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Warner Home Video presents
Ronald: You know, I think you're the most beautiful woman in the whole world.
DVD ReviewUpon first laying eyes upon the Marx Brothers in A Night in Casablanca, the effect is eerily akin to running into old friends at a class reunion. Initially, you're shell shocked: thicker bodies, increased complexion lines, thinning hair. Once the "signs of age" uneasiness passes and timeless chemistry kicks in, you have a wonderful time (at least, that's been my experience)... and that's exactly the mood conveyed in what would be the legendary comedy trio's last film together.
Tension in North Africa is high as local law enforcement investigates the death of a hotel manager, the latest in a series of similar incidents to take place in a matter of weeks. Enter unperturbed American and latest replacement Ronald Kornblower (Groucho) who wastes no time in putting his own spin on the gig ("Never mind the staff! Assemble the guests; I'll tell them what I expect of them!".) Sharp though he is, Kornblower hasn't a clue that he's next on the ongoing hit list of Nazi war criminal Heinrich Stubel (Sig Ruman), the man responsible for all the previous offings. Hiding out under the alias of Count Pfefferman, the chief villain rounds up the usual assets: right-hand man Kurt (Frederick Giermann), and lounge singer-temptress Beatrice Rheiner (Lisette Verea) who soon gets Ronald a-purrin' like a lascivious kitty.
Luckily, Kornblower survives a foiled attempt on his life and soon takes up the offer of local entrepreneur Corbaccio (Chico) to play bodyguard. His new acquaintance goes him one better by enlisting the aid of pal Rusty (Harpo), whose mischievous demeanor hides an intelligence that soon comes in handy.
Whether it was the dissatisfaction over their originally intended swan song, The Big Store, or the creative control under the friendlier confines of United Artists (not to mention a percentage of the box-office profits), A Night in Casablanca gives us a curtain call from the revitalized brothers Marx that recalls the youthful energy of early classics Animal Crackers and Monkey Business (the latter of which is my favorite); kind of an updated Paramount-era effort, you might say. It's also very endearing to see the brothers sharing more screen time as a team, particularly during a classic sequence when the threesome skillfully stay out of sight in Stubel's hotel room while he packs his belongings for a final getaway. But there's still plenty of leeway for each sibling to eke out solo highlights including two rousing piano numbers from Chico, Harpo's customarily beautiful harp solo (not to mention a wickedly funny swordfight) and about 117 brilliant one-liners from the clown prince of sarcasm, Groucho (some of which had me laughing so hard, my remote's rewind button was called upon with frequency).
Sid Ruman (who previously co-starred with the boys in A Day at the Races) assumes Margaret Dumont's usual role as a target for abuse here, and he heads up a mostly terrific cast, highlighted by the bee-yu-ti-licious Lisette Verea as the apple of Groucho's eye and perhaps the prettiest co-star the Marxes ever had (I do know she gives Thelma Todd a run for her money in the "hummina, hummina" department). In fact, the only weak link in the entire film has to be the innocuous romantic subplot pairing Charles Drake and Lois Collier; fortunately, their scenes are mercifully brief (and even better, they don't interrupt the plot with banal love songs).
Humorous historical footnote: When word got out about the film's title, Warner Bros. threatened to sue, claiming it was too close to one of the studio's crown jewels, Casablanca. Without missing a beat, Groucho fired off a legal note of his own:"I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo."
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: The transfer for A Night in Casablanca is a beauty, although there are a couple of minor problems to note. In the second half of the movie, there's a momentary problem with slightly jumpy video and a couple of instances where a piece of a scene was taken from a second-generation print, but I don't think they detract from an otherwise stellar presentation that has gorgeous blacks and sharp whites.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Like the video, this is a very clean, solid center-based soundtrack, which boasts nice presence for a mono presentation. It's distortion free, the dialogue is easily understandable and, depending on how you set up your audio for films of this type, has some impressive low end at times.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsThe digital versatile disc equivalent of a delicious cherry atop a sundae, A Night in Casablanca completes an amazing series of re-issues from Warner, preserving the memorable antics of Groucho, Chico, and Harpo from the latter half of their comic reign.
Give yourselves a hand, Warner; well done. As for you home video executives at Universal, it's time to get those Paramount-period Marx titles you own out of storage.
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