The Marx Brothers were one of the biggest comedy acts
of the 30's and 40's. They made several classic movies, and they
are still household words today. They started out doing vaudeville,
and eventually stared in their own broadway shows. These plays got
the attention of Hollywood, and the Brothers signed a contract with Paramount.
They made five films between 1929 and 1933 with that studio, the first
two adaptations of their Broadway hits: The Coconuts (1929,)
Animal Crackers (1930,) Monkey Business (1931,) Horse
Feathers (1932,) and Duck Soup (1933.) The last of these,
Duck Soup, was a horrible flop. Zeppo left the group, and
the remaining brothers thought their careers might be over. But as
luck would have it, Chico Marx played bridge with Irving Thalberg, a powerful
executive at MGM. Chico was able to talk his friend into signing
the group to his studio, then the most powerful movie factory in Hollywood.
A boxed set of seven of the brothers movies is now available on DVD containing
all six movies that they did for MGM, along with the single feature that
they filmed for UA in their later years.
Three of the films are avalible in the boxed set and are also sold seperately.
Click on the link below to go directly to their reviews:
at the Opera
at the Races
The other four weaker features are avalible only in this boxed set.
These movies, Room Service, At
the Circus, Go West and The
Big Store, are presented on two DVDs. Each double feature
is a two-sided disc with one feature on each side.
Riddle: When is a movie staring three Marx Brothers not a Marx
Brothers movie? When it's a movie that wasn't written especially
for them, and doesn't use the screen personalities they so carefully developed.
All of Marx Brothers movies up to and including A Day at the Races
were written with them in mind, and it matched their style of humor.
But the movie they made in 1938, Room Service, was based on a popular
play and was never intended for the Marx', and it shows.
Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx) is the manager of a soon to be produced
play. It'll be produced just as soon as he finds a backer for it.
He and the entire crew have been staying in a hotel during rehearsals,
and have run up an incredible bill. Luckily, a rich man wants
to finance a play. He promises to return in the morning to sign a
contract and hand over a check for $15,000. But the hotel manager
has had enough and wants to throw Miller, his treasurer Harry Binelli (Chico
Marx) and their friend Faker (Harpo Marx) out on the street. But
the trio has to keep the room for a day until they can collect the money
from their backer. So the group, along with the play's author (Leo
Davis played by Frank Albertson) who just happens to show up, comes up
with one scheme after another to stay in the room. But will they
be able to hold the manager off long enough?
This was the first movie that the Marx Brothers made following the untimely
death of Irving Thalberg, and his touch is notably absent. Gone are
the high production values of their previous two films. Room Service
was made on the cheap, with almost the entire movie taking place in a single
hotel room. There were no musical numbers either, something that
I didn't necessarily miss, but which was a departure from the formula that
had served the brothers so well in the past.
The film didn't fit the Marx Brothers either. There was no fast
paced banter between Groucho and Chico, Harpo, who barely appeared in the
film, didn't have any pantomime scenes, and the pace of the movie was very
slow compared with their previous efforts. The personalities that
audiences had come to know had been altered a bit. Chico wasn't out
to con Groucho, and Harpo didn't chase any women. Even Groucho's
name was sedate in this film. Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush, Prof. Quincy
Adams Wagstaff, and Rufus T. Firefly were what audiences had come to expect
as a moniker for Groucho's character, not something as common as Gordon
Most notably absent from this film was Margaret Dumont, the perfect
foil to Groucho's exuberant over the top style. Her upper class bearing
and pompous attitude, coupled with that dismissive look of hers, made her
the ideal straight man. She always looked like she never understood
what Groucho was going on about, and by all accounts she didn't.
Apparently she never understood any of the jokes in the films.
There really isn't a love interest for Groucho in this movie.
The closest thing to that is the female lead in the play, a small part
filled by Lucille Ball. Unfortunately, Ball is wasted in this film
since her role is a straight part, and you'd never guess what a talented
comedienne she really is.
Without an upper class person to poke fun at, this movie lacks a lot
of the edge and social commentary that the other Marx movies have.
But that isn't to say that this film is horrible, it isn't. The movie
would have been pretty good had other comedians been cast as the leads.
Some of the lines are funny, and the plot is pretty humorous in itself.
But there are no memorable lines or quotes, something the earlier movies
all had. In the end, Room Service comes across as an average
late 30's comedy, not a classic madcap comedy like the earlier Marx Brothers
movies had been.
At the Circus:
Jeff Wilson (Kenny Baker) is the owner of a small circus. He owes
John Carter (James Burke) $10,000 and the note is about to come due.
Carter would rather have the circus than the money, but Wilson isn't worried,
the circus is doing well and he has the money. His assistant, Antonio
Pirelli (Chico) isn't so confident and wires his old attorney friend J.
Cheever Loophole (Groucho) to meet the circus. As soon as Groucho
arrives, Carter's men ambush Wilson and steal the $10,000 he's saved.
Now time is running out. Loophole, Pirelli and their friend Punchy
(Harpo) only have a few days to find out who took the money and retrieve
it. But Carter won't stand by and idly let the circus slip from between
This movie is a lot better than its disc mate. There is a lot
of the banter and jokes that we've come to expect from the Marx Brothers
and a great deal of madcap hi jinx, but you can tell that the boys are
starting to run out of steam. This movie is a much more standard
type of comedy, with a lot of the zaniness that made their earlier films
so delightful missing. Musical numbers pop up more frequently in
this show, including a lively jazz number that was reminiscent of A
Day at the Races. The acting wasn't as fresh in many parts and
the show feels a little tired.
The most glaring change in this movie over their earlier ones is that
the brother's personalities have been toned down. Groucho isn't trying
to marry Margaret Dumont for her money any more, and Chico isn't an unrepentant
con man. They are now upstanding citizens, albeit zany ones, that
are selflessly helping a circus owner.
Having said that, this is still a funny movie. Not one of their
best, but still worth owning. There are some hilarious scenes, my
favorite being when Harpo and Chico search the strong man's room while
he's sleeping. Another great moment is when Groucho believes he has
discovered the stolen money in a female tightrope walker's room.
She takes the wallet and puts it down the front of her shirt. Groucho
turns to the camera and says "There must be some way of getting the money....
without getting into trouble with the Hayes office."
This movie still has enough of that Marx Brother's magic to make it
a delight for fans of classic comedy. The songs are interminable
(with the exception of when Groucho sings
"Lydia the Tattooed Lady") but the jokes and gags more than make up
for it. This is an amusing film.
MGM continues to cast the Marx Brothers in more mainstream comedies
with their next picture, Go West.
Joseph Panello (Chico) and his brother Rusty (Harpo) set out for 'The
West" by swindling S. Quentin Quale (Groucho) out of the train fare.
Once they arrive, they start prospecting, and obtain a deed to some land
as collateral for a $10 loan from an old prospector. Unbeknownst
to the pair, the railroad wants to buy that land for $50,000. Meanwhile
Quale has managed to hitchhike his way out west. He runs into Joseph
and Rusty just in time to stop them from being cheated out of the deed
by the villains of the picture, John Beecher (Walter Woolf King,) and Red
Baxter (Robert Barrat.) The rest o fthe picture is taken up
by Beecher and Baxter trying to get the deed, while the Panellos and Quale
try to hand on to it.
It is sad that the Marx brothers weren't able to continue to make the
kinds of movies that made them famous. This film is dull and witless
for the most part, with many of the gags either duplicated or derivative
of the stunts they pulled in earlier movies. The pacing of the movie
is horrible, with the show slowing down terribly in the middle. While
there were some funny bits, like the chase on the train at the end, much
of the movie just fails. The section that takes place in the Indian
camp was not funny at all, with every joke falling flat.
Groucho really suffers in this movie. Margaret Dumont doesn't
appear, and he has no one to unleash his barbs upon. The jokes he
does tell are one-liners, not a string of insanity that was his trademark.
And even that he does too infrequently. With most of the gags being
slapstick, Groucho doesn't have the chance to shine like he did in the
While not the worst movie in this set (that honor goes to the movie
on the other side of the disc, The Big Store) it is one of the Brothers
The Big Store:
This was the last movie the trio created for MGM, and it is regarded
as one of the worst films the Marx Brothers made. It's sad to see
how low they've fallen over the course of the movies in this set.
Tommy Rogers (Tony Martin) has inherited half of a large department
store and want to sell his interest so that he can create a music conservatory
for children. But the man who owns the other half, Mr. Grover (Douglass
Dumbrille,) has been embezzling and knows that if the books are audited
prior to a sale, he'll be caught. So he sends some thugs out to kill
Tommy. Tommy's best friend Ravelli (Chico) worries that something
might be up and acts as a bodyguard. When the first attempt on his
life fails Martha Phelps (Margaret Dumont,) Tommy's aunt, hires detective
Wolf J. Flywheel (Groucho) and his assistant Wacky (Harpo) to guard her
nephew. But even with three guards, Grover won't give up.
This was a poor film. Just from watching the credits, you know
something different is going on in this movie: The Marx Brothers
share top billing with Tony Martin. As sad as it sounds, it's true.
What's worse is that Martin probably deserves it because his part is as
big as that of any of the Marx Brothers. There are many problems
with this movie, but it basically boils down to the fact that it isn't
funny. The Marx Brothers have a much smaller role, and the plot takes
precedent over the humor. The brothers are almost regulated to supporting
This movie just doesn't flow well. There were way too many
songs in this film, most of them interminable. The Tenement Symphony
sticks out as a particularly bad number, even for a Marx Brothers film.
The big climax, something that was good even in Go West, falls flat
here, a slapstick chase where the film has been sped up to make the action
more frantic and only serves to suck any humor out of the situation.
This film is a sad ending to the Marx Brothers relationship with MGM
that started out so well with one of their best movies, A Night at the
All of these movies have a mono soundtrack as they were originally presented.
There is a small amount of hiss present, but it is not distracting.
The dialog is easy to hear though some of the s' are distorted. Given
the age of the film, the movie sounds very good. Subtitles are available
in English, French and Spanish.
The black and white full frame video image is very good overall.
The prints had a good amount of contrast and excellent detail with very
little grain. The movies were soft but this wasn't a major problem.
There were two prints used to create the master for Room Service.
The majority of the film is made from an excellent print that is slightly
soft but otherwise very fine. The second print that was used only
for a few scenes was more worn and scratchy.
There is a trailer for each movie, and at least two shorts accompanying
The first short on the Room Service DVD is Party Fever,
a 1928 Our Gang comedy. Butch and Alfafa are trying to win the "Mayor for
a Day" competition because the winner gets a date with Darla.
The second short is The Daffy Doc, a black and white Looney Tunes
cartoon featuring Daffy Duck and Porky Pig. This cartoon was pretty
funny, as most of the Looney Tunes shorts are. It was a treat finding
this cartoon on the disc.
At The Circus had Dog Daze, another Our Gang film, and
Jitterbug Follies, a cartoon featuring Count Screwloose and Jr.
The shorts included with Go West are Quicker 'n a Wink,
a film showing some high speed photography that was very fun to watch.
There was also Cavalcade of San Francisco, a travelogue about the
city, and The Milky Way, a cartoon about the 'poor little kittens
who lost their mittens.'
Go West also features an audio promotional spot for the movie,
Leo is on the Air.
The Big Store featured Flicker Memories a great parody of silent
movies. They took a silent drama and dubbed a voiceover to it, in
the style of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It was very funny,
much funnier than the movie it accompanies.
There is also Officer Pooch, a Technicolor Hanna-Barbera cartoon,
and the audio to a song that was cut from the movie, Where's the Music.
I'm glad that A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races
are finally available on DVD. They are both great movies, and have
some fabulous extras. A Night in Casablanca and At the
Circus are both good too, though the others in the set are mediocre
or worse. Warners has created an interesting pricing scheme for these
movies though: The three individual DVDs retail for $19.97 each,
or $59.91 for all three. The boxed set with those three plus four
more movies retails for $59.92. For the extra penny, I'd definitely
recommend getting the extra movies and bonus materials. As for the
set itself, the later films drag the rating down a bit: Recommended.