A Day at the Races (1937)

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Released 16-Nov-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Glenn Mitchell (Author)
Featurette-On Your Marx, Get Set, Go!
Short Film-A Night At The Movies
Short Film-Vintage Cartoons: Old Smokey, Mama's New Hat, Gallopin' Gals
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1937
Running Time 104:47
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (39:03) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Sam Wood
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Groucho Marx
Chico Marx
Harpo Marx
Allan Jones
Maureen O'Sullivan
Margaret Dumont
Leonard Ceeley
Douglass Dumbrille
Esther Muir
Sig Ruman
Robert Middlemass
Vivien Fay
Ivy Anderson
Case ?
RPI Box Music Bronislav Kaper
Walter Jurmann


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English
French
Italian
German
Spanish
Dutch
Bulgarian
Arabic
Croatian
Slovenian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

Either he's dead or my watch has stopped...

    No, this is not a Queen album. But the Queen album was named after this movie.

    This is a Marx Brothers movie. Not their best, but a good movie nonetheless. It has some polished routines, perhaps the most familiar being the "tootsy fruitsy ice cream" routine. But perhaps the most popular line is the one I quoted above.

    The plot, which is never important in a Marx Brothers film, runs roughly thus: Judy Standish (Maureen O'Sullivan) owns a sanatorium, which is kind of a health spa. At least, she owns it right now, but she owes a lot of money on it, and Morgan (Douglass Dumbrille) is pressing her to sign it over to him. Her business manager, Whitmore (Leonard Ceeley), is urging her to do so, too — but he is secretly working with Morgan, who wants to turn the place into a casino. Judy's boyfriend, Gil Stewart (Allan Jones), wants to help her, but he has foolishly squandered his money on a race horse. Her last hope is Mrs Upjohn (the wonderful Margaret Dumont, part of several Marx Brothers films), but she will only stay if Judy gets Dr Hackenbush (Groucho) in as chief doctor. She thinks he's a genius, because he catered to her hypochondria. He's really a vet...

    You can guess how things run from there. The young couple in love this time are Allan Jones and Maureen O'Sullivan. Harpo's improvised harp this time comes from inside a piano. There's a ballet number in the middle, and a jazz / gospel number later (featuring The Crinoline Choir!).

    This movie is 67 years old, and it's still funny. Hope I'm this funny at 67 ("hey, look at the funny old guy!" — hmm, maybe not).

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

Transfer Quality

Video

    This film, being a comedy filmed in the late 1930s, was shot in the Academy ratio of 1.37:1. As usual, it is rendered on DVD at 1.33:1, and that's fine.

    The image is more than a little soft, mostly because of what looks a lot like film grain, or possibly mosquito noise. Shadow detail is fairly poor, with shades dropping off into black rather quickly. There is no low-level noise.

    Colour is not a big feature of this film — something to do with it being a black-and-white film! The whites are bright white, the blacks are inky black, but there's a reasonable selection of shades of grey in between. There are no colour-related artefacts, including no false colouration.

    There are surprisingly few film artefacts for a film of this age. Oh, there are some, but they are small, and not troubling. This film has been very nicely restored.

    There is some aliasing, mostly on long shots, and it is mild. There is a bit of moiré, mostly on fabrics, but it is not offensive. There are no MPEG artefacts.

    Subtitles are provide in 10 languages, including English. There are also English and Italian captions. I watched the English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles. They are quite accurate, well-timed to the dialogue, and easily legible.

    The disc is single-sided (with a nice label), dual-layer, formatted RSDL. The layer change falls at 39:03, and it is excellent — well-hidden in a fade-to-black.

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

Audio

    There are three audio tracks on this disc. The film's soundtrack is provided in English and Italian, plus a commentary in English. All three are Dolby Digital 1.0 at 192kbps. The film's soundtrack is somewhat limited fidelity, reflecting the quality of the sound recording technology available when it was made.

    The dialogue is mostly clear and easy to understand, although there are moments when a word or two sounds a touch garbled. There are no obvious audio sync issues.

    The score, from Bronislav Kaper and Walter Jurmann, is acceptable, if a tad repetitious. There is the expected number from Chico on piano, and Harpo on harp. Allan Jones gets a couple of songs, one of which is rather good (Tomorrow is Another Day), while another is fairly lame. Tomorrow is Another Day is immediately followed by a medley featuring the Crinoline Choir, a large all-black singing ensemble. The style of the medley is difficult to explain, with elements of gospel, jazz, swing, and others — the main thing is that it's an impressive effort.

    The soundtracks are all Dolby Digital 1.0, so they use nothing but your centre channel speaker. Your mains, surrounds, and sub can all take the night off.

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

Extras

    There's quite a bit in the way of extras here.

Menu

    The menu is static and silent. It's easy to operate.

Audio Commentary — Glenn Mitchell (author: The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia)

    The content of this commentary is quite reasonable, but there are lots of long gaps in it — Glenn Mitchell has a good speaking voice, but I do wish he'd used it more.

Featurette: On Your Marx, Get Set, Go! (27:39)

    This is one of a series of long featurettes included on these Marx Brothers discs. It features a number of celebrities and authorities, and even includes Maureen O'Sullivan as she is today (rather older...). It was made in 2004.

Short Piece: A Night At the Movies (10:01)

    This is a short starring Robert Benchley about the misadventures of an everyday man on a trip to the cinema.

Vintage Cartoons

    Anyone spot a certain theme in these cartoons?

Theatrical Trailer (2:51)

    A heap of hiss in the sound, and plenty of artefacts in the sight, but this gives us an idea of what the film could have looked like.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 1 version of this disc is included in a collection with the same artwork as the collection that includes this Region 4 disc. The Region 1 version of the collection does include two more movies: the Region 4 collection is missing A Night in Casablanca and Room Service. I do not know why these films were omitted, but the effect is that we don't have any double-sided discs in our collection, and that's good.

    The Region 1 disc has a couple of additional extras, but they are audio-only: the song outtake A Message From of the Man in the Moon, and a Leo is on the Air radio promo. These are not important extras, by comparison.

    The Region 1 transfer is pretty much the same as the Region 4, but the lower resolution of NTSC makes the grainy picture look a bit worse, and there seems to be a pattern of fine vertical scratching — it makes it look like rain is falling at times. The only advantage it has is very slightly better shadow detail.

    I definitely prefer the Region 4 packaging — it puts 5 discs into the space that would be occupied by two regular cases — it has one disc on the back, and two flaps with a disc on each side. The Region 1 packaging has five conventional one-disc cases in a cardboard slip cover.

Summary

    A pretty good Marx Brothers movie, given a good restoration and a decent transfer to DVD.

    The video quality is decent, but quite grainy.

    The audio quality is decent, but its fidelity is limited by the technology of the period.

    The extras are quite good.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Saturday, December 11, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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