Animal Crackers (Umbrella) (1930) (NTSC)
|Year Of Production||1930|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Victor Heerman|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (384Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.19:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Captain Spaulding (Groucho Marx), an explorer recently returned from Africa, is guest of honour at a party in the house of rich widow Mrs Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) and arrives with his secretary Jamison (Zeppo Marx). Mr Chandler (Louis Sorin) is also at the party; he has just returned from Europe bringing with him an expensive work of art that will be revealed at the party. Mrs Rittenhouse’s daughter Arabella (Lillian Roth) is in love with penniless artist John Parker (Hal Thompson). John has painted a copy of Chandler’s painting and John and Arabella decide to substitute it for the genuine work and then reveal the switch to show just how good John is, thus gaining a commission from Chandler. Grace Carpenter (Kathryn Reece) has also painted a copy of Chandler’s purchase; with Mrs Whitehead (Margaret Irving), who is jealous of Mrs Rittenhouse and wants to embarrass her, they also plan to substitute Grace’s painting for the original. Musicians Signor Ravelli (Chico Marx) and The Professor (Harpo Marx) also arrive at the party. Paintings are switched, found and lost again amid chaos, gags and music.
Animal Crackers was The Marx Brothers’ second film. Like their first film, The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers was based on one of their Broadway hit shows, Animal Crackers which started its run in October 1928 and ran for 191 performances. Director Victor Heerman for this film version cut several musical numbers and those remaining mostly feature the brothers and are more relevant to the story. There are also no chorus girls, but even so Animal Crackers at 98 minutes is more than 20 minutes (and in two cases 30 minutes) longer than the brothers’ subsequent films for Paramount. A result is that some routines and sequences, such as the card game, feel overlong and do drag. There is, however, lots of physical comedy from Harpo, gags and puns from Chico and Groucho and some delicious dialogue such as Groucho’s “one morning I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got in my pyjamas I don’t know”, a quip that was voted at number 53 (out of 100) best movie quotes by the American film Institute. One also cannot help being amused by some of the more risqué comments such as “we took some pictures of the native girls; but they weren’t developed. But, we’re going back in a coupla weeks”.
It should be noted that Animal Crackers was recut for theatrical re-release in 1936 when some of Groucho’s risqué lines were omitted to meet Hays Office Production Code requirements. This censored version of the film was the only one available for 80 years until an uncensored 35 mm negative was discovered at the BFI. The version of Animal Crackers on this DVD is the uncensored version of the film.
Animal Crackers is too long and does drag, but the dialogue after almost 90 years is still very funny; Margaret Dumont for much of the film looks as if she can barely stop from breaking out laughing. In Animal Crackers the brothers were still honing their craft on film; subsequent films, released from the strait jacket of Broadway origins, are some of the funniest films of all time.
Animal Crackers is presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio using the NTSC format. IMDb gives 1.20:1 as the original ratio. It is presented Full Frame on this DVD.
I was very surprised at how good this print of a film that is almost 90 years old looks. Of course, the sharpness and detail cannot be compared to that of a modern film, but it looks fine. There are a couple of sequences set in a room during a blackout which show solid blacks and very good shadow detail, the brightness of the white lights nicely firm as well. Brightness and contrast are consistent, grain nicely controlled, and while there are a couple of frame jumps they are fleeting. There are no obvious marks or macro blocking.
English subtitles for the hearing impaired are provided in a large, light yellow, text.
Audio is English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 384 Kbps.
This is a predictably tinny sounding audio but dialogue is clean and the occasional effects sharp enough. There is no credit for the music given, but the film is based on the musical play which is credited to George S Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby.
I noticed no lip synchronisation issues.
|Surround Channel Use|
The menu only allows a selection of The Cocoanuts or Animal Crackers to play. There are no extras on this disc, the first disc of the three DVD The Marx Brothers Collection, but the third DVD of the set includes the featurette The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos running 79:53.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
Animal Crackers has been around a while and there have been a number of home entertainment releases during that time, including the one in Region 4 mentioned below. Perhaps the closest equivalent to this The Marx Brothers Collection is a similar collection in the US of the brothers’ first five films which includes short archival interviews with Harpo, Groucho and Harpo’s son William but does not include the The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos documentary. To my mind this featurette gives our release the edge.
Animal Crackers was The Marx Brothers’ second film. It was, like their first The Cocoanuts, based on a play the brothers starred in on Broadway which does constrain the pacing of the film somewhat, but the film does include some very funny gags and dialogue that still holds up almost 90 years later. The inclusion of Animal Crackers in The Marx Brothers Collection from Umbrella, which has the first five feature films made by the brothers, is an opportunity to watch the development on film of their zany humour.
A previous release of Animal Crackers was reviewed on this site here. The reviewer of that DVD noted marks, dirt, holes in the emulsion, tram lines, hairs and every other form of problem. This new release is a definite improvement.
The Marx Brothers Collection includes The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers on one DVD, Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932) on another and Duck Soup (1933) plus the featurette The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos on the third.
|DVD||Sony BDP-S580, using HDMI output|
|Display||LG 55inch HD LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||NAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.|
|Speakers||Studio Acoustics 5.1|