MARX BROTHER TV COLLECTION Review

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Richard M Roberts
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MARX BROTHER TV COLLECTION Review

Postby Richard M Roberts » Sat Jul 12, 2014 1:48 pm

To quote one of Groucho Marx’s frequent generic punchlines to any sort of set-up, “well, it’s about time”. I received this set yesterday and it is everything one would hope for and more.

An awful lot of folk out there these days probably only know the Marx Brothers from the bakers dozen movies they made together in their lifetime, with perhaps a smattering of Groucho solo from whatever episodes of YOU BET YOUR LIFE are still circulating on Youtube and elsewhere, but as true Marx Brother fans know, there was a large, untapped resource of other Marx Brother appearances, in various combinations trio, duo, and solo, that, though harder to see, definitely existed. The Marxes were definitely a multi-media family, having conquered the stage, movies. radio, the written word, and finally, television, where all three, Harpo, Chico, and most successfully, Groucho, had mined many more laughs in their dotage (the Marxes, not the jokes) from the fifties, sixties, till all their various headings to the grave.

We presented a nice variety of these appearances at last years Slapsticon, that went over quite well with those who attended. Now, a very nice and extensive MARX BROTHER TV COLLECTION is out from Shout Factory, three DVD’s (with an extra fourth if you order the set from Shout Factory direct) that gives you a very good idea of what it was like to have the Marx Brothers send you greetings across the Orthicon tube. Like Buster Keaton, they were really indeed a major presence on the Box, and audiences seemed rather happy to see them.

Collected here are a number of goodies, some that have circulated before, but are nice to have here in good-quality editions, but also a lot of new and interesting surprises. THE INCREDIBLE JEWEL ROBBERY gets it’s first official release in complete form, the 1959 episode of the G.E THEATER that features the last public appearance of all three Brothers together, Harpo’s glorious turn on THE RED SKELTON SHOW from 1962, first playing an angel to Skelton’s Clem Kadiddlehopper character in a sketch that goes rather well, then a nice “Silent Spot” bit with Skelton and Harpo as WW1 border guards on the opposing sides. Two dramatic performances, Groucho in THE HOLD-OUT , another GE THEATER from 1963 in which he plays a stubborn but wise father in a little domestic drama with a young Dennis Hopper, and an even better Harpo dramatic turn in the 1960 SILENT PANIC from THE DUPONT SHOW WITH JUNE ALLYSON co-starring Ernest Truex in a Christmas Story that has Harpo out-of- character playing a mute pursued by crooks who know he witnessed a murder.

The interesting surprises sometimes come in what on paper may not look all that promising, Groucho showing up as guest on an episode of ARTHUR MURRAY’S DANCE PARTY in 1953, goofing around on the dance floor and trying to fluster hostess Katherine Murray with little success, giving us a little of the today-hard-to-believe idea of why that was one of the most popular shows on television in its day. Harpo Marx showing up on I’VE GOT A SECRET with the secret that he’s actually Chico in disguise, Groucho showing off an amazing amount of skill nearly beating the legendary Minnesota Fats at nine-ball in an episode of CELEBRITY BILLIARDS from 1968 (Jackie Gleason always said Fats really wasn’t that great a pool player and we can believe it here).

Speaking of Gleason, we have Groucho making a late-1960’s appearance on THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW, a favorite of mine and nice to see here in it’s original color-video, where Groucho puts on the old make-up one more time and does a nice new-lyric rendering of Marx Uncle Al Shean’s “ Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean” song with Reggie Van Gleason. Harpo in a nicely surreal CANDID CAMERA bit, or appearing with Carol Burnett in a 1960 special called THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF TOYS that show two great comedians making something out of what may have been the stupidest idea for a one-off special you can imagine.

All this and much, much more, especially if you order this directly from Shout Factory and get the extra disc. Apart from getting to see lots of new footage of these great comics, you also get a nice tour through early television, a much more fun and interesting place than turning on the remote today, back when the people on the tube were erudite, witty, nicely-dressed, and friendly. The shows weren’t lowest-denominator-aimed towards the denizens of your local trailer park and starring the denizens of your local trailer park, but could be a nice relaxed half-hour where a panel simply-but-intelligently tried to determine the owner of a certain quote, or played a game of bridge (and this was NETWORK Television too).

Television of the 50’s and 60’s was indeed a much more civilized and talented place, and as this set shows, there was even a good chance that one of the Marx Brothers might just saunter in to disrupt the proceedings and make things a little more madcap.

Go buy it, what the hell are you waiting for?

http://www.shoutfactory.com/product/mar ... -bonus-dvd



RICHARD M ROBERTS

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Re: MARX BROTHER TV COLLECTION Review

Postby Jim Roots » Sun Jul 13, 2014 11:21 am

What am I waiting for? I'm waiting for Shout Factory to caption their damn products, that's what.

Jim
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Re: MARX BROTHER TV COLLECTION Review

Postby Robert Moulton » Mon Jul 14, 2014 11:46 pm

The live bits stand out for me, Chico and Harpo doing their 40 year old four handed piano routine is my favourite so far. Chico is full of an energy I usually don't associate with him. The act is even updated to include a Harry Truman reference and it certainly beats the version done ten years earlier in The Big Store.

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Re: MARX BROTHER TV COLLECTION Review

Postby Gary Johnson » Tue Jul 15, 2014 3:17 am

I don't know if it is included in this collection but Kay Starr was handed Dinah's Chevy Show during the summer hiatus in '61 for an all-musical special. It's called "Swing At The Summit" and it is loaded up with top musical talent of the day -- Tony Bennett, George Shearing, Satchmo, and as comedy relief......Harpo.
It is a typical eclectic TV special of that era, with a silly premise (Starr heads the Dept. of Music in what I assume is suppose to be the Kennedy Administration), goofy special effects (the entire cast takes off in hot air balloons to travel the world and spread the US message of music) and an incessant laugh track. Harpo comes off just fine comedy-wise (a lot of throw away bits from him before the next performer warbles another tune) and even gets to play his harp (which is not really surprising at all).

I think what threw me when I first saw this was I didn't expect to find him on a prime time variety special (Groucho, yes. Not his brother), or at the very least one so near the end of his life. I always took Harpo as being the lazy one of the team -- career-wise. He didn't work if he didn't feel like it. The other two had to keep working (but for different reasons. One out of necessity and the other of ego). But I guess I didn't pay that much attention to Harpo's TV filmography since he worked much more than I had ever given him credit for.

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Re: MARX BROTHER TV COLLECTION Review

Postby Robert Moulton » Sun Aug 03, 2014 3:12 pm

The New York Times gets in on the act:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/movie ... spots.html

Richard M Roberts
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Re: MARX BROTHER TV COLLECTION Review

Postby Richard M Roberts » Sun Aug 03, 2014 9:27 pm

Robert Moulton wrote:The New York Times gets in on the act:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/movie ... spots.html



Ah well, another snooty, East Coast "aren't we just so above it all" NYT "nose in the air", we-guess-it's-a-good review. Pointless whining about incompleteness, the reason neither Harpo's I LOVE LUCY guest shot nor Groucho's THE MIKADO is on the set is because thay are already available on DVD, God Forbid you now actually have to get up and put another DVD in the player to watch them!

And,the review is,in fact,incorrect on at least one point, the Dick Cavett clip with Groucho and the cast of MINNIE'S BOYS is not the most recent thing on the set, that is the promotional film for the publication of the new edition of Groucho Marx's book BEDS, shot in 1976 with a very frail Groucho getting in a few last jabs with former YOU BET YOUR LIFE announcer George Fenneman.



RICHARD M ROBERTS

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Re: MARX BROTHER TV COLLECTION Review

Postby Gary Johnson » Mon Aug 04, 2014 2:10 am

Going back to Richard's opening review of this set, that fact that the Brother's only made a 'baker's dozen' of feature films in their career has forced their fans to always search out all of their other extra-curricular activities -- either as solo artists or with one another family members. We have a need to see more Marxist humor besides HORSEFEATHERS.
But it would not have mattered whether the Marx Boys had worked in short subjects for years and cranked out two features a year similar to Wheeler & Woolsey's output, or only turned out their actual meager 13 films -- we still would be searching out all of their solo work in all other mediums. That's what we do with great comic artists. Our recent thread on Monty Python attests to that. They have worked apart longer than they worked together, and yet everything they appeared in not as a team -- from I'M SORRY...I'LL SAY THAT AGAIN to YELLOWBEARD, is now considered part of their over-all oeuvre.

With the release of this comprehensive set of the Marxes TV appearances, that still leaves radio as the last treasure trove of Marx appearances. And since so much of radio was not saved during it's Golden Years, it's hard to say what we are missing out of. Harpo, obviously, is on the losing end of this medium. Although his appearance on a COMMAND PERFORMANCE produced some of it's biggest laughs just because of the concept of a mute on the air. After Jack Benny and Bing Crosby come to a loss at getting a word out of Harpo, his spokesperson is called on to speak for him. Just as everyone assumes this is the cue for Chico to walk in, instead we get Gary Cooper, who answers every question in his trademark 'yup' and 'nope' vernacular.
Chico's busiest time on radio as a solo act is during the war years when he fronted a band. I wish more of these appearances could be found. He typically displays that same level of energy that Moulton was surprised to see on some of his TV appearances. He also keeps finding ways to re-work old Groucho-Chico routines by using the radio emcee's.
Of course, Groucho is all over radio in the Forties. I would suggest forgoing his Pabst Blue Ribbon program, where he is homogenized into a typical script-reading radio comedian, and stick to his varied guest appearances on other people's show. The Groucho personality is more on display there.
But the most interesting time for one half of the Four Marx Bros is the entire decade of the Thirties when Groucho and Chico made repeated stabs at sustaining different radio series -- all for naught unfortunately. Also unfortunate is that many (or most?) of the individual episodes are lost. The one series that I would most like to hear from did not even star them per-say, but hired them as part of an ensemble cast. THE CIRCLE was an ambitious 1939 series that was part variety show and part round table discussion. It featured a rotating cast of Hollywood stars including Ronald Coleman, Cary Grant and Carole Lombard. After much build up to it's premiere, it proceeded to tank in the ratings and was canceled after only 2 months (some say it canceled itself because of too much jockeying and infighting among it's cast of stars). Only one episode seems to have survived and I find it wholly fascinating. Coleman plays his usual understated stentorian self, Lombard gets to enact her inner-NOTHING SACRED ditziness (but then is allowed to discourse on why the country needs a woman President) and Grant I always find thoroughly engaging in any of his radio appearance (Here he sings "Mad Dogs and Englishmen"). Groucho is part of the panel and rips off funny one-liners all evening (even while being chastised by Coleman, "Please Groucho, no more puns..."). But twenty minutes into the program Chico is brought on with a complaint that Mr. Marx owes him $15 dollars for collected dues to a club that he is not a part of, and the two of them take off on a ten minute Groucho-Chico routine that rates up there with the best that Kaufman ever wrote for them. It segues from Chico demanding his money, to Groucho pushing him into a duel with Jose Iturbi, to Chico raising a child and so he can't possible fight today and he needs the dough now to help raise his kid. And it all wraps up with a big musical number that sounds suspiciously like something Harry Ruby would had turned out at lunchtime for his long-time pal.

Who knows what other on-air gems we are missing out on today?

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Re: MARX BROTHER TV COLLECTION Review

Postby Richard M Roberts » Mon Aug 04, 2014 4:46 am

Who knows what other on-air gems we are missing out on today?



The surviving broadcast of THE CIRCLE is indeed a great show, and the other great surviving thirties broadcasts have to include the one and a half surviving episodes of FLYWHEEL, SHYSTER AND FLYWHEEL, their 1933 NBC show that became the basis for the script of DUCK SOUP (and BBC Radio has tried to re-create not that successfully from the surviving scripts). The 1938 pilot for HOLLYWOOD AGENTS is good, even if they did have to settle a lawsuit over it, and my favorite other thirties Marx Bros Radio Broadcast is the surviving last-half of the episode of Louella Parson's HOLLYWOOD HOTEL from 1937 where they're plugging A DAY AT THE RACES. Apart from Jessel and Jolson as other guest-stars, you have Groucho doing "Dr. Hackenbush" most-likely the closest to the way he did it in the deleted sequence in the movie, and Groucho and Chico doing the "Tootsi-Frutsi" routine before a live audience, so we get it timed without the stage waits which make A DAY AT THE RACES somewhat hard to watch on ones own.

As for other currently missing radio appearances I'd like to see turn up, there is a late 1933-early 1934 appearance of all four Marx Brothers on THE JACK BENNY SHOW that is one of the few of the whole dang run of the Benny shows not extant. That along with the Television episode of TONIGHT: AMERICA AFTER DARK from 1957 in which all four brothers appeared and, of course, HUMOR RISK probably make up my three big missing Marx Brothers appearances in various media.

I always liked Groucho and Chico together, perhaps even better then Harpo and Chico together, because Chico was the only one who could get the better of Groucho, and their patter routines just work so well. I wish they had done more TV work together, even that short bit from INSIDE BEVERLY HILLS where Chico and Groucho basically share a walk-on together has a nice feel to it.


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Re: MARX BROTHER TV COLLECTION Review

Postby Gary Johnson » Mon Aug 04, 2014 10:12 am

Yes, for a song that never made it in the finished film, "Dr. Hackenbush" has a surprisingly long life on both radio and TV. And that episode of HOLLYWOOD HOTEL does contain the definitive version to me also. The problem was that I was listening to so many radio programs that I forgot which show had the definitive version. Thanks for jogging the memory.
(I believe there is a pretty good version on an episode of Dinah Shore's BirdsEye program but I would have to go back and check. Could I borrow Linda to categorize all of my radio listening??..)

By the way, Parson's show also was at the premiere for A NIGHT / OPERA but that show is not extant. And if any more programs from MGM's GOOD NEWS radio series were to be found I'm sure we would find an appearance from the Brothers. Everyone else on the Metro lot had to show up for that program eventually.

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Re: MARX BROTHER TV COLLECTION Review

Postby Robert Moulton » Mon Aug 04, 2014 3:05 pm

Richard M Roberts wrote:
Who knows what other on-air gems we are missing out on today?



The surviving broadcast of THE CIRCLE is indeed a great show, and the other great surviving thirties broadcasts have to include the one and a half surviving episodes of FLYWHEEL, SHYSTER AND FLYWHEEL, their 1933 NBC show that became the basis for the script of DUCK SOUP (and BBC Radio has tried to re-create not that successfully from the surviving scripts). The 1938 pilot for HOLLYWOOD AGENTS is good, even if they did have to settle a lawsuit over it, and my favorite other thirties Marx Bros Radio Broadcast is the surviving last-half of the episode of Louella Parson's HOLLYWOOD HOTEL from 1937 where they're plugging A DAY AT THE RACES. Apart from Jessel and Jolson as other guest-stars, you have Groucho doing "Dr. Hackenbush" most-likely the closest to the way he did it in the deleted sequence in the movie, and Groucho and Chico doing the "Tootsi-Frutsi" routine before a live audience, so we get it timed without the stage waits which make A DAY AT THE RACES somewhat hard to watch on ones own.

As for other currently missing radio appearances I'd like to see turn up, there is a late 1933-early 1934 appearance of all four Marx Brothers on THE JACK BENNY SHOW that is one of the few of the whole dang run of the Benny shows not extant. That along with the Television episode of TONIGHT: AMERICA AFTER DARK from 1957 in which all four brothers appeared and, of course, HUMOR RISK probably make up my three big missing Marx Brothers appearances in various media.

RICHARD M ROBERTS


The Benny show exists, it's the Nov 11, 1934 show. Jack mentions on the show that the Brothers were to have appeared but could not make it. Interesting that Jack refers to them as the Four Marx Brothers though Zeppo's departure had been announced in March that year.

The Hollywood Agents sketch is from Jan 15, 1937 not 1938 (when Jean Harlow jokes were definitely out). This wasn't the show that caused the plagiarism lawsuit. That one was The Hollywood Adventures of Mr Dibble and Mr Dabble which the Brothers performed on Sept 01, 1936 on station KHJ.

More than one and a half episodes of FSF exist, they're just not all in general circulation at the time. A few were recovered in the late 1960s when an RCA warehouse was to be demolished, those were 16 inch discs used for extension spotting and started ending up on ebay in 1999. Other sources include smaller aluminum discs made for the sponsor by Speak-O-Phone. Those are three minutes a side and explain snippets of the show that are that length.


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