MPI Home Video's mismatched Groucho Marx & Redd Foxx is a bit like sitting down to a meal of grits and giblets with sauerkraut and potato pancakes. Beyond the fact that consumers will likely buy/rent it for one talent but not the other, MPI's cover art and text offers absolutely no clue as to what this presentation even is, other than a "hilarious double bill of ... stand-up comedy performed in front of a studio audience."
It turns out to be two episodes of a half-hour program called One Man Show, a series so obscure that it's not even listed on the IMDb. Nowhere on the credits of the shows themselves nor anywhere on the packaging is there a hint when these programs were made, though one source dates Groucho's appearance at November 11, 1969, which seems correct. Neither show services their star attraction well, though fans of Foxx and Groucho will want to see them anyway. In Groucho's case, equally unidentified "Groucho Marx Bonus Footage" turns out to be a nine-minute excerpt from a March 14, 1964 episode of The Hollywood Palace, and it alone is worth the price of the disc.
Marx's appearance on One Man Show is more depressing than funny. Though Groucho still has his wits about him (this was made about the same time as his earliest and best appearances on The Dick Cavett Show), but the show's clumsy structure doesn't do him any favors. Groucho's show opens with a poorly written and executed monologue, followed by some questions from the audience. Groucho has trouble hearing the questions, thwarting his timing from the You Bet Your Life quiz show days. Next is a segment with a quiz show patterned guest from the audience, but his eccentricities are an act (he supposedly runs an organization trying to clothe "obscenely naked" domestic animals), and a brief interview with announcer Ed Jordan doesn't go anywhere. Depressingly, Groucho seems all too aware his appearance isn't going well, and can't wait to get offstage once it's over.
Redd Foxx's appearance is somewhat more successful, though the pre-Sanford and Son star is up against other obstacles. First, his hands are obviously tied by the standards & practices of commercial television and, worse, he's playing to an almost all-white audience (in a notably cramped little studio), some of whom obviously find him hilarious while others applause politely or sit in stony silence. Finally, he's forced to deliver what amounts to four independent stand-up routines, one after the other (with breaks for commercials) which seems to break his momentum. Still, his edgy humor, touching upon race relations, Vietnam, etc. strikes a nerve, and some of the jokes are pretty funny.
Video & Audio
Both One Man Shows were shot in color on tape. Though they show signs of minor damage, that they survive at all is surprising, and look fine by late-1960s technological standards. The mono sound is okay. Surprisingly, both offer optional English subtitles.
As it turns out, the extra feature on this disc is better than the main attraction, and Grouchophiles will want to pick up this DVD just for it. The nine-minute, black and white videotaped segment is adapted directly from the classic Marx Bros. film A Day at the Races (1937), opening with Dr. Hackenbush (Groucho) seeing a patient (Dee Hartford, Groucho's sister-in-law at the time), amusingly adlibbing between jokes, before breaking into an elaborate musical number, complete with mini-skirted nurses.
After the early 1950s, Groucho rarely played the "Groucho" character, preferring to more or less play himself, as he so famously did on You Bet Your Life. What's revelatory about the segment is that although Groucho was nearly 74 years old when this was taped, it's like watching the Groucho of the mid-1930s. He performs the elaborately choreographed number perfectly and is obviously having the time of his life.
(The only disappointment is that this is not the famous Hollywood Palace episode to feature Groucho's onetime foil Margaret Dumont, who made her final appearance in a segment with Marx just days before her death. Either MPI didn't have access to that episode, or didn't realize that Groucho fans would have liked to have seen it, too.)
Groucho Marx & Redd Foxx is little more than a footnote in the careers of two popular comics, though hardcore fans will want to seek it out.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel.