Groucho Marx had a favorite line in his early routines that he used often. He'd ask, "Wanna buy a deck of cards?"
"Good deal," he'd reply without waiting for anyone to spoil his gag as he flicked ashes from the ever-present cigar.Now, so many decades later, there's another good deal in the offing, videos of five classic films of the famous comic brothers made more than 60 years ago.
"The Marx Brothers Collection" from MCA Universal Home Video is made up of "The Cocoanuts" (1929), "Animal Crackers" (1930), "Monkey Business" (1931), "Horse Feathers" (1932) and "Duck Soup" (1933). The repackaged cassettes have a suggested retail price of $14.98 each.
The first Marx Brothers movie, "The Cocoanuts," was a film version of their 1925 Broadway hit four years earlier. It was shot during the day in New York, while they were performing "Animal Crackers" onstage at night. The next year, "Animal Crackers" became their second film.
Before Zeppo left the group, the four brothers made three more hits, developing their individual styles - Zeppo as the good-looking straight man; Groucho as the quick-witted, cigar-flicking leader; Chico as the con man with the Italian accent; and Harpo as the one who never spoke and never stopped chasing women.
Irving Berlin wrote the music and lyrics for "The Cocoanuts," in which guests and employees are being fleeced by a hotel owner chasing a fast buck.
In "Animal Crackers" Groucho appears as Capt. Spaulding for the first time and has the line: "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know."
In "Monkey Business," the bumbling brothers, stowaways on a luxury liner, catch a few crooks between laughs.
"Horse Feathers" is a zany script that puts the brothers in a college where the football team must win.
Completing the five-title deck is Zeppo's last film, "Duck Soup," in which tiny Freedonia declares war on Sylvania. The movie was so well made that the final battle scene has been copied in other films.
Question: I don't understand why some popular movies have never been on videotape. One example is the animated science-fiction movie "Heavy Metal," which was made more than 10 years ago and has even been on cable TV. What's the delay?
Answer: Many popular movies haven't come to video because of legal problems, usually involving rights and royalties. In other words, filmmakers can't agree with distributors on what they should be paid. In the case of "Heavy Metal" from 1981, which used a soundtrack of rock songs by many groups, the music rights were never cleared for a video version. Another example where lack of music clearance has blocked video release is "Annie Get Your Gun." Someday the lawyers may work it all out.
- Andy Wickstrom (Knight-Ridder)
- Do you have a question you'd like answered? Send your queries to Andy Wickstrom, The Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, PA 19101.
WITCH HUNT - We've all heard about the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s, stalking mostly imaginary communists in the corridors of government and industry. This ambitious satire takes the witch-hunting metaphor literally, setting up a '50s society in which some people practice magic and others, led by self-serving politicians, seek to demonize and persecute them. The impressive cast includes Dennis Hopper as H. Phillip Lovecraft, a private eye who refuses to use spells or sorcery; Julian Sands as his longtime antagonist; Penelope Ann Miller as a movie star on the wane; Sheryl Lee Ralph as a witch who almost gets burned; and Eric Bogosian as a corrupt demagogue. Most of the action is rather silly, although a few scenes are clever, including the '50s-style newsreel that opens the picture. Directed by Paul Schrader from Joseph Dougherty's screenplay. R, HBO Home Video.
- David Sterritt
(Christian Science Monitor)
COMPULSION - The second film (after Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope" in 1948) to derive from the Leopold-Loeb murder case of 1924, this electrifying courtroom drama from 1959 stars Brad Dillman and Dean Stockwell as college students who kill to prove their "intellectual superiority." Orson Welles is in top form as the lawyer who must defend these malicious little twits. Directed for maximum suspense by Richard Fleischer. The unnerving story was retold in a 1991 film called "Swoon." Unrated (mature themes).
- Michael H. Price
(Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
THE BLUE BIRD - Newly remastered from Technicolor source-film for a crisper video copy than any edition previously available, this elaborate fantasy (filmed in 1940, from the celebrated Maeterlinck play) seems forever doomed to languish in the shadow of 1939's "The Wizard of Oz." Shirley Temple, soon to outgrow the cute-kid roles, undertakes a search for her own personal "bluebird of happiness," in the good company of Nigel Bruce (the longime Watson to Basil Rathbone's movie Sherlock Holmes), future television star Spring Byington, and "Spider Woman"-to-be Gale Sondergaard. Unrated (but still a G, as in good 'n' gooey).
- Michael H. Price
(Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
ELIZABETH R - One of "Masterpiece Theater's" finest hours (nine to be exact) was Glenda Jackson's tour-de-force as Queen Elizabeth I. And it takes nine hours to do full justice to Elizabeth's 45-year reign, what with her surviving the Tower of London and repeated assassination attempts, not to mention the Spanish Armada. Anglophiles, historians, high school and college libraries will especially want this brilliant rendering of Elizabeth's incredible 70-year life in their collections. Unrated, 1971, CBS/Fox, $149.98 (six tapes).
- Max McQueen
(Cox News Service)