DVD review of The Unknown Marx Brothers: A Unique Look at Film’s Most Original Comedy Legends, narrated by Leslie Nielsen
A very nice documentary on the Marx Brothers, one of the great clown comedy teams. Originally a 1993 PBS documentary, this is a well-done, 52-minute documentary on the Marx brothers, focusing on the ‘big three’ – Groucho, Chico, & Harpo, although Zeppo & Gummo are mentioned as well. It has some very nice private recollections by family and co-workers – I especially enjoyed Bill Marx’ re-creation of his father Harpo’s ‘gookie’ look; I already knew the story from Harpo’s autobiography, but it was interesting seeing the story.
The documentary, narrated by Leslie Nielsen, includes some rare footage, including Harpo’s “lost” movie premiere (a silent picture; we still don’t get to hear Harpo speak :), as well as parts of a pilot episode of a TV series that never came about. It falls short, however, in that it fails to talk about the brothers’ later lives and deaths.
For anyone who’s a fan of the Marx brothers, or looking at behind the scenes information, it’s well worth watching. I wouldn’t recommend it for any clowning tips, however, the brothers’ films fill that bill quite well.
I rate it 3 out of 5 stars.
Editorial review of The Unknown Marx Brothers courtesy of Amazon.com
Originally broadcast on PBS in 1993 and narrated by Leslie Nielsen, this comprehensive documentary charts the career of the Marx Brothers–Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and sometimes Zeppo–from their beginnings on the vaudeville circuit to their final appearances on popular TV programs and commercials of the 1950s and early ‘60s. Featuring interviews with many surviving family members, friends, and close associates, the film covers the brothers’ early stage careers in great detail, including the origins of their stage names and rare film footage of a sketch from one of their most popular comedy plays.
Also fascinating is a long-lost film clip of Harpo in a silent film from 1925–four years before the Marx Brothers made their screen debut in Cocoanuts. The Marx Brothers’ film career is not the central focus here. Rather, the film shows us the brothers offscreen (through rare home movies and newsreels) and especially after their retirement from movies. Revealing and affectionate toward its subjects, this is a must-see for any Marx Brothers fan. The DVD includes several hilarious outtakes from Groucho’s quiz-show career as host of You Bet Your Life, and a ‘Zoom-links’ feature that offers additional film clips at given points throughout the documentary. —Jeff Shannon