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Warner Home Video presents
Go West / The Big Store (1940 / 1941)

"There's something corrupt going on around my pants, but I just can't seem to locate it."
- S. Quentin Quale (Groucho Marx)

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: May 04, 2004

Stars: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Tony Martin, Virginia Grey, Douglas Dumbrille
Other Stars: Walter Woolf King, Robert H. Barrat, June MacCloy, George Lessey, John Carroll, Diana Lewis, Tully Marshall
Director: Edward Buzzel, Charles Riesner

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:43m:00s
Release Date: May 04, 2004
UPC: 085393384920
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Go West (1940)
Directed by: Edward Buzzel

Go West marked a creative turning point for the Marx Brothers; unfortunately it was in the wrong direction in terms of quality. Not a complete valley of descent, but even the most non-discriminating fan walked away a little disappointed. Although At the Circus collected nice notices from reviewers and attendees, most felt it lacked the verve of the team's extraordinary one-two punch of their first efforts at MGM (A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races); the writing wasn't as sharp, and more conventionality tended to dilute what strengths were there.

It wasn't entirely the team's fault; the sudden death of close ally and MGM production genius Irving Thalberg three years earlier deprived them of two key creative elements that aided in making their earlier films (including the best of their Paramount oeuvre) so memorable: the ability to test their material in front of live audiences and to hire writers with whom they had worked previously.

In its opening minutes, Go West gives the impression of ducking behind-the-camera disadvantages. Set in 1870, the boys are en route to California; Groucho plays S. Quentin Quale, a fast-talking slicker in need of cash for train fare. Upon eyeing seemingly dim-witted brothers Joseph (Chico) and Rusty (Harpo) Panello, it looks to Quale like money in the bag. But first impressions are deceiving, and the con man is outsmarted at his own game in a brilliant set piece that showcases all of the Marx trademarks—Groucho's sarcastic wit, Chico's smart-aleck propensity, and Harpo's keen way with props—in peak form.

Unfortunately, they don't miss that California bound train and the proceedings lose steam quicker than an overhyped Britney Spears cable concert. Rusty and Joseph arrive first with visions of gold, only to be brought back to reality by the sad story of now penniless prospector Dan Wilson (Tully Marshall). In a show of sympathy, the brothers loan the old man money while he puts up the deed to his property as collateral, but little does he know that this seemingly worthless piece of paper is about to become a goldmine of its own. Thanks to Terry Turner (John Carroll) the boyfriend of only child Eve (Diana Lewis), railroad expansion is targeted to come through his property; Wilson will never have to bake under that hot California sun again. However, Rusty and Joseph manage to lose the paperwork thanks to the late arriving Quale (re-christened "Two Gun" Quale), whose ineptitude leads to a drunken evening in the company of saloon girls, which in turn causes the deed to wind up in the hands of town boss Red Baxter (Robert H. Barrat). It's a madcap scurry to the finish, complete with Indians, befuddled bystanders, and and a climatic train ride.

Now, did I just describe the plot of an Abbott and Costello comedy? Nope. Go West is indeed the property of the Marx Brothers, and by the way, my comparison is in no way meant as a slam against Bud and Lou; I'm a tremendous fan of theirs. But what works for one comedy team may be ill-suited for another. Conventionality does not become Groucho, Chico, and Harpo, which is precisely why this film fails by their own standards. With too much time spent on recycled romance and western plotlines, the boys wind up seeming more like guest stars. You'd think that the breaks for Chico's customary ivory tinkling and Harpo's harp solos would be a relief; here they feel forced. Leave it to good old Groucho to do whatever he can to salvage what eventually becomes a hackneyed bore; delivering one-liners like Jackie Chan unleashing stunts in a Chinese chop-'em-up, I think he manages the equivalent of a lifetime of Bob Hope NBC monologues in 80 minutes. Some zingers are laugh-out-loud brilliant ("I give you my solemn word as an embezzler, I'll be back in 10 minutes."), others a bit dated but still giggle-inducing to those in the know (Chico suggests calling for help at the midway point, prompting Groucho to crack, "This is 1870! Don Ameche hasn't invented the telephone yet!") and a few miss the funny bone region entirely. As for the aforementioned train ride, it comes very close to redeeming a poor middle act (including creative contributions from an uncredited Buster Keaton, who just had to be the mastermind behind the hilarious final shot of the sequence), however, it ultimately goes on much too long. I'll put it this way: When Groucho subdues one of the train engineers and breaks the fourth wall to say to those watching, "This is the best gag in the picture", I'm almost 100% in agreement with him.

The Big Store (1940)
Directed by: Charles Riesner

Given some of the mixed reviews I'd read about The Big Store over the years, I was more than slightly tentative about flipping this Warner two-fer over to have a look see at it, but talk about relief! Though it doesn't approach the heights of their classics, Store is a terrific mixture of Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera craziness and the more conventional subplot temperament of their MGM work. Groucho portrays Wolf J. Flywheel, a down-on-his-luck Big Apple detective whose client list is as long as the tiniest post-it note. Luck changes when Martha Phelps (Margaret Dumont), co-owner of one of the "big" department stores in town enlists his services after an unsuccessful do-away attempt on her nephew and sole heir, Tommy Rogers (Tony Martin). Together with trusty assistant Wacky (Harpo) and good buddy Ravelli (Chico), Flywheel assumes the role of protector and tries to nail the crooked culprit behind the mysterious accidents, who is also manipulating the books to his own advantage.

Despite formulaic moments (and their own misgivings about the film in retrospect), The Big Store is an enjoyable 80 minutes of fun that just speeds by. Martin is a cut above most crooners in similar plots, and his romantic pairing with lovely Virginia Grey isn't as snooze-inducing as other couples the Marxes were saddled with in previous pictures. Dumbrille (who also appears in A Day at the Races) plays the villain with effectively controlled zeal. And what a treat to have Margaret Dumont back (the comedy team's unofficial good luck charm) one last time; her scenes with a lusty Groucho are fantastic.

In fact, all three brothers get terrific solo showcases. What could have been a predictable turn at the piano for Chico is enlivened as Harpo sits in to perform another beautiful piece on the instrument that inspired his nickname. It's a cleverly filmed sequence that pairs him with two very familiar accompanists. Ah, but leave it to everybody's favorite fake mustachioed wise guy to steal the show as Groucho oversees the wonderfully bizarre Tenement Symphony, a production number that could have been a cleverly disguised jab at similar interludes their audiences were forced to endure in earlier films; it also features the most unusual variation on the old nursery rhyme Rock-A-Bye Baby you're ever likely to hear.

Another plus for the movie is its witty dialogue, co-penned by Nat Perrin (who also worked on the team's unforgettable Duck Soup in addition to scripting two of Abbott and Costello's best films, Pardon My Sarong and Keep 'Em Flying). Together with breezy performances by all, above average music and a tight slapstick finale (which improves upon the overlong final reel shenanigans of Go West significantly), The Big Store may be the Marx Brothers' most underrated work.

Consumer Note: The double feature discs of Go West andThe Big Store as well as Room Service and At the Circus are only available as part of Warner's Marx Brothers Collection.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Aside from a few moments of inconsistent brightness (not to mention Harpo's video-challenging outfit revealed midway through) Go West is the best of the two films in terms of visual effectiveness, but still this product is over 60 years old, so don't expect it to be razor sharp. Store has a little bit of extra wear and tear (momentary frame damage; brief bits taken from inferior prints), but is mostly on par with its accompanying feature.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: This transfer offers your usual 1940s-era sound as reinterpreted via DVD: lacking in lows, more than enough on the high end, but good enough to satisfy all but the most overtly critical audiophiles (who deserve a kick in the pants for being so picky).

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 46 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Vintage Shorts (Pete Smith Specialty Quicker 'N A Wink, James A. FitzPatrick Traveltalk Calvacade of San Francisco, Flicker Memories)
  2. Vintage Cartoons (The Milky Way, Officer Pooch)
  3. Leo Is On The Air Radio Promo
  4. Outtake From The Big Store (Where There's Music)
Extras Review: Though not as Marx-laced as some of the bonuses on Warner's other discs of the teams' material, there's still plenty of period treats that I'm sure classic film lovers will enjoy. Included are a diverse array of shorts from the MGM vaults, including one of those cool Technicolor travelogues from James Fitzpatrick that still pop up on Turner Classic Movies from time to time; the terrific science-oriented Quicker 'N' a Wink will take baby boomers like me back to darkened classrooms of yore (albeit without the soundtrack where the narrator sounded like he was gargling with saltwater); two charming early Hanna-Barbera cartoons (when will we see a boxed set of those?); another edition of Leo on the Air that offers a taste of how radio listeners got wind of Go West; an outtake of a Tony Martin number from Store (Where There's Music) complete with studio talk (and in stereo to boot); and trailers for both movies.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Like a good day and a bad day at the office, this Marx Brothers double feature disc of Go West and The Big Store captures the legendary comedy team during both a rare lull and at the top of their game. Nice period extras help make it yet another indispensable part of Warner's all-in-one-serving avalanche of MGM/RKO/United Artists era Marxism.


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