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Winstar Home Video presents
The Unknown Marx Brothers (1993)

"Howard, I'll bet you a buck I can kiss your wife and you won't know a thing about it. Bet? Okay. Would you mind moving aside there? Now, you saw me kiss her, didn't you? I lose, here's your buck."
- Groucho Marx, on You Bet Your Life

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: November 01, 2000

Stars: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx
Other Stars: Zeppo Marx, Gummo Marx, Leslie Nielsen
Director: David Leaf and John Scheinfeld

Manufacturer: Zuma Digital
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (comic violence, sexual innuendo)
Run Time: 01h:25,:01s
Release Date: July 05, 2000
UPC: 720917300429
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- ABC C-

DVD Review

Although several classic Marx Brothers films are available on DVD, this documentary is a welcomeaddition to any comedy fan's library. In it, we get a fairly thorough review of the lives and careersof the three most famous Marxes, with a glimpse of Zeppo and Gummo to boot.

The program is about two-thirds period footage and photos, and the remainder is interviews withmembers of the next generation or two of the Marx family. Tying the whole together is astraightforward narrative by Leslie Nielsen, best known for starring in the Naked Gun films. We start off with their childhood and their early entry into show business (especially their mother,Minnie's, domineering way as agent for the boys), as well as the origin of the cross-eyed face calledthe "gookie" used by Harpo throughout their careers. Several conflicting stories of where theirnicknames came from are included, without any attempt to decide which is the right one; perhaps thebrothers themselves didn't know for sure.

Plenty of gem footage is included here, such as a 1925 silent film appearance by Harpo (the only timeon that he ever spoke on film!). The period of vaudeville and Broadway success is nicely developed,although their early film career seems a little minimized. There being more footage available, theirlater careers are covered in depth, notably Groucho's period on You Bet Your Life. Guestappearances (especially by Groucho) on television variety programs are also included. A particularfavorite is a spoof of Groucho's game show on the Jack Benny show, featuring Jack disguised as acontestant. One of the gems of the program is the few fragments surviving of the uncompleted pilotof a television series featuring Groucho, Harpo and Chico as angels in a comic premonition ofTouched by an Angel. Another rarity is the promotional film of the first scene of their firstBroadway show, I'll Say She Is.

The total result is a highly entertaining and informative documentary, chock full of background onthe great screen comedians. Little footage of their well-known films is included, so you needn'tworry about duplication if you already have their pictures on DVD. The primary complaint is thatthe actual running time of the program is nowhere near the 126 minutes promised on the keepcase.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: The image quality is highly variable, depending on the source materials. The oldest films, however,are in surprisingly gorgeous condition. The television kinescopes, not surprisingly, are the weakestmaterial. Since You Bet Your Life had to be shot on film in order to edit out the naughtiestof Groucho's ad libs, those programs are generally in quite good shape. They do have some annoyingframe damage at times, but doubtless the film presented is the only copy extant. Blacks are excellentand the ranges of greys are decent to excellent in the old material. The modern day interviewfootage tends to be a little on the darkish side. Overall, this is certainly acceptable quality for adocumentary film, especially in light of the age of some of the film.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The DD 2.0 mono audio track is fairly nondescript. There is occasional hiss and noise, dependingon the source materials. Some of the musical material (especially Chico's piano playing) is quitedistorted. The interviews are all quite clear and easily understood, making the lack of subtitles lessof an issue. The audio is probably as good as it's likely to be without a major restoration effort.

Audio Transfer Grade: C

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Trivia game
  2. Bonus footage (zoomlinks)
  3. Outtakes from You Bet Your Life
  4. Interview with Harpo
  5. Harpo ad for LaBatt's beer
Extras Review: The extras are somewhat of a mixed bag, and there is a fair amount of duplication among them. Thereis a five-question trivia game, which plays a brief clip from the main program if you answer right. There is a "zoomlink" feature which is mainly annoying. A "zoomlink" logo appears on the lowerright of the screen periodically; pressing "enter" will take you to an outtake of You Bet YourLife or similar material. In most instances, they have nothing to do with the material in the mainprogram where the link appears. The outtakes are also available to play from the main menu, whichworks much better than interrupting the program with an irrelevant sidetrack. They're uniformlyfunny, and sometimes more than a little racy, as befits Groucho.

The "production notes" are nothing more than DVD credits. A good filmography of the brothers'team and solo film appearances is included, but it annoyingly fails to identify which brother appearsin the named films. The biography contains nothing which isn't already in the main program; oddly,it omits the year of death for each of the brothers.

Two of the best extras relate to Harpo: a complete surreal ad for LaBatt's beer, and an interview withEdward R. Murrow that aired on Person to Person in the 1950s. These are both quiteentertaining and help amplify the main material nicely.

The extras aren't bad, but they're put together oddly and the zoomlink feature is not well-used here. Chaptering is wholly inadequate.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

An interesting and informative look at the Brothers Marx. Very highlyrecommended to their fans, especially because of all the rare footage included.

 


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