Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Charles Drake, Lois Collier, Sig Ruman, Lisette Verea, Lewis L. Russell, Dan Seymour
Joseph Fields, Roland Kibbee, Frank Tashlin
A Story With A Twist - And She's In It!
Groucho, Chico, Harpo ... uh-oh! It's the Nazis vs. the nutsies when the legendary Marx Brothers foil Axis criminals during A Night In Casablanca.
As the manager of a hotel swirling in intrigue, Groucho is up to his fake moustache in joyful, if unfulfilled, lechery. Chico-heywatzamatter-becomes Groucho's bodyguard by self decree. Harpo, pantomime's clown prince, says more in whistles and gestures than most comics say in pages of dialogue.
Runtime: 85 min.
Release Date: 5/4/2004
• “Acrobatty Bunny” Short
• “So You Think You’re a Nervous Wreck” Short
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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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A Night In Casablanca (1946)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 14, 2004)
Apparently fans regard the Thirties as the Golden Age of Marx, with many films from that era regarded as classics. One may find support for this theory in 1946’s A Night in Casablanca, a flick that seems considerably weaker than their efforts from the prior decade.
At the film’s start, Hotel Casablanca manager Rolazoides keels over. He’s the third manager in sixth months to die, and the Prefect of Police Capitaine Bruzard (Dan Seymour) suspects murder. Lt. Pierre Delbar (Charles Drake) reveals that he crash-landed with some Nazi treasure and thinks the murders are connected. He wants the treasure found to clear his name as a patriot. His girlfriend Annette (Lois Collier) tries to help.
Rusty (Harpo Marx) acts as the valet to Max (Sig Rumann). A former Nazi, Max now hides that status. He and Beatrice (Lisette Verea) out to find the treasure, so he plans to take the job as the new manager. However, Rusty accidentally removes Max’s toupee, which reveals a scar that gives away his true identity. Max can’t leave his room, and when he fails to show up for his appointment, the bigwigs hire a different manager.
This brings Ronald Kornblow (Groucho Marx) to town, and local camel cabbie Corbaccio (Chico Marx) takes him to the hotel. He sets up shop while Annette finds the missing toupee. She shows it to Pierre and they try to follow up on the lead.
In the meantime, Beatrice tries to use her feminine wiles on Kornblow. She sneakily wrests Max’s toupee from him so the former Nazi can escape from his room. After her club performance, Pierre chats with a local low-life who will provide some much-needed information for money, but the disgraced lieutenant lacks the funds. Corbaccio and Rusty worry about Pierre and try to help him monetarily. From there the various plots ultimately converge and head toward a convergence that relates to the missing loot.
That seems like a complicated storyline for the Marx Brothers. Their material works best when the films focus on comedic characters, not when they emphasize plot. Casablanca feels much more concerned with its mystery than with comedy, and that makes it a really plodding dud.
At times the flick broadly spoofs 1942’s classic Casablanca. For example, early in the flick Capitaine Bruzard orders his minions to “round up all likely suspects”. Oddly, the film doesn’t play this line for laughs, and despite its status as a Marx enterprise, the comedy takes a backseat.
The movie starts poorly, as it takes a surprisingly long time for all the Marx Brothers to enter the story. Groucho, the third member to arrive, doesn’t show up until more than 11 minutes into the tale. That may not sound like a very long wait, but since we go to a Marx Brothers movie to see the Marx Brothers, it feels like an interminable period.
If the opening intrigue went anywhere, this might seem more acceptable. However, the densely-plotted material seems slow and uninteresting. It doesn’t help that most of the supporting actors lack much personality and fail to offer anything interesting during the opening moments.
As for the Marx boys themselves, they work overtime to try to sell the material. They mug relentlessly but generally come across as bored. I can’t blame them, as much of the comedy seems flat and uninventive. It provokes the occasional chuckle at most, but in this disjointed piece, nothing much manages to cause a positive reaction.
Add to all that the inevitable – and momentum-killing – musical interludes that feature instrumental pieces from Chico on piano and Harpo on harp, and A Night in Casablanca becomes a true flop. It presents a dull, excessively complicated story without any sparks of comic inspiration. Only a few vestiges of more successful Marx enterprises show up in this lackluster bomb.
The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio C/ Bonus D+
A Night In Casablanca 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.
Sharpness varied but usually looked fine. Some shots appeared moderately soft, but not with great frequency. The movie generally came across as accurate and well-defined. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and I noticed no signs of edge enhancement. As for print issues, the image suffered from somewhat elevated levels of grain at times, but otherwise, I noticed only minor issues. The film showed a few specks here and there plus the occasionally spot or mark, but little else intruded on this smooth presentation.
Black levels generally seemed pretty strong, with some nicely defined dark tones throughout much of the film. Contrast appeared solid, with nicely silvery tones throughout the flick. Shadow detail also came across as distinct, with low-light sequences that were appropriately thick but not overly dense. The image of Casablanca only sporadically showed its age, as the picture looked quite positive.
The monaural audio of A Night in Casablanca seemed pretty average for the era. Speech came across as consistently intelligible but sometimes appeared somewhat shrill and edgy. The lines were easy to discern, but they produced a bit more treble than I’d like. Music also was slightly shrill and didn’t present much dynamic range. Effects played a fairly small role in this talky experience, and they sounded acceptably clear but not much better. A little rumble popped up in the background at times, but the movie lacked any other source issues. Considering the age of the flick, the audio of Casablanca remained acceptable, but I couldn’t claim anything more for it.
Although fellow Warner Bros. DVD releases A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races included some nice extras, Casablanca comes with only some small ones. We get two shorts: the animated Acrobatty Bunny (seven minutes, 42 seconds) and the live action So You Think You’re a Nervous Wreck (10:56). The former stars Bugs Bunny and offers a generally amusing affair, while the latter is a “Joe McDoakes” short and comes across as dated but moderately entertaining. Trivia: “Joe McDoakes” is actually George O’Hanlon, the man who would later voice George Jetson.
While the Marx Brothers’ romps from the Thirties didn’t wow me, they seemed like comic genius compared to the relentlessly pedestrian A Night in Casablanca. The film provided uninspired gags and lackluster execution that left it as a real dud. The DVD presented good picture with average audio and minor supplements. Leave this one for Marx obsessives.
Note that A Night in Casablanca can be purchased on its own or as part of a five-DVD set called The Marx Brothers Collection. The latter also includes A Day at the Races, A Night at the Opera, Room Service, At the Circus, Go West and The Big Store. The last four movies come on two “double feature” discs and are exclusive to the boxed set; you’ll have to buy it to get them. Since the five-DVD package retails for the same price as Opera, Casablanca and Races combined, it becomes a great deal for fans who already want to own those three flicks; the two other discs essentially then come for free.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.8333 Stars
| Number of Votes: 6