The Marx 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.)
The executive 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.
It’s 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.