THE MARX BROTHERS SILVER SCREEN COLLECTION
(1929-1933). In May, Warner's home entertainment division released a boxed set of the movies the Marx Brothers had made for MGM from the mid-30s through the mid-40s; now, Universal follows suit by offering a collection of the siblings' first five pictures, all made under the Paramount banner. This crop is notable in that it not only features the Marxes we all know and love -- Groucho, Harpo and Chico -- but also brother Zeppo, the dull straight man who thankfully went MIA when the team switched to MGM. Since there was apparently no restoration process attempted on the films in this package, viewers will occasionally have to cope with garbled sound and, on one title, even some jarring cuts caused by long-disintegrated film stock. The Cocoanuts
(1929), set at a ramshackle hotel run by Groucho, and Animal Crackers
(1930), in which Groucho's Captain Spaulding and the others contend with a stolen painting, were both based on the team's Broadway successes and just squeak by on the top-notch comedy quotient; everything else, from the tepid musical numbers to the inert direction, mark them as the least satisfying Marx flicks until the team's late-career slide. Monkey Business
(1931) is more like it, with the boys cast as stowaways aboard an ocean liner; watching each one try to pass himself off as Maurice Chevalier is a comic highlight. Horse Feathers
(1932) is even better, with Huxley College president Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho, natch) turning to two bumblers (Harpo and Chico) to help the school's football team win their big match against Darwin College; somehow, Harpo manages to incorporate a horse-drawn vehicle into their game plan. Finally, Duck Soup
(1933) is the acknowledged masterpiece of the collection, an outrageous anti-war satire in which Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) has no real justification to take his country into battle but does so anyway (gee, sounds familiar...). Ranking fifth on the AFI's list of the 100 greatest comedies, this was also featured in Hannah and Her Sisters
, when Woody Allen's angst-ridden character catches a screening and becomes convinced by the film's sheer mirth that life is worth living after all. Certainly, true movie fans haven't lived until they've caught its nonstop barrage of classic bits: the mirror sequence, Firefly's treatment of Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern), and the priceless banter between Groucho and perennial target Margaret Dumont ("Not that I care, but where is your husband?" "He's dead." "I bet he's just using that as an excuse." "I was with him to the very end." "No wonder he passed away." "I held him in my arms and kissed him." "Then it was murder!"). Extras include a 40-page booklet and brief Today Show
interviews with Groucho, Harpo and Harpo's son.
THE MONSTER LEGACY COLLECTIONS (1932-1956). At almost the same time that Warner was releasing its batch of Marx Brothers films six months ago, Universal had unveiled the first three boxed sets in their Monster Legacy Collection, showcasing the studio's horror classics built around the Frankenstein monster, Dracula and the wolf man. Now comes the next collection of creature features, and it's clear the outfit went the extra mile on these as well: three to five movies per set, attractive packaging, and an assortment of extra features. The Mummy Legacy set kicks off with 1932's definitive The Mummy (starring Boris Karloff) and includes its four sequels, three of which cast Lon Chaney Jr. as the wrap star. The Invisible Man Legacy set likewise consists of five titles; The Invisible Man (1933) turned Claude Rains into an overnight star, while a couple of the follow-ups (none of which have much in common with the original) manage to add Nazis and gangsters into the mix. (Trivia alert one: The female lead in The Invisible Man is Gloria Stuart, 64 years before she played Old Rose in Titanic.) Finally, the Creature Legacy set includes Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), the exciting classic about a deadly gillman from the Amazon, and its two shaky sequels. (Trivia alert two: Look for Clint Eastwood as a laboratory assistant messing around with a chimp in 1955's Revenge of the Creature.) Extras on the various discs include making-of documentaries, audio commentaries by cast members and film historians, and theatrical trailers.
The Mummy: 1/2
The Invisible Man: 1/2
Creature from the Black Lagoon: