain only the films (sometimes from inferior prints or poorly mastered), trailers but nothing else(except for the paltry but still enjoyable twenty minutes on an extra disc). The booklet is ok but pretty flimsy.
Despite some legitimate complaints, most of these prints are very watchable.
With one major exception.
Below is an email I just fired off to Universal Studios:
"re: Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection
I purchased this item via Amazon.com recently. This handsomely packaged set is certainly not perfect but it is largely fine.
HOWEVER, I am very unhappy with the print used for the film HORSE FEATHERS.
There is a five minute sequence about half way through (i.e. scene with the Marx's in Thelma Todd's apartment) that is chopped up, diced up, scratched, unwatchable and absolutely appalling! I previously had MCA's VHS release of HORSE FEATHERS (which I stupidly gave away upon buying this DVD set) and NONE of this damage was on the print. The splices, missing dialogue, grainy image, and horrendous quality during this five minute sequence is INEXCUSABLE. This is the type of low quality product more usually associated with bargain basement companies that put out cheap public domain prints. NOT the work of a major company like Universal.
I certainly expect that UNIVERSAL will be remastering HORSE FEATHERS from a superior print for the DVD set as a FREE REPLACEMENT COPY for its customers. No doubt there are other complaints to made about this set but the problems I mention about HORSE FEATHERS are really unacceptable and should be rectified.
Otherwise this customer(and no doubt others) will certainly avoid purchasing Universal products in the future.
I should also mention a similar instance in the past few years that I purchased a badly mastered CD from Blue Note Records (Bobby Hutcherson's "Dialogue"). That company immediately sought to rectify the situation and remastered the CD from superior materials and sent out replacement copiees to its thousands of loyal customers.
I should expect nothing less from Universal.
Thank you for your attention to this matter."