Monday, July 12, 2004

Hail, Hail Freedonia

You say you want all the Marx Brothers movies on DVD (not counting LOVE HAPPY)? You like the recent WB release of their MGM/RKO pictures but now you want the earlier, crazier Paramount Movies? Well, what have we here...

The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection

No announcement yet on what the bonus materials will be. I have to admit I'm not crazy about the new vogue for having a bunch of movies in one set with all the bonus materials on the last disc; this was obviously started by the Indiana Jones box, but really, when I'm watching a movie I usually want the special features specific to that movie to be on the same disc. Minor point, of course.

I wouldn't expect much from the transfers; these movies are not in good shape, and the original negatives are, I believe, gone. There's little chance of getting back the bits that were cut from Animal Crackers on reissue due to the Production Code (Groucho's sung line "I think I'll try to make her," gone forever), or the frames that are missing from every battered print of Horse Feathers (not due to the Production Code, just a badly-preserved film). But the films are the thing, especially Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, and Duck Soup. These movies are not only the wildest Marx movies, they're the most cinematic; unlike the first two movies, which were adapted from the stage, or the MGM movies, where the routines were often tried out on stage in front of an audience, these three movies have relatively short routines that actually seem to be delivered for the camera rather than an unseen audience. Groucho's trademark pauses are not as long as usual, for example.

Addendum: Turns out that on the same day as the Marx Brothers collection, Universal (which owns the Paramount catalogue, just as WB owns the MGM films and MGM owns the films of United Artists... confusing, no?) will release The W.C. Fields Comedy Collection, with five of his movies for Paramount or Universal: International House, It's a Gift, The Bank Dick, My Little Chickadee (with Mae West), and You Can't Cheat an Honest Man. I'm not quite as big a Fieldsian as I am a Marxian, but nevertheless, this collection is great news for those of us who agree with the adage that anyone who hates small kids and dogs can't be all bad. (And the scenes with the blind man in Its a Gift prove that the South Park generation didn't invent the comedy of really bad taste.)

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