The Marx Brothers Collection (A Night at The Opera/A Day at The Races/A Night in Casablanca/Room Service/At the Circus/Go West/The Big Store)
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A Day at the Races deserves near-equal acclaim ("Get-a your tootsie-fruitsie ice cream!"), but Thalberg's death in 1937 dealt a devastating blow, and the Marxes suffered from studio indifference, resulting in a succession of comedies that are timelessly enjoyable even as they fall prey to diminishing returns. By the time they made Go West and The Big Store, the Marxes were out of their element, and a few of the musical interludes indulge racial stereotypes that were common in the studio era. Despite this, these movies remain fresh and frantic, and Warner Bros. (holder of the RKO and MGM libraries) has done a marvelous job of packaging The Marx Brothers Collection to nostalgically approximate the filmgoing experience of the 1930s and '40s, with vintage shorts (Our Gang, Robert Benchley comedies, MGM cartoons, etc.) from the time of each feature's original release. Archival materials are slim but worthwhile (especially Groucho's 1961 interview with TV talk-show host Hy Gardner), and while Glenn Mitchell's commentary on Races is sparse and superficial, Leonard Maltin brings his usual superfan's enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge to bear on a full-length Opera commentary track. The new documentaries are somewhat redundant, but essential viewing for Marx Bros. neophytes. With all seven films presented in pristine condition, this is definitely a Marx Brothers Collection worth having. --Jeff Shannon
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The first film in the set is A Night at the Opera, arguably one of the Marx Brothers best films of their career. It was the first film after they were pushed out of Paramount Studios because of the commercial and critical failure of Duck Soup.
Opera was a huge hit and put the Marx Brothers back on the map. They wisely followed it up with another Thalberg collaboration, A Day at the Races.
Sadly, Thalberg died suddenly before the movie was completed and the Marx Brothers films would never achieve the same greatness. No longer under the producer's protective presence, the Marx Bros. were effectively at the studio's mercy. They put them out to pasture metaphorically speaking. This may explain why the Marx Bros. made Room Service for RKO instead of MGM in 1938.
At the Circus marked the Marx Brothers' return to MGM and is not one of their greatest moments but isn't awful either.
Go West begins with a very funny scene in which Chico and Harpo milk Groucho out of most of his money. However, all three eventually appear in the Old West without any logical explanation on how they got there.
Touted as their "first farewell film," The Big Store is a bit of a lackluster affair but does have its moments.
Upon completion of The Big Store, Harpo planned to retire, Groucho was going to focus on his radio career and Chico was going to form a big band. However, after World War II they reformed to make two more films, one of which rounds out the box set--A Night at Casablanca.
As one would expect, the bulk of substantial extras are on the discs for the Marx Brothers' most popular films, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. Each DVD features several short films, some animated, some not and a theatrical trailer for each movie. Here are some of the highlights.
The A Night at the Opera DVD features an audio commentary by film historian, Leonard Maltin. He lays it down right from the start that his track will not be a dry, academic analysis of the Marx Brothers' comedy. He delivers an enthusiastic commentary that is also informative.
"Remarks on Marx" is a 33-minute look at the Marx Brothers' legacy. It not only explains where they got their nicknames but also examines their anarchic brand of comedy.
A Day at the Races features an audio commentary by Glenn Mitchell, author of The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia. This is a vastly informative track as Mitchell talks at length about the backgrounds of actors Allan Jones and Margaret O'Sullivan.
"On Your Marx, Get Set, Go!" is a look at the film and briefly explores the volatile relationship between the Marx Brothers and the film's director, Sam Wood.
The extras on the Room Service disc are pretty slim.
Aside from a vintage radio promo for Go West, there is little of relevance to the movie itself in the supplemental section.
Fans of the Marx Brothers are in for a real treat with this box set that covers the last eleven years of their careers. The transfers for each film are fantastic and a definite improvement over the Image box set. While the extras tend to get slimmer and less relevant in their later films, the ones for A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races are excellent. The audio commentaries, especially, are a must-listen for any Marx Bros. fan. One hopes that their early output of films will receive the same excellent treatment.
There are so many moments, such as "Tootsie Frootsie Ice Cream" in "Races". Can't even begin to discuss them all. Out of this set, if you are new to the Marxes, start with "A Night at the Opera", to get a feel for them. And yes, I also wish the first 5 Paramount films would be re-released on DVD PROPERLY this time around, but of course, we're talking about two totally different film companies. But as a purist, I think it's about time to see those films done properly. Universal should take a LONG look at how Warners' did this set. We Marxists deserve better (are you listening Universal?) OK. Rant over. Buy this set. You won't be disappointed. These are truly comic gems from an era when movie makers didn't think that you needed to use a string of four-letter words and bathroom humor, to be hilarious. I'd take ONE of Groucho's stinging one-liners ANYDAY over the garbage that people try to pass off as humor nowadays. These movies hold their own after 70 years. There's a reason for that.....it's because the Marxes were truly comic geniuses, ahead (way ahead) of their time, and that NEVER goes out of style. "And make that three hard-boiled eggs!"
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