Judge Patrick Naugle's Marx Brothers nickname is Schleppo.
Comedy times three!
It's been almost 35 years since the last Marx brother passed away and almost a full century since their first movie (1921's The Cocoanuts) appeared on the silver screen. Yet, here we are still talking about them, which must mean they were doing something right with their brand of distinctive and anarchic comedy. The Marx Brothers left behind a wealth of movies, including classics like 1930's Animal Crackers, 1933's Duck Soup, and 1935's A Night at the Opera. After their stint in movies died down, the brothers also appeared on moviegoer's television screens, making appearances on The Jack Benny Program, The General Electric Theater, The Perry Como Show, among many others. Some of the best of The Marx Brothers small screen antics are collected in Shout! Factory's The Marx Brothers TV Collection.
This three disc set (four disc if you order directly from Shout! Factory) features a hodgepodge of programs, skits, game shows (including You Bet Your Life, which was hosted by Groucho Marx), comedic moments, and other bits and pieces culled from the archives of the Marx Brothers. This newly released set features the Brothers during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s and is, sad to say, rather hit or miss. Some of these selections feature the Marx Brothers front and center, while others tend to have them as more supporting characters. It's a bit of a crapshoot as to how large each of the brother's parts is from episode to episode, and which brother will be included. There is some funny stuff to be found here, including Groucho laughing it up on You Bet Your Life with Jack Benny (who is in disguise, even though he's clearly not fooling anyone). In another bit, Harpo Marx plays Red Skelton's guardian angel (complete with a harp interlude) on The Red Skelton Show. One of the best pieces comes during The Dupont Show with June Allyson as Harpo tackles his first dramatic role as a mechanized man in a department store who witnessed a murder being committed. Although there were rumblings that Harpo would speak during this segment, he ultimately choose to continue his silent streak, and the effect is spellbinding.
When one Marx Brother is missing, it's often felt heavily by the viewer. During The General Electric Theater's production of "The Incredible Jewel Robbery," Harpo and Chico bounce around the screen without Groucho (who only shows up in an unbilled and very brief cameo). Without Groucho's trademark wit, the episode slows down to almost a crawl. A segment featuring celebrity golf—with Harpo taking on the legendary Sam Snead—feels as if it was included more as filler than for its actual entertainment value. Filling in some of the cracks are rarities and oddities, like commercials for All-Pure evaporated milk, Labatt's beer, and Foster's Freeze (none of which are all that interesting).
These clips or episodes is presented in 1.33:1 full frame in both color and black and white. The quality of each varies greatly—sometimes the image looks sharp and clean, while other times the film elements are in mediocre to poor shape. Watching each episode, I never knew what I was going to get each time I pressed play. I suppose fans should just feel lucky that these broadcasts still exist, even if they aren't always in the greatest of shape. The soundtracks for each selection are presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English. The soundtrack quality varies from episode to episode, with some a lot better than others. Considering the age of the material, it's surprising that the audio mixes are in good a shape as they are. There are no subtitles or alternate soundtracks included on this set. There are no extra features.
How interested you are in The Marx Brothers TV Collection will depend on how much of a diehard fan you are of the Marx's anarchic style of comedy. I enjoyed parts of this Shout! Factory collection, but I have to admit to being more partial to the Marx's full length film career than their spotty TV appearances. This often feels more like it's designed to for the collector who wants to make sure they have every single piece of Marx Brothers footage, no matter how fluffy or inconsequential. For that person, I can recommend this set. For the rest of you, stick with Groucho, Chico, and Harpo's feature length films.
Designed for hardcore Marx fans only.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
Review content copyright © 2014 Patrick Naugle; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.