Brothers created timeless comedy, but fans have had to “make do” with the
relative handful of movies they left behind. It’s no chore to revisit Duck Soup or A Night at the Opera on a regular basis, but now, thanks to Shout!
Factory’s new three-disc DVD set The Marx
Brothers TV Collection, there is more Marxian madness than ever to enjoy.
And, if you
say the secret woid, there is a fourth “bonus” disc available in limited
quantities (along with a poster of Drew Friedman’s wonderful DVD cover art) if
you order directly from Shout! Factory’s website HERE. It includes a half-hour filmed segment from the anthology Silver Theater starring Chico called Papa Romani (1950), an episode of The Christophers’ show It’s Your Serve (1954) with Harpo among
the guests, two excerpts from The
Hollywood Palace (1964/65) featuring Groucho and his favorite foil,
Margaret Dumont, a 1971 interview with Chico’s daughter Maxine Marx for a local
television station in Virginia, and an excerpt from the somewhat embarrassing One Man Show (1969), which I remember
watching (and wincing through) when it first aired. This is Groucho past his
prime, but it’s still valuable to have.
This, on top
of the ten hours of material on the more widely circulated 3-disc set, provides
a cornucopia of television fodder: complete shows, excerpts, imports, commercials,
and what can only be called miscellany. What’s more, the accompanying booklet
is filled with rare photos and memorabilia. All of this has been a labor of
love for Robert S. Bader, a Marxophile of the first rank who is also working on
an exhaustive book about the brothers’ largely-undocumented vaudeville and
stage careers. His program notes point out how many of the songs and routines
Groucho, Harpo, and Chico performed on TV variety shows of the 1950s and ‘60s
dated back to their earliest days in vaudeville. (He is also the editor of Groucho Marx and Other Short Stories and
Tall Tales, an excellent compendium of Groucho’s humorous writings.)
producer of this package is Bill Marx, the proud son of Harpo who narrates a
fascinating 22-minute assortment of silent home movie footage featuring the
brothers and their families over the years. (He also turns up, briefly, in the
episode of Fess Parker’s TV show Mr.
Smith Goes to Washington that features Harpo as guest star.) Like much of
the material in this DVD collection, it has never been shown publicly before.
difficult to know what to single out, besides that home-movie collage, as there
are so many goodies here. I love the out-take reel from the final season of You Bet Your Life, the kinescope of
Chico’s short-lived musical TV series College
Bowl (featuring a young Andy Williams in its ensemble), The Jack Benny Program from 1955 with
Jack as a sham contestant on Groucho’s quiz show, the segments from Inside Beverly Hills, and much, much
more. I even like seeing Chico on Championship
Bridge and Harpo on Celebrity Golf
(which was directed by the man who made Monkey
Business and Horse Feathers,
Norman Z. McLeod).
If you’re a
baby boomer like me, these shows and clips create a nostalgia trip to a time
when it was commonplace to see the greats of show business on television. We
didn’t know how good we had it then. This marvelous collection brings back a
wave of happy memories. For me, it’s the DVD event of the year.