Animal Crackers (1930)

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Released 20-Oct-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy None
Rating ?
Year Of Production 1930
Running Time 92:55
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Victor Heerman
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Groucho Marx
Harpo Marx
Harpo Marx
Zeppo Marx
Margaret Dumont
Lillian Roth
Case ?
RPI Box Music Bert Kalmar
Harry Ruby
Max Reese


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
German
Italian
Spanish
Portuguese
Dutch
Swedish
Danish
Finnish
Norwegian
Hebrew
Arabic
Russian
Turkish
Greek
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Slide back in time for more than seventy years and you will find yourself in the very early Thirties. Films are made in black and white and sound has only just been introduced. The world of comedy is very different than it is now, a reflection of the very different culture that held sway at the time. There are many great comedies from this time, but standing above most is the work of the Marx Brothers.

    Animal Crackers is the second of the Marx Brothers films that was released. In this film, Groucho plays Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding, a famous explorer just returned from darkest Africa. He is the house guest of Mrs. Rittenhouse, played by Margaret Dumont, who appears in several of the Marx Brothers films. This house itself is a wonderful record of the period with its art deco doors, pillars and many other objects d'art. Chico plays Signor Emanuel Ravelli, a musician hired to play at the house. The scene where Chico outlines his price list for playing music is one of the best sequences in the film and still has me having a quite laugh every time I think back on it. Harpo plays the professor, Signor Ravelli's partner. Zeppo plays Horatio Jamison, Capt. Spaulding's secretary.

    The Marx Brothers films, particularly the early ones, are slim on plot. They are a series of set pieces that allow the Marx Brothers to strut their stuff. While Capt. Spaulding is in residence, the Rittenhouses are planing a party, and at that party they will unveil their latest purchase: a very expensive oil painting. Also at the house are a young couple that would like to get married, but alas he is just a poor undiscovered artist and won't marry her until he can support her. (They couldn't put that in a film today!) They hatch a plot to get him discovered by replacing the oil painting with a copy that he made whilst a student, the idea being that if no one discovers the switch then he will be regarded as a great artist. They ask Signor Ravelli to make the switch for them.

    At the same time, there is another guest at the house that wishes to embarrass the Rittenhouses and comes up with a plan to replace the oil painting with a copy that her daughter had made. They enlist the help of the butler who used to work for them. After two switches, the oil painting is revealed and all hell breaks loose as painting after painting is discovered.

    This of course is not a real description of a Marx Brothers film - the set pieces that are contained within are a far more accurate portrayal. I have already mentioned the cost of the musician piece, but others include: The cost of the taxi, The madman with a rifle, Lets get married (to two women), The card sharks and many, many more.

    There are also the obligatory musical interludes where we see Chico on the piano and of course Harpo on the harp.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

     There appears to have been little done to restore any of the three films in this box set, although to be fair, while they do show their age it is remarkable that they look even as good as they do all things considered. The occasional jump in the image indicates a few missing frames in places.

    The transfer is presented at 1.33:1 which is close to its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio. It is not 16x9 enhanced.

    Sharpness varies but is fairly poor overall. The shadow detail is not too bad which is a bit of a miracle considering the emulsions used in those days. There are the typical brightness variations that material this age always seems to exhibit. Contrast is down with some scenes better than others. There is no low level noise.

    The black and white image is well rendered with no false colouration present.

    There are no MPEG artefacts present. There is some minor movement in the picture but I suspect that this may well be in the source material and not a transfer problem. Film artefacts abound. There is grain, marks, dirt, holes in the emulsion, tram lines, hairs and every other form of problem. Again some scenes are better than others with some almost free of scratches (32:33) and others a veritable storm (15:45).

    The subtitles try gamely to keep up but the dialogue just comes too fast and furious for them. They do the best job that they can but miss some key words and sections of lines.

    This is a single layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

     There are five soundtracks on this disc, all Dolby Digital 2.0; English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

    There are no real problems with the dialogue quality - I think that I only missed one word in the entire film.

    Audio sync is sometimes a little dubious, but I think that again this is source related.

    The music is limited in dynamics and frequency and occasionally a little distorted, but overall not bad for the times. The content is great - these films are all musicals to some extent and the songs sung are as funny as the rest of the dialogue.

    This is a mono soundtrack with nothing for the surrounds or the subwoofer.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    Once you get past the title screen where you are invited to select your language, we are presented with a static menu at 1.33:1 with no audio. On the right is a colorised scene from the film and on the left are four selections; play, scene selections, audio language and subtitle language.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     This film was available in a couple of forms in R1. MCA/Universal released three versions, one alone and one with Duck Soup and another with The Coconuts. Image Entertainment also released two versions, one alone and one in an equivalent box set to this one with Horse Feathers and Duck Soup. Availability of these discs seems very confused with the box set appearing to be out of print and with second hand versions going for anything upwards of $300 US! There are variations in the soundtrack with some having PCM and others having Dolby Digital 1.0 and Dolby Digital 2.0. With the price of the US set being what it is for what seems to be identical material, I am going to peg R4 as the winner.

Summary

    Whilst it is Groucho that makes these films what they are with his patter and impeccable delivery, I do particularly like the sequence with Harpo and Chico concerning the 'flash'. I also think that we are very lucky not only to have these films available for their own sake but also as wonderful time capsules of a time long past.

    The video is about what we expect for material this age that has not been restored.

    The audio is in the same boat.

    There are no extras. The other two films have trailers but not this one.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Monday, November 24, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDSkyworth 1050p progressive scan, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252q CRT Projector, Screen Technics matte white screen 16:9 (223cm). Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR800
SpeakersB&W DM305 (mains); CC3 (centre); S100 (surrounds); custom Adire Audio Tempest with Redgum plate amp (subwoofer)

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