A New Day At the Races

It's been a while since we've had a Marx Bros HD upgrade, but Warner Archives has come through.  I was beginning to worry.  They'd only upgraded one - the most famous - film from their impressive 2004 boxed set.  A Day At the Races is the Marx Bros' second movie after they made the move to MGM, so they're still riding high, and the budgets are clearly still rising.  And yes, that means instead of Zeppo we get a pair of "straight" romantic leads that the Marx Bros have to aid.  All us true fans of course miss Zeppo, but you can't deny Allan Jones has got a better singing voice.  But what's also lost is some of the sharp wit.
Of course classic moments (the Tootsie Frootsie ice scream sketch) and famous one-liners ("either he's dead or my watch has stopped") originated here.  Groucho still has some first class moments, and the brothers explode a medical examination into pure chaos not once but twice.  But it also drags, and not just during the love scenes.  It starts to feel like we're trading the big production values on the race track, with big crowds, live horses and cars flying down the tracks for the intricately rehearsed comic touches of their previous work.  It's just the start of an infamous dip, but you start to feel it here.  That said, though, A Day At the Races is still a totally zany, wild ride.  But if I were introducing somebody to the Marx Bros, I wouldn't start with this one.
Oh, and I guess that's for two reasons.  Interestingly, you see, the blu-ray has added a new content warning at the start of the film, not present on the DVD, which reads, "[t]he program you are about to see is a product of its time. It portrays ethnic, racial, gender and other stereotypes and biases that existed in our society at the time this program was made. While such portrayals do not represent Warner Bros. Discovery and its affiliates, this program is being presented in its original form in order to reflect the existence and history of these stereotypes and biases."  Well, this movie's from the 30's, so it's surely not on the cutting edge of gender theory, but there's only one reason this is here.  Yes, this is the Marx Bros film where they get into black face.  It's just one scene, but it's part of what is probably the most ambitious musical sequence in any Marx Bros film (it was nominated for an Oscar).  It was probably actually intended to be progressive - the brothers platforming and performing with a whole cavalcade of black performers - but yeah, giving modern audience a head's up is probably the right idea.
1) 2004 Warner Bros DVD; 2) 2024 Warner Bros BD.
Warner's DVD starts out at 1.33:1, which their new scan subtly corrects to 1.37:1, gaining tiny slivers of extra information along the edges.  Warner's new transfer, which doesn't say so on the case but is apparently based on a new 4k scan of "preservation elements," is a shade or two brighter and distinctly clearer.  What were ones smudgy, compressed hints at film grain are now clear, edges are sharper and fine detail that was previously too soft can now be made out.  Highlights maybe peak a little too much for my tastes, but this is a real leap forward from the DVD, as opposed to some previous Marx blus, where the upgrade was more subtle, if not outright difficult to discern.  A Day At the Races is now a proper HD movie and all the more absorbing a watch for it.

Both discs have the original English mono, bumped up to DTS-HD on the blu, with optional English subtitles.  The DVD also had French and Spanish subtitle options, which the blu has dropped.
Warner's DVD was surprisingly loaded, too.  Marx Bros expert Glenn Mitchell provides a generally interesting, educated audio commentary, but it's prone to constant gaps of dead air.  They're short at first but last for full, extensive scenes in the back half.  I was starting to wonder if there isn't actually more silence than talking in the track.  But when he's participating, he's good.  Then there's the roughly half-hour doc, On Your Marx, Get Set, Go!, which I've already covered on my Marx Bros documentary page.  It's good.  There's also a fun radio promo for the film and a short audio clip of an Allan Jones song cut from the film.  It's actually catchier than the ones in the film, and they probably should have used it in the nightclub scene instead of the one they did.  And there's the trailer and a couple extras not related to the film: a short Robert Benchley film called A Night At the Movies and three short, vintage cartoons.

And everything from the DVD has been carried over to the blu, even the cartoons and stuff.  And there's one more, new extra: another song cut from the film.  It's a Groucho song called "Hackenbush."  This is not the version from his Hooray for Captain Spaulding album or the one he sung on TV with the nurses later in life.  This one's better than both of them and sounds like it's taken from a live performance, as an audience can be heard laughing and applauding the song.  So it's the only new extra, but it's a treat, even if you thought you'd heard it on Youtube already.
That still leaves four films from The Marx Brothers Collection trapped in SD.  And those were all exclusive to the boxed set, so we'll have to hold onto them for a while longer.  But hopefully not forever.  The DVDs combined the last four films into double-feature discs, so maybe they'll do that on BD, too; and we'll get to complete our collections in this lifetime.


  1. This is the second time I've seen Zeppo referred to as "Gummo" on the internet recently, and I honestly don't know if it's a mistake or something the cool kids are doing on-line.

    1. Whoops! No, in my case at least, it's just me becoming a doddering old man. I fixed it - thanks! :)