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Norman Z. McLeod
Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx , Thelma Todd, David Landau
Writing Credits:
Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, S.J. Perelman, Will B. Johnstone

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: 68 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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Horse Feathers: The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection (1932)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 30, 2004)

Higher education gets the Marx Brothers treatment in 1932’s Horse Feathers. Set at Huxley College, Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho Marx) takes over as the school’s president. His son Frank (Zeppo Marx) is also a student at Huxley; apparently he’s been there for 12 years. Frank is fooling around with a “college widow”, an affair that bugs Quincy and causes him to neglect his studies.

Frank tells his dad that Huxley’s had a new president every year since 1888, and they also haven’t won a football game since then. Frank wants Quincy to improve the team to bolster the college. Frank tells Quincy to recruit two players from a speakeasy. Unfortunately, gangster Jennings (David Landau) beats him to the punch and recruits the players for rival Darwin College.

Soon we meet Baravelli the iceman (Chico Marx) and Pinky the dogcatcher (Harpo Marx) at the speakeasy. Wagstaff mistakes Baravelli and Pinky for the football players and recruits them. More complications occur when we learn that Frank’s lover Connie Bailey (Thelma Todd) works for Jennings and dallies with Frank just to snoop on the Huxley team. The rest of the movie follows the issues connected to the teams and climaxes with the big game.

That synopsis makes Feathers sound a lot more plot-focused than it actually is. Like virtually all Marx movies, the story acts as little more than a springboard for comic routines. Feathers indulges in its plot only sporadically, as it uses the football backdrop only when it feels like it. The climactic scene depends on the gridiron setting, but otherwise those elements could get the boot and no one would ever notice.

Feathers continues the trend seen in Monkey Business in that it focuses more on the Brothers than anything else. That’s a good thing, for their first two movies included far too much material that dealt with extraneous and dull characters. Feathers lacks the tightness of Monkey, and it reverts to the use of the Brothers in character; during Monkey, they essentially played themselves, albeit in their caricatured way.

While Feathers doesn’t live up to its immediate predecessor, it still remains pretty satisfying. The movie features some of the Brothers’ best-known bits, such as the famous “swordfish” routine. Happily, it also avoids most of the musical numbers that marred the earliest flicks. We do get a couple tunes, but they pass quickly and don’t cause the movie to sag too badly.

Unfortunately, Feathers doesn’t lack the usual piano piece from Chico and the pretentious harp solo from Harpo. Apparently every Marx movie included those segments, and they never worked. Actually, Chico’s performances occasionally fit into the movies, as they sometimes connected to the action acceptably well. That was never true for Harpo’s strumming. Those elements consistently ground the movies to a halt and offered nothing of value. That holds true for Feathers.

In general, the positives I saw with Monkey Business continue in Feathers. I like the emphasis on a fairly small cast. Actually, Feathers reduces the roster even more than in its predecessor. Really, it offers only two significant roles beyond the Marx boys, and both fit into the action just fine.

One of the better Marx Brothers flicks, Horse Feathers stumbles at times due to the same kinds of missteps that affect virtually all of their efforts. However, it emphasizes more positives than negatives. It usually offers clever and inventive comedy and presents an enjoyable experience.

The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio D+/ Bonus NA

Horse Feathers 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. After the surprisingly strong visuals of Monkey Business, I hoped Feathers would look equally good. Unfortunately, it marked a definite regression in picture quality.

Sharpness tended to seem iffy. Some shots appeared reasonably concise and well-defined, but others turned mushy and soft. Most of the movie was acceptably detailed, though. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering arose, and I noticed only a little edge enhancement.

Blacks lacked strength. They tended to be dull and limp, and contrast was flat. The image came across as dense, so low-light situations were lackluster. Part of the problem stemmed from the movie’s excessive graininess; that elements rendered things murky. In addition, the film demonstrated quite a few specks, marks, thin lines and various forms of debris. Occasionally frames went missing, which caused the presentation to jump; this was a particular problem during chapter 10. The movie often looked decent, but the various problems were too severe to make this more than a “D+” image.

The monaural soundtrack of Horse Feathers also moved backwards after Monkey Business. Speech demonstrated some edginess and tended to appear rough, though the lines stayed intelligible. Music came across as moderately distorted, and the songs also lacked much range. Effects were similarly thin and without definition. A certain level of boominess affected the track and made it muddy. Background noise popped during a lot of the movie as well. Even given its age, this was a fairly weak mix.

Only one supplement shows up on this disc. We get a trailer for Feathers. 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 Feathers 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.

While not the Marx Brothers’ best work, Horse Feathers nonetheless sits close to the top of that list. It suffers from erratic focus and some pointless elements, but it usually scores with inspired comedic bits and lunacy. Unfortunately, the DVD presents problematic picture and audio. Marx Brothers fans will still want to give it a look due to the high quality of the movie, but this movie needs some work to make it more presentable.

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

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4444 Stars Number of Votes: 9
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