DVD Review: The Marx Brothers TV Collection

Written by Television, TV on DVD

Tony Redman reviews Shout! Factory’s new release “The Marx Brothers TV Collection”, a compilation of shows and clips featuring Groucho and company.

The Marx Brothers (Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and sometimes Zeppo) entertained audiences for many years in their movies, and still do so today. However, much of their television work is less well known. Shout! Factory hopes to remedy this with their 3 DVD set The Marx Brothers TV Collection.

Groucho made a second career on television with his game show You Bet Your Life, but he and his brothers made other appearances on television as well. This set collects many of them and, as you would expect with a set like this, it’s a mixed bag. Here are some highlights:

  • The Jack Benny Program – Benny disguises himself to attempt to win money on Groucho’s show, but is tripped up by the one question that he can’t answer. As funny as Groucho was on his own, he was even better when he had somebody like Benny to bounce jokes off of.
  • The Red Skelton Hour – Harpo is the guest star, and does a bit in a sketch as a guardian angel (which also gives him a chance to play a harp solo), and performs in a great “silent spot” with Skelton where they play two World War I soldiers on opposite sides who meet on the battlefield.
  • The College Bowl – A fun little show where Chico (playing pretty much the same character we did from the movies) runs a malt shop for the local college kids (one of them a young Andy Williams). This was a series that ran 26 weeks, but this episode is the only one that has survived.
  • The General Electric Theater: The Incredible Jewel Robbery – This story features Chico and Harpo (again staying in character) as two inept thieves. Since this was performed without any speaking, it obviously played to Harpo’s strengths more, but they both are wonderful in this. (And watch for a cameo at the end featuring… well, you can probably guess.)

There’s also a chance for both Groucho and Harpo to appear in dramatic roles. In The Hold Out, Groucho plays a father who objects to his teenage daughter’s marriage (to a young Dennis Hopper). And in A Silent Panic, Harpo plays a deaf mute who witnesses a murder during his job performing in a store window.  There are some less successful appearances, such as Chico’s on Championship Bridge and Harpo on Celebrity Golf. There are also many clips and commercials from other television performances featuring the brothers, as well as some home movies narrated by Harpo’s son, Bill. There are some understandable no-shows here, like Harpo’s appearance on I Love Lucy, that are due to licensing restrictions but, after all, nobody said this was the complete Marx Brothers TV collection, and there’s still certainly enough entertaining stuff here that you should get more than your money’s worth.

And if you order this set directly from Shout! Factory, you’ll also receive a fourth disk, More Bits & Pieces, and it’s got some worthwhile clips as well, including an episode of a short-lived show with Chico, Papa Romani, and a 1965 episode of The Hollywood Palace featuring Groucho performing his theme song from Animal Crackers, “Hooray for Captain Spaulding”, alongside original co-star (and perennial Groucho foil) Margaret Dumont! This collection is highly recommended by me (especially with the added fourth disk).

Here are a couple of clips:

Harpo Plays the Harp for Pepsi-Cola

Groucho Sings “Dr. Hackenbush”