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... more » 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« less
Andrew McCaffrey | Satellite of Love, Maryland | 02/12/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As a biography of the Marx Brothers, the documentary does a competent if not excellent job. There are numerous interviews with their few surviving friends and various Marx offspring. But if you're looking for an in-depth, detailed portrait of how they lived their lives, then I would recommend reading one of the numerous books that have been published on the subject (Harpo's autobiography HARPO SPEAKS! is particularly worthy, especially on their childhood and pre-movie period).That said, where this program shines is when it displays various pieces of scratchy old footage. Whether it was seeing Harpo's first role in a recently discovered silent movie, or an elderly Groucho trading barbs with Bill Cosby, the clips here are gems. Included here is material shot for the aborted Marx Brothers 50's TV series which (if not for Chico's deteriorating health) would have featured Groucho, Harpo, and Chico as guardian angels (the theological implications of this are astounding). There are also a few of the commercials that Harpo did for Labatt's Beer. As his son points out in one of the interviews, they're the most surreal advertisements you're likely to see. The bulk of this footage (and the documentary itself) consists of their public and television appearances after their movie careers had ended. The DVD also contains a few outtakes from Groucho's YOU BET YOUR LIFE television show. Relatively tame by today's standards (a sample, which was too raunchy for those early days of television: "You met your wife in the dark-room? Was she well developed?"), but funny all the same. Groucho's quick wit gets him into trouble with the overbearing censors of the era, and as a disapproving contestant on You Bet Your Life tells him, "That's going to be censored, Groucho." The despondent reply: "I know."This isn't the place to go if you want to spend a couple of hours convulsed with laughter. But it is a wonderful, if light, look at the career of the Marx Brothers. The production of the documentary has a slightly cheap feel to it, and Leslie Neilson's narration is a little flat. But while it can't compete with the volumes of books written on the subject, it does do one thing that the prose can't -- show us the Brothers in action. And with material that you're not likely to have seen anywhere else, this is invaluable for any fan of the Marx Brothers."
You Bet Your 126 Minutes!
Andrew McCaffrey | 08/28/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What is wonderful about this video program is that it reveals a great deal number of interesting, attractive episodes on Marx Brothers; and their rare home movies, clips of TV appearance or photos. This video sure has more than what a number of books on Marx Brothers have covered so far. If you have seen any of Brothers on TV of film, found them incredibly funny and felt thirsty for more about this incredible comedy team, this is the thing you should really check out! END"
Geart Documentary but Incomplete on DVD
Christopher A. Goble | Rock Island, Illinois United States | 01/20/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is a great documentary, but the DVD has severly edited the documentary that was show on PBS. I have the whole documentary on tape and this is not it. The DVD leaves out the WWI years and a lot of the later films. Why? I don't know, but be warned, if you have seen the documentary before, this DVD is an edited version."
A real disappointment
Ann Linderman | Las Vegas, NV | 11/16/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"One expects the DVD version of a documentary to be complete. This is not.
The package states that the running time is approximately 2:06, which is the length of the original program. This DVD runs for only 1:26, meaning that almost exactly one-third of the material was omitted! It's a shame, because in its full version this is a wonderful documentary on the brothers Marx. (I would be giving it 5 stars if it were complete.)
One other cautionary note: this is not the PBS documentary on the Marxes cited in other reviews (that one is "The Marx Brothers in a Nutshell" and is well worth purchasing). This program originally aired (in two parts) on The Disney Channel."
A Big Fat Slab of Marx History
gummo_marx | 12/25/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I loved this DVD because it holds so much unseen stuff. Home movies of Harpo and footage from Groucho's television show and loads of other interesting bits. This DVD is a big fat slab of Marx history. It's the very darts. If you liked the Louvish Marx biog or the Kanfer Groucho biog, you're pretty much likely to enjoy this DVD."