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A Night in Casablanca

Umbrella Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 88 mins . G . PAL

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It's taken a while, but The Marx Bros. have made their Region 4 DVD debut. As to what film could, or should, have been their DVD debut, will no doubt be debated by fans, but it is their 1946 effort A Night In Casablanca that gets the honour. Frankly it is slightly disappointing, but more on that a little later.

The Marx Bros, Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo and Zeppo, were not just brothers in name, and it is the first and eldest three that most of us are most familiar with. Gummo and Zeppo were never really interested in careers as entertainers, though Zeppo did appear in a few of their early films as the straight foil. They began their careers on the stage and a successful Broadway show, The Cocoanuts, was turned into a film. Such was their on-screen success that more films quickly followed. Many of these films were first tried out on stage audiences, and reconstructed over the run of the show, then re-written again for the film that ultimately followed. By combining a successful stage and film career they ensured they were always in the public eye.

There are no bad Marx Bros. films, but some have proved to be more popular than others. Their 1930s films included such gems as Duck Soup, Horse Feathers and Monkey Businesses, all of which proved to be immensely popular. By the end of that decade they had also made A Day at the Races and A Night at the Opera (Queen and Freddie Mercury fans take note), and were amongst the biggest entertainment names on the planet. In the 1940s, their films proved to be less successful and one would be less than honest if they didn't admit that the films were not quite as good or funny and maybe the jokes were beginning to get a little repetitious.

A Night in Casablanca (1946) was essentially their last film together, as Love Happy (1950) was Harpo's film, with guest appearances from Groucho and Chico and there is no scene where all three brothers appear together. A Night In Casablanca is set at the Hotel Casablanca, which is having trouble keeping a manager – three so far have been poisoned. The owners bluff Ronald Kornblow (Groucho) into taking on the job, and he is ably assisted (handicapped might be a better word) by local camel-taxi driver Corbaccio (Chico) and Rusty (Harpo), the bumbling valet to the evil Nazi Heinrich Stubel (Sig Ruman). Heinrich and his Nazi pals are after treasures that are supposedly stashed somewhere in the hotel, treasures that were once the property of the Nazi occupiers. The film is chock full of Groucho's snappy retorts and word play, Harpo's silent hijinks and superb harp playing, and Chico again displays his fantastic sense of timing and brilliant talent as a pianist. As with most Marx Bros. films, the emphasis is on the antics of the brothers and the plot is secondary, the characters are similar to their past roles, and the ending is both unlikely and sudden. It is not their best film, but it is guaranteed to get a few laughs even from casual viewers.

Trivia: Chico played piano in a brothel to earn money for the family, and Groucho played the guitar, but he only displayed this talent in one film, Horse Feathers (1932). The three brothers had essentially retired before this film, and agreed to make it to help Chico out of his financial crisis, caused by his gambling problem.

  Video
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A Night In Casablanca is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and therefore is not anamorphically enhanced. This is the original aspect ratio. Not surprisingly it is in black and white, but looks good despite its age. The contrast is good, the blacks are mostly even and deep, and there is almost no glaring of whites that is often a problem in old black and white transfers. Generally, the image is quite sharp and sufficiently detailed, and shadow detail is not a problem. There are numerous film artefacts, being mostly white speckles and lines, and those awful large black blobs in the top right hand corner appear a few times - reel change markers. These are rare in DVD transfers and are a dead giveaway that the disc has been mastered from a cinematic release print. There are a few film to video artefacts such as aliasing, but they are infrequent.

  Audio
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The only audio option is Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and, again, this should not come as a surprise. The majority of the sound is clear and there are no noticeable dropouts. There is some constant background hiss, but this does not interfere with the dialogue, which is well synchronised. The few musical numbers sound just a little louder than the dialogue and are not as deep and rich as most music transferred to DVD and sound fairly ordinary in mono. There are some sustained loud clicks that plague chapter seven, and are quite distracting. I cannot be sure if they would have been inherent in the film source or come as a result of the transfer, but I suspect the former.

  Extras
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There are absolutely no Marx Bros. extras whatsoever, and even the inclusion of something as bland as a biography may have been a nice addition. As it is, the only extra is Umbrella Propaganda, which includes three trailers for their DVD releases of What's Up, Tiger Lily?, Malcolm, and The Secret Policeman's Ball. Anyone who has seen any other of their releases will be familiar with these trailers. At least they don't pretend to be anything more than what they are - advertising.

  Overall  
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Groucho, with his trademark painted moustache and cigar, Harpo, the silent one with the wig and the horn, and Chico with the hat and the adopted Italian accent, were loved the world over. After their last film in 1950, Groucho made a successful transition to television, whilst the other brothers made several films independent of each other, and pursued slightly more musical careers, but they never again attained the levels of popularity they enjoyed as a team.

It is for their films that they are best remembered, and as most, if not all, of their films have been available on VHS for some time, it will take some aggressive marketing and extra laden DVD releases to really grab the buying public's attention. I am not sure this release is going to be the one to achieve that.


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      And I quote...
    "Groucho, Chico and Harpo make their DVD debut, and while there are laughs to be had from their trademark hijinks, even they would agree this isn’t their best film – and where are the extras?"
    - Terry Kemp
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Akai
    • TV:
          TEAC CT-F803 80cm Super Flat Screen
    • Receiver:
          Pioneer VSX-D409
    • Speakers:
          Wellings
    • Centre Speaker:
          Wellings
    • Surrounds:
          Wellings
    • Subwoofer:
          Sherwood SP 210W
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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