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
This set (and I presume there will be a second set!) has seven of their films. I loved the lesser favourite of "A Night in Casablanca" - the packing suitcase scene with Harpo is a riot! "A Day at the Race" with Groucho as Hugo Hackenbush is full of charm and the brothers horse around. "At the Circus" is another gem with poor Margaret Dumont running in circles "keeping up appearances" and of course, you cannot forget Groucho's rendition of Lydia the Tattooed Lady. And in "The Big Store" I love Harpo's climbing through the top of the elevation in the big store and finding the harp to play Liszt! There are just so many fun moments it's hard to list them all.
So if you're a Marx Brothers' fan, you must get this super collection and this wonderful price.
Disc 2: "A Day at the Races"
Commentary by The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia Author Glenn Mitchell
All-New Documentary "On Your Marx, Get Set, Go!"
Four Vintage Shorts: Robert Benchley's Oscar Nominated A Night At The Movies plus the rarely-seen MGM Cartoons Gallopin' Gals, Mama's New Hat and Old Smokey
Audio-Only Treasures: Musical Outtake A Message From The Man In The Moon (performed by Allan Jones) and an MGM Radio Promo Leo Is On The Air
Disc 3: "Room Service" and "At the Circus" (double feature)
Vintage Our Gang Comedy Short Party Fever plus Daffy Duck and Porky Pig in the Looney Tunes Classic The Daffy Doc
Vintage Our Gang Comedy Short Dog Daze and Classic MGM Cartoon Jitterbug Follies
Disc 4: "Go West" and "The Big Store" (double feature)
Vintage Shorts, Pete Smith Specialty Quicker 'N A Wink and Fitzpatrick Traveltalk Cavalcade Of San Francisco
Vintage Cartoon, The Milky Way
Leo Is On The Air Radio Promo
Vintage MGM Short Flicker Memories and Vintage MGM Cartoon Officer Pooch
Audio Musical Outtake: Where There's Music
Disc 5: "A Night in Casablanca"
Bugs Bunny in the Looney Tunes cartoon classic Acrobatty Bunny
Vintage Joe McDoakes Short So You Think You're A Nervous Wreck
A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, and A Night in Casablanca are also available separately.
THE TRANSFERS: In a word - INCONSISTENT. "A Night At The Opera" is the worst of the bunch. Suffering from a host of age related artifacts (including nicks, chips, scratches, dirt) the video quality is also hampered by significant edge enhancement, aliasing and pixelization. Contrast levels are poorly balanced in many of the scenes taking place inside the opera house. Film grain and digital grit are glaringly present in long shots. Close-ups fair slightly better. The audio is also poorly balanced for a strident sounding Mono - particularly with the operatic sequences - they are shrill on the ears and rather painful to listen to - even at low listening levels. "A Day At The Races" fairs marginally better on all accounts than "A Night At The Opera" - though every problem I have previously mentioned applies here as well. The remaining films in the collection are remarkably cleaner than these two - presumably because they received less play time and, as a result, were better preserved. The rest of the films feature a nicely balanced gray scale, solid blacks, remarkable clarity and fine detail throughout.
EXTRAS: Two very comprehensive documentaries - one with Kitty Carlysle, as well as a host of short subjects, both live action and animated. There's also a thoroughly engaging audio commentary for "A Night At The Opera" and "A Day At The Races".
BOTTOM LINE: More was, and should have been, expected from Warner Brothers for this box set. It isn't enough to simply give us the Marx Brothers on DVD. We want them in mint condition!