Judge Dennis Prince once shot an elephant in his pajamas...and that's about the extent of his Marx musings.
"What pleases me the most these days are the Marx Brothers revivals. It
astounds me that kids who weren't even gleams in their grandparent's eyes [are]
laughing at things we did over 50 years ago. It just proves one thing: There's
no such thing as an old joke…if you've never heard it before."
Well, if you're fond of some of the Marx Brothers' old jokes, shticks, and send-ups, you'll certainly be fond of this compelling new disc from Kultur, Groucho—A Life in Revue. Here you'll find long-time Groucho enthusiast Frank Ferrante giving you his very best Groucho impersonation, from the very beginning of the Marx Brothers' career to near the end of the great entertainer's life. Performed and filmed in front of a live theater audience, Ferrante's Groucho is practically spot on. The revue—done in monologue, dialogue, and song and dance—covers the span from Julius Marx's late teens on stage and Broadway through his early adulthood in radio acts with his brothers, then on to the troupe's film work and, ultimately, into his later years with You Bet Your Life. Along the way, we're treated to a cavalcade of quips, jabs, and infectiously funny one-liners that defined Groucho's successful career. But, beyond the outer laughs, we're also given a non-stop serving of intimate details of the entertainer's life, his conflicts with his brothers (most notably with Chico), and his struggles with fame, fortune, and fastidious frugality. It's a breezy 83-minute montage of the life and times of one of our greatest comedians that manages to pack in plenty of laughs as well as genuine heart-tugging moments.
Ferrante has been performing as Groucho since his youth (as shown in some rare home movie footage in one of the disc's extra features) and, for this particular show, has logged over 2,000 performances as the funny man with the garish greasepaint moustache and eyebrows. He has the act down cold, complete with never-ending choreography that goes at a rampant pace up and down and across the well-dressed stage. It's a captivating performance, especially as Ferrante ages in front of our eyes, sitting at an on-stage makeup table where he transforms physically and vocally to mark the different milestones of Groucho's life. The humor is well paced and well selected, and the musical numbers are extremely well staged, too. Roy Abramsohn is on hand to play two roles: Chico and Harpo, both of which are as well practiced and precisely executed as that of Ferrante's Groucho. And what of the source of all of this material, both the entertainment as well as the intimate details of Groucho's life? That's provided by none other than Groucho's son, Arthur Marx, who co-wrote the production. In all, it's a terrifically fun program that will probably convince you it's time to dig up some of the Marx Brothers' movies (many available on DVD now) as well as the episodes of You Bet Your Life, also on DVD.
As for this disc, it's a reasonably well-done production, framed with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. While presenting a stage play could pose some problems for the digital format, especially considering the uneven and often-changing lighting, this one is managed quite well. The colors are quite vibrant, and the many darkened sequences (usually use for stage changes) are free of grain. The audio is offered in a very robust Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. Extras on the disc are a bit slim, consisting only of a few minutes of curtain call after the show, when Ferrante introduces Arthur Marx, and also a few minutes of behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the show.
While this isn't your usual commercial DVD release, it certainly is an enjoyable little gem that deserves a good look. Whether you're a seasoned Marx Brothers aficionado or a casual purveyor of classic comedy, Ferrante's Groucho—A Life in Revue is a disc well worth seeing. Highly recommended.
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