Overall | Animal Crackers (1930) | Duck Soup (1933) | Horse Feathers (1932)

The Marx Brothers Collection (Universal) (1930)

The Marx Brothers Collection (Universal) (1930)

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Released 20-Oct-2003

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Overall Package

    Not only does this set have some fantastic comedy brought to us by the genius of the Marx Brothers, it is a wonderful time capsule of the early 1930s. The attitudes and mores of the time as well as the art and clothing are captured here forever and we should regard ourselves as very lucky that this material has survived until today. The jewel in this particular crown just has to be Duck Soup, worthy of multiple viewing as the comedy never grows stale.

    The source material has not been restored and the transfer reflects this.

    There is some distortion in the audio but the dialogue is good.

    The extras are restricted to two trailers.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
As someone posted on the review of Duck Soup - Anonymous
oh, but the price - gRANT (Read my bio, mmm... uncompressed surround audio)
Complete collection available from R1 - UberAspie

Overall | Animal Crackers (1930) | Duck Soup (1933) | Horse Feathers (1932)

Animal Crackers (1930)

Animal Crackers (1930)

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Released 20-Oct-2003

Cover Art

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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.

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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)

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add) NONE
Overall | Animal Crackers (1930) | Duck Soup (1933) | Horse Feathers (1932)

Duck Soup (1933)

Duck Soup (1933)

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Released 20-Oct-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1933
Running Time 65:59
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Leo McCarey
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Groucho Marx
Harpo Marx
Harpo Marx
Zeppo Marx
Margaret Dumont
Case ?
RPI Box Music Bert Kalmar
John Leipold
Harry Ruby


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

    While everyone has their opinion on which is the best of the Marx Brothers films, Duck Soup (their fifth film) is always on the list for discussion and often right at the top.

    In this film, Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly who has been placed in charge of the completely bankrupt country Freedonia at the request of the wealthy Mrs. Gloria Teasdale. Mrs Teasdale is played by Margaret Dumont. Harpo plays Pinky and Chico Chicolini. Both are spies in the pay of the neighbouring country Sylvania. Zeppo is Lt. Bob Roland, a member of the Freedonia armed forces.

    Neighbouring Sylvania is trying to take over Freedonia. Revolutions are fomented (unsuccessfully), spies are sent in (unsuccessfully) and attempts are made to discredit the fine leader of Freedonia (unsuccessfully). They even try to steal the war plans of Freedonia.

    In between reducing the workers' hours, Rufus T. Firefly cuts their lunch hour to twenty minutes. He is wooing Mrs Teasdale, while at the same time the ambassador of Sylvania also has his eye on her. Trouble over this competition for her affections leads to war between Freedonia and Sylvania. The war scenes and the costumes that Groucho wears, different in each successive scene, is for me the highlight of the film.

    On the way to war are again some wonderful set pieces that in many cases don't have anything to do with advancing the plot: the ongoing state car (well motor bike and side car actually) joke, both peanut sellers vs. the lemonade seller, getting into the house (a fine piece of physical comedy), the mirror scene, the trial for treason and the ride of Paul Revere.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Presented at 1.33:1 which is close to its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, this transfer is not 16x9 enhanced.

    There are a number of places where the image jumps a few frames.

    The image is soft. Age, film stock and lenses of the time have all taken their toll. Shadow detail is slightly worse than the other two films in the box set with many of the dark suits that the characters wear reduced to a single black monotone. There is slight low level noise. The overall contrast is also down compared to the other films with black and white at each end of the spectrum acceptable but the greys in between somewhat lacking.

    The transfer is free of any false colouration.

    There are no MPEG artefacts present. There is some shake but this is undoubtedly in the source material - even the dolly shots wobble a bit. Film artefacts are present in great numbers with a full set of scratches, marks, dirt, tramlines, and in some places stains.

    The subtitles are easy to read but do have to paraphrase the faster parts of the dialogue.

    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 Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks on this disc: English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

    Despite some small amount of distortion in the soundtrack, the dialogue is easy to understand. There are no problems with the audio sync from the transfer point of view.

    The music is distorted - recording techniques of the day were not known for their fidelity. We have some interesting musical numbers with solos and chorus.

    This is a mono soundtrack so the surrounds as well as the subwoofer are not used.

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

Extras

Menu

    The menu is the same across the three discs. The first selection is for language and then the menu appears with a colourised scene from the film on the right and the menu selection items on the left.

Theatrical Trailer (1:40)

    Presented at 1.33:1 and not 16x9 enhanced with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. There is a large bit of the image missing near the start of the trailer. Otherwise, the quality is similar to the main feature. I love the word cards that come up rather than having a voiceover. A clever and accurate trailer for the film.

R4 vs R1

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

    It would appear that while this disc was available both singly and in the box set that is identical to this release it also appears to be out of production. Single copies seem to go for something like $60 US and the box set for around $300 US. On availability, R4 gets the nod.

Summary

    This was Zeppo's last film, and not just as part of the Marx Brothers but full stop. Some people might sit there thinking that they have seen many of these jokes and routines before, but remember this is where all those other films got their material from. The ending is a bit of a surprise and again indicates the mores and customs that the Marx Brothers broke to set up much of their comedy.

    The video is acceptable.

    The audio is good for the dialogue, although the music is distorted.

    The trailer is better than nothing.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Sunday, November 23, 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)

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
The R2 boxset also contains Monkey Business! - Alex H (My biography...in 500 words or less!)

Overall | Animal Crackers (1930) | Duck Soup (1933) | Horse Feathers (1932)

Horse Feathers (1932)

Horse Feathers (1932)

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Released 20-Oct-2003

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1932
Running Time 63:59
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Norman Z. McLeod
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Groucho Marx
Harpo Marx
Harpo Marx
Zeppo Marx
Thelma Todd
David Landau
Case ?
RPI Box Music Bert Kalmar
Harry Ruby


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

    Horse Feathers was the fourth film released that starred the Marx Brothers. This time the theme is the American college system and in particular the high jinx surrounding college football.

    Groucho plays Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff, who has been appointed president of Huxley College and knows exactly what makes a college successful. It is not the academic record that counts but their performance on the football field. Harpo plays Pinky, an employee of the local speakeasy. Chicko is Baravelli, a dog catcher who seems to sideline as Pinky's assistant. Zeppo is Frank Wagstaff, Prof. Wagstaff's son who appears to be making a career out of staying in college. The reason he appears to be failing all his exams is that he is involved with the College Widow. This is played in the film as someone who is present at every college.

    The college with which they are due to play the next big game has brought in a couple of ringers. Prof. Wagstaff heads to the local speakeasy to hire a couple of ringers for his college. He ends up hiring Pinky and Baravelli not only to play football but also to try and kidnap the ringers for the competing college and thus knobble them out of the game. It is a shame that neither knows how to play football nor how to kidnap two burley football players.

    Mixed in with this is the Prof's efforts to get his son to stop seeing the College Widow and pay attention to his studies. He also ends up involved with her as she tries to get hold of the secret calls used by the Wagstaff team. From my limited knowledge of American football, this list is the sequence of numbers that the guy calls out just before the other guy throws the ball back. It tells the team what 'play' they are making. Knowledge of this would give the opposing team a real advantage.

    The final section of the film is a whole series of jokes based on the game of football. This is probably funnier for those that know the game as opposed to the rest of the world. Having said that, there is still some very funny material in here, in particular the chariot ride.

    Key moments in this film include: The Song 'I am against it', The password for the speak-easy, The bottomless cup, The parking ticket, Prof. Wagstaff taking a class, The whole kidnap sequence, and of course the chariot scene.

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

Transfer Quality

Video

     Unfortunately, this film has the worst transfer of the set. The source material is is the worst condition and there is a shudder in the image that starts at about 19:41 and appears again and again. Another example is at 42:53. It is bad enough to make you feel seasick after a while. There are also a number of spots where there are a few frames missing and the image jumps.

    As with the other films, the aspect ratio of this transfer is 1.33:1.

    Sharpness is bad and made worse by the amount of grain and other film artefacts. Shadow detail is poor but there is no low level noise. Contrast is very low adding to the many problems. There is also some ringing of the whites that leaves a halo around some objects.

    Thankfully, colour does not come into the equation other than to say that there is no false colouration present.

    There are no MPEG artefacts. I can't tell if the judder that is present is source related or not but it is a real problem. Film artefacts are probably the worst of the three films with some very bad scratching, marks, dirt, grain and what appears to be a manually scratched-in reel change mark (32:29)!

    The subtitles are easy to read but could not be expected to keep up with some of the faster delivery of dialogue.

    This is a single layered disc.

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

Audio

     To go with the worst transfer is the most distorted audio. The harp solo at 39:50 gives the worst example of the distortion.

    There are five Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtracks on this disc with English, French, German, Italian and Spanish being represented.

    Even with the distortion present, the dialogue is pretty clear and easy to understand.

    There are no transfer related problems with the audio sync.

    The music is in the same vein as the other Marx Brothers films; a combination of orchestral and musical pieces. The music suffers from the distortion more than the dialogue does.

    The mono soundtrack does not make use of the surrounds or the subwoofer.

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

Extras

Menu

    With an identical menu to the other two movies in the boxed set we have the colorised shot from the film on the right and the menu on the left. It is presented at 1.33:1 and there is no audio.

Theatrical Trailer (1:15)

    Not as clever as the Duck Soup trailer, this one is simply a series of scenes from the film cut together. Presented at 1.33:1 and with a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, the image quality is pretty good.

R4 vs R1

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

    Yet again it would appear that the R1 version of this disc is out of print. The equivalent box set is also out of print and appears to be selling for ridiculous amounts of money in America. This leaves us with an R4 winner by default.

Summary

    Not the strongest of their films in my opinion but that is in comparison with some of the best comedy material ever placed on celluloid. The chariot scene has already been mentioned as a highlight and there are many more laughs. Another quick but great laugh is where they fill the different types of drink bottles from the same hooch source.

    The video is disappointing.

    The audio is also a bit of a problem.

    The trailer makes up the extent of the extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Tuesday, November 25, 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)

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Re: oh, but the price - TurkeyTom