The second movie that the Marx Brothers made for MGM was A Day at
the Races. After the success they had with A Night at the
Opera, this movie boasted longer and more lavish production numbers,
and a more solid plot. And though this outing wasn't quite as funny
as the previous movie, it is still one of the great Marx Brothers movies.
Judy Standish (Maureen O'Sullivan) is running her late father's sanitarium
with the help of Tony (Chico) and Stuffy (Harpo.) But things are
not going well. The sanitarium is losing money, and the creditor,
Morgan (Douglass Dumbrille) owner of the local race track, is threatening
to foreclose if the note isn't paid off by the end of the month.
To add to the troubles, their rich patient Emily Upjohn (wonderfully played
by Margaret Dumont) threatens to leave because the doctors have the audacity
to tell her that she is healthy! She orders her luggage taken to
the train station so her old physician, Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho,)
can treat her. Thinking quickly, Tony sends a telegraph off to Hackenbush
asking him to come to the sanitarium. Dr. Hackenbush arrives, but
it turns out he's a veterinarian, not a licensed physician, but that doesn't
stop him from treating patients. Add to this mix Judy's boyfriend
Gil (Allan Jones) who has just purchased a racehorse, and Whitmore (Leonard
Ceeley) Judy's business manager who is trying to discredit Hackenbush,
and you have a classic, funny movie.
As with A Night at the Opera, this movie features some classic
comedy sketches. All three brothers are in top form in this picture.
Harpo performs one of his best pantomime acts when he tries to tell Chico
that Groucho is in trouble, a hilarious performance. There is a lot
of rapid-fire banter between Groucho and Chico at the racetrack when Chico,
the "Tootsie-Frootsie" Ice Cream vendor, sells Groucho a hot tip on a horse;
only the tip turns out to be in code. My favorite scene though, is
when Groucho, Chico, and Harpo team up to give a medical examination to
Margaret Dumont. As can be expected, chaos ensues.
This would be the Marx Brothers last great movie. Irving Thalberg,
an important producer at MGM and their biggest supporter, would die suddenly
at the age of 37. He signed the brothers when they thought their
careers were over after the horrible flop that Duck Soup turned
out to be (now regarded as their best movie.) Thalberg's insistence
of high production values and better pacing revitalized the Marx Brother's
careers, but after his demise, they didn't have anyone in their corner
fighting for them. From here on out, the Marx Brothers movies would
go steadily down hill. Though there are some great moments in their
later films, A Day at the Races would be their last quality movie.
The mono audio had a slight hiss to it, but not as bad as A Night
at the Opera. There were a few other audio imperfections, an
occasional pop or slight distortion, but these were rare. The dialog
was crisp and easy to hear. I'm sure this sounds just as good, if
not better, than when the movie was originally in theaters. Subtitles
are available in English, French and Spanish.
The full frame picture was a little soft, with the fine lines being
slightly blurred. There was also a little bit of grain in the picture,
but it wasn't excessive. The blacks were not true black, but the
picture did have very good contrast and brightness, with a good amount
of detail. There were very few, if any, video imperfections.
The print looked very clean.
This DVD, like A Night at the Opera, has a good selection of
bonus material included with the movie:
Commentary by Glenn Mitchell:
The author and Marx Brothers scholar gives a pretty interesting commentary.
He talks about the history of the brothers, and relates anecdotes about
the film and the people appearing in it. A very enjoyable track.
On Your Marx, Get Set, Go:
A half hour long documentary on the Marx Brothers. This one compliments
the documentary on A Night at the Opera very well. They cover different
material than the other featurette, talking about Chico's (pronounced "chick-o")
luck with the women and Harpo's harp playing. It is a welcome
addition to this DVD.
A Night at the Movies: A Robert
Benchley short that was nominated for an Academy Award for 1937.
This 10-minute featurette had Benchley and his wife going to the movies,
a very different experience than we get today. It's worth watching
just to see what movie theaters were like back in the late 30's.
Old Smokey: A Captain and
the Kids cartoon. The fire department is replacing the fire horse,
Old Smokey, with a shiny new engine. But will this new contraption
work better than the faithful horse?
Mama's New Hat: Another Captain
and the Kids cartoon. The kids accidentally ruin their mother's present,
a new hat, and swap the damaged one with a hat that a horse is wearing.
Mama loves her present, but the horse isn't happy and wants his old hat
Gallopin' Gas: Another horse related
cartoon. This early Hanna-Barbarra cartoon takes place at the racetrack.
A Message From the Man in the Moon:
This was a song recorded for the movie, but it was either never filmed,
or cut from the final print. The song is preformed and shown with
stills from the movie.
Leo is on the Air: A radio
promotional spot that advertises A Day at the Races with sound clips.
There are several pops and clicks, but it sound is adequate.
This was a funny movie with some great bits. The picture quality
was good, and the disc had a wonderful set of extras. This is a DVD
that should definitely be in any complete collection of classic comedies.