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Victor Heerman
Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx , Lillian Roth, Margaret Dumont, Louis Sorin, Hal Thompson, Margaret Irving, Kathryn Reece
Writing Credits:
George S. Kaufman (play), Bert Kalmar (play), Harry Ruby (play), Morrie Ryskind

Celebrate the 75th anniversary of the greatest comedy act in history with The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection. This essential DVD set features the legendary four Marx Brothers in five of their most acclaimed and best loved films – Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, Monkey Business, Animal Crackers and The Cocoanuts – the only five movies ever made with all four brothers together: Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo!

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Monaural
Spanish Monaural

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $59.98
Release Date: 11/9/2004

Available Only as Part of The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection.

• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Animal Crackers: The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection (1930)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 20, 2004)

For the Marx Brothers’ second big-screen adventure, we head to 1930’s Animal Crackers. In this flick, we start with a party held in the honor of explorer Captain Jeffery Spaulding (Groucho Marx) at the home of Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont). As part of the celebration, “wealthy art patron” Roscoe Chandler (Louis Soren) brings a valuable painting for exhibition. He does so to declare his love for the widowed Mrs. Rittenhouse.

Spaulding arrives with his field captain, Horatio Jamison (Zeppo Marx). Hot on his heels we meet a musician named Signor Emanuel Ravelli (Chico Marx) and his partner “The Professor (Harpo Marx). After the party ends, they prepare for the unveiling of the painting, and two new characters arrive: Mrs. Whitehead (Margaret Irving) and her daughter Grace (Kathryn Reece), part of a prominent family that just returned from Europe. They don’t like the Rittenhouses, so Grace plans to play a trick on them that involves a copy of the famous artwork. Daughter Arabella Rittenhouse (Lillian Roth) doesn’t care for the Whiteheads either, but she’s involved with struggling artist Johnny Parker (Hal Thompson).

A mix of complications evolve. Groucho woos both Mrs. Rittenhouse and Mrs. Whitehead. Arabella decides to play a painting-related gag that she hopes will advance Johnny’s career. Emanuel and the Professor reveal a secret about Chandler’s past that he wants to keep under wraps. Various other schemes develop.

As usual, the plotlines don’t add up to much. Marx movies use their stories for little more than a loose framework. The flicks live and die by their comedic set pieces. Unfortunately, not much to Crackers soars, and it works as one of the Brothers’ lesser efforts.

A lot of the problems stem from the inept filmmaking on display. Crackers suffers from a shocking lack of clarity in its photographic elements. The camera often bobs when it moves, displays strange and erratic framing, and can’t quite decide what it wants to show. The composition is often bad, and we actually watch the cameraman struggle to figure out where to settle. It’s a distraction that makes the movie amateurish much of the time.

The jerky storytelling doesn’t help. Marx films usually suffer from weak plots, and that occurs here. The flick jerks from one moment to another, usually in search of a gag. When it doesn’t find anything, it flails, and it pushes unnaturally toward the next joke.

The editing contributes to the awkwardness, and some bizarre staging also mars the piece. People just stand around and watch while exposition and gags occur. It’s a weird choice show the crowds as they do nothing while the shtick unfolds. It seems artificial and makes the movie even more off-kilter.

Except for the usually reliable Dumont, Marx movies present generally flat characters and weak performances from the secondary participants. These seem worse than usual here, especially due to the insanely broad gestures from Roth. Actually, she becomes inadvertently amusing. Her work is so strange that it turns entertaining.

The sloppiness extends to even the takes used. On a few occasions, the actors screw up, but God forbid they reshoot those scenes. Nope - we get the blown takes here! They usually recover fairly well, but these elements add to the amateurish nature of the flick.

On the positive side, Crackers tends to integrate its musical numbers better than usual. It actually utilizes some of them to tell the story, which is a change from Cocoanuts. Unfortunately, it still grinds to a halt for some of the songs, especially during the inevitable harp solo from Harpo. At least it brings in Chico’s piano number in a more unified manner.

Some of the comedy works fairly well. Unfortunately, the problems with editing mar some of these, as a lot of them just go on too long. For example, the card game meanders and simply doesn’t want to end.

Much of the humor lacks the spark that infuses the best Marx work. A decent number of laughs occur, but not enough to redeem all the flaws. I don’t expect a perfect flick from Animal Crackers, as even the best Marx material suffers from significant problems. However, this flick is simply too amateurish to be enjoyable.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus NA

Animal Crackers appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Crackers improved after the messy visuals of Cocoanuts, but it still demonstrated a mix of problems.

One area of distinct advancement stemmed from source flaws, or the general absence of them. Make no mistake: you’ll see a fair number of scratches, thin lines, blotches, marks and specks throughout the movie. However, given the movie’s age - and compared to Cocoanuts - the defects seemed less intrusive. The film could use a cleaning, but not as badly as its predecessor.

Sharpness was erratic. Considerable portions of the flick demonstrated moderate softness, and those could look rather ill-defined. On the other hand, much of the movie showed fairly good delineation and appeared acceptably distinctive. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no significant signs of edge enhancement.

Blacks fared well. Cocoanuts had some badly blown-out moments, but Crackers suffered from no of those problems. It showed nicely deep dark tones, and shadows were also fairly clear and well-defined. The source flaws and softness caused concerns, but I still felt it deserved a “C” because it seemed average for a movie of its era.

Similar thoughts greeted the monaural soundtrack of Animal Crackers. Speech varied and occasionally showed edginess. Most of the lines sounded a bit dull but generally adequate, and I noticed no problems with intelligibility. Music suffered from some distortion. Vocals could be brittle, and the backing tracks occasionally were rough. On the other hand, the songs displayed a little more dimensionality than expected and offered a bit of bass at times.

Effects were thin but acceptable. Background noise and pops showed up throughout the movie, but they seemed modest. They were there from start to finish but they failed to become intrusive. The audio mostly showed improvements over Cocoanuts, though Crackers lost some points due to the distortion.

Only one supplement shows up on this disc. We get a trailer for Crackers. Because the movie can be purchased only as part of a six-DVD package with one disc devoted to bonus materials, I didn’t give Crackers or the other individual discs a grade for extras. I’ll rate the set’s supplements as a whole when I look at that platter.

Animal Crackers suffers from all of the problems that affect most Marx Brothers movies and compounds these due to poor movie-making choices. A surprisingly amateurish flick, it includes occasional chuckles but not enough to overcome its flaws. The DVD presents pretty decent picture and sound for a film of this one’s era. Too bad the film itself is such a weak piece of work.

Note that Universal currently offers Animal Crackers only as part of The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection. This six-disc set also includes The Cocoanuts, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and Duck Soup. The package provides one disc devoted to supplements as well.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.375 Stars Number of Votes: 8
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