Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Directed by: Sam Wood.
Produced by: Sam Wood.
Written by: Robert Pirosh, George Seaton & George Oppenheimer.
Director of Photography: Joseph Ruttenberg.
Edited by: Frank E. Hull.
Music by: Bronislau Kaper, Walter Jurmann & Gus Kahn.
Released by: Warner Home Video.
Country of Origin: USA. 109 min. Not Rated.
With: Groucho, Chico, Harpo Marx, Maureen O'Sullivan, Allan Jones & Margaret Dumont.
DVD Features: Commentary by Glen Mitchell, author of The Marx Brothers Encyclopedia. Featurette on the Marx Brothers entitled "On Your Marx, Get Set, Go!" Film short, "A Night at the Movies." "Lost" audio recording of song from the movie. Radio trailer. Three cartoons from the time period. Theatrical trailer.

Though perhaps not the unqualified masterpiece that hard-core Marx Brothers fans believe it to be, A Day at the Races does not disappoint. The 1937 comedy, where the trio take on the horsy set, is often separated into set pieces, such as the famous "tutti-frutti" routine and Harpo's medical examination, both of which were lifted straight from the brother's theater act. Other highlights include Groucho imitating several voices over the telephone, Chico and Harpo interrupting Groucho's late evening rendezvous with a girl, and horse doctor Groucho attempting to examine a human patient. Per the studio's attempt at broadening the brothers’ audience, the producers included a romantic subplot, as well as some long dancing and singing sequences. You can fast forward past them all, but don't miss the always wonderful Chico work wonders at the piano or Harpo work his magic at, appropriately, the harp.

DVD Extras: While occasionally informative, the extras mostly fall flat. The most interesting is the featurette on the Marx Brothers. Some famous faces, including Dom DeLuise and Carl Reiner, wax poetic on the brothers' comedic abilities. We learn about their background in theater, which they would use as a testing ground for their film material, and a bit about their personal lives, such as Chico's apparently legendary success with women, as well as a much older Maureen O'Sullivan remembering Groucho's attempts at seduction.

In the audio commentary, Glen Mitchell spends vast chunks of time in silence, and the majority of his comments are limited to information on the movie's production. One can't help but wonder if he saved the juiciest anecdotes for his book. The three cartoons included have nothing to do with the Marx Brothers, and its allure to kids today would lie only in its novelty. Likewise, the trailers and the "lost" recording of a song will be of limited interest. The short, "A Night at the Movies," tries to make fun of a man who stumbles throughout the entire evening. Unfortunately, the creators forgot to make the man the sort of dislikable person we would enjoy seeing tripped up. Michael Fisher
June 13, 2004



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