Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2021

By now, I think it’s safe to say that most of you know that I enjoy watching classic movies via physical media like Blu-ray and DVD (I’m not trying to knock streaming necessarily, it’s just that most of what I like is more readily available on disc).  2021 has been another really good year for seeing fantastic movies given the bump up to Blu-ray, so here’s my list of what I personally think are the best releases of the year!  As usual, I must remind everyone that I do NOT receive screeners of any kind (nor, quite frankly, would I want to, as I prefer to support the movies I like in the hopes of more of them being made available), so I can only work with what I have seen.  I am making this list from all the 2021 releases I have seen as of 12/1/2021.  Much like my list for 2020, I am working mainly from movies released on disc through October 2021 (due to my own constraints of budget and time, plus the fact that, without being given screeners, I have no way to comment on December releases ahead of time). So, this list is what it is (but, I will give a shout-out to some other releases afterwards).  I’m experimenting by changing the format a little this year, so if any of these appeal to you, be sure to click on the movie on the left side to use my affiliate links to go to Amazon and buy them (or, if you want to read the reviews, click on the movie titles to go there)!!

  1. Broadway Melody Of 1940 (1940) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell and George Murphy star in this last entry of the Broadway Melody series. A case of mistaken identity results in the wrong member of a dance team getting his big chance on the Broadway stage (but, when the team is two men and Fred Astaire was the other partner, you KNOW that he’ll get his chance as well). Working from a 4K scan of nitrate preservation elements, the good people at Warner Archive have given us a new and improved transfer that shows off this film’s detail and really allows us to enjoy these spectacular dancers looking better than they have in a long time! Great movie, great transfer!
  1. San Francisco (1936) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In this film that teams up Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy, we have a nightclub owner (Gable) who runs for town supervisor to help the people on the Barbary Coast, while falling for his new singer (MacDonald) (and all ahead of the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake). Another Warner Archive release, making use of a French-dubbed nitrate fine grain second generation element (and some domestic elements as well), which amounts to this movie looking better than it has in a long time! Throw in the original 1936 ending (with the 1948 reissue ending as an extra), and this is one release that is well worth it!
  1. Show Boat (1951) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In 2020, we got the 1936 version of Show Boat (from Criterion Collection). For 2021, we got the 1951 version with Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner and Howard Keel. Kathryn Grayson stars as the daughter of showboat owner Cap’n Andy (Joe E. Brown), who falls for riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel). Long in need of restoration (as much as the film relies on its Technicolor imagery), Warner Archive created a new 4K master from the original three-strip Technicolor negatives, and it looks SUPERB!! Compared to how it has looked before, I still think this is the restoration of the year, making the Blu-ray well worth it for fans of the film!
  1. Take Me Out To The Ball Game (1949) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams and Gene Kelly star in this classic musical! The returning baseball champs find themselves with a new owner (Williams), with two of the players falling for her. Warner Archive has given this movie a new restoration, and it looks to be one of the best-looking examples of the three-strip Technicolor process, as the color just pops, revealing all the wonderful details of the picture!
  1. A Night At The Opera (1935) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In the first Marx Brothers film from MGM, the trio find themselves helping a couple of operatic singers to make it big in America. The film was cut for re-release during World War II (removing references to Italy), with the deleted scenes supposedly destroyed. Warner Archive haven’t located any of those deleted scenes, but they’ve given us a 4K scan of the best surviving preservation elements, and this film looks great! Until any of the deleted scenes are found in any usable form (if that ever happens), this is the best release one can hope for on this film!
  1. In The Good Old Summertime (1949) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Judy Garland and Van Johnson star in this musical remake of The Shop Around The Corner. They play the bickering co-workers who are unknowingly falling for each other as pen pals. Another Yuletide classic featuring Judy singing the holiday tune “Merry Christmas!” Working from 4K scans of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives and preservation separations, this film looks great, and is a wonderful movie to watch around the holidays (or during the summer, too, I suppose 😉 )!
  1. Annie Get Your Gun (1950) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Betty Hutton and Howard Keel star in this film version of the Broadway show (with music by Irving Berlin)! In this movie, Annie Oakley (Hutton) rises from a nobody to being an internationally renowned sharpshooter! This release features a 4K scan of most of the original nitrate Technicolor negatives (with two reels’ worth coming from positive safety separations due to those reels being burned in the infamous Eastman house fire), which brings out the color and detail!
  1. Bringing Up Baby (1938) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In 2021, one of the biggest and best-known screwball comedies FINALLY made it to Blu-ray! In this movie, Cary Grant is an engaged paleontologist who accidentally gets mixed up with a flighty young woman (Katharine Hepburn). Madcap adventures ensue, including panthers, buried dinosaur bones, and jail time! The original camera negative may be long gone, but this transfer came from 4K scans of a 35 mm nitrate duplicate negative (from the British Film Institute) and a 35 mm safety fine-grain positive, resulting in a better transfer than what’s been available for a long time (and is certainly worth recommending)!
  1. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Screen legends Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are paired up for the third and final time, with Melvyn Douglas joining. Grant plays an advertising executive who wants a full-sized house for his family (instead of a cramped apartment), but when he remodels his new place, the costs start to skyrocket! Working from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, Warner Archive has another superlative release on their hands with a fantastic transfer!
  1. After The Thin Man (1936) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • After releasing the first film in the Thin Man series on Blu-ray in 2019, Warner Archive has finally continued the series, starting with that film’s (kinda-sorta) direct sequel! William Powell and Myrna Loy return as Nick and Nora Charles, who have arrived in San Francisco, only to find themselves trying to solve the murder of Nora’s cousin’s husband! Warner Archive made use of a 4K scan of safety fine grain film elements for this transfer, and it looks quite good! Certainly a worthy follow-up release after the first film was treated so well on Blu-ray!

Special Honorable Mention:

  • The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3
    • For the most part, my list tends towards movie releases, as those are the vast majority of what I buy. However, as you may have seen, I also enjoy looking into various theatrical short collections. In 2020, ClassicFlix announced (via crowdfunding campaign) their desire to restore the Hal Roach-owned Little Rascals shorts. While their campaign fell short, they went through with their plans anyway. They now have three volumes of Little Rascals shorts available on Blu-ray, uncut and fully restored. I’ve seen the first two volumes, which each contain eleven shorts starting with their first talkie, and continuing on from there. The shorts in these first two volumes look absolutely fantastic, and while I haven’t gotten around to the third volume yet, I’ve heard it looks just as good (if not even better)! With more on the way, I have a hard time not wanting to call these sets the releases of the year!

Honorable Mentions: Another Thin Man (1939) (Warner Archive, Blu-ray), Dinner At Eight (1933) (Warner Archive, Blu-ray), (tie) Mad About Music (1938) (Universal Studios, Blu-ray), (tie) Nice Girl? (1941) (Universal Studios, Blu-ray)

While the pandemic has still been raging on in places throughout 2021, physical media enthusiasts have had quite a good year! I would have to say that, once again, Warner Archive has won the year amongst the various labels. They continued to release a slew of musicals (with actress Doris Day getting well-represented), three-strip Technicolor films and various other classics, finally digging into more of Errol Flynn’s filmography (including the public domain Santa Fe Trail from 1940) and continuing the Thin Man series! Like I already said, I haven’t gotten any farther than their October releases, but November releases include the second-to-last film in the Thin Man series (The Thin Man Goes Home), another Doris Day musical (Lullaby Of Broadway), a Barbara Stanwyck pre-Code (Ladies They Talk About), a Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin film (Some Came Running), National Velvet and several others, with December seeing the long-awaited Angels With Dirty Faces (previously held back from being released because of right issues that popped up within the last decade) and Ivanhoe. Personally, I’m thrilled with their musical output for the year (especially with TWO Fred Astaire musicals represented). Honestly, the only complaint I have is that there was a rumor that at least one of the Astaire-Rogers films would be coming (but nothing showed up). I know, I know, internet rumors and all that, but when the source of that rumor claimed that there would be some Arthur Freed musicals (there were), some Val Lewtons (again, there were) and some Marx Brothers (and we got one), it’s disappointing that what I wanted most of the bunch was what DIDN’T come out (but, hopefully 2022 will bring at least one of them out on Blu-ray). Like last year, I want to throw in a plug for a film that, while I personally am not interested in it due to its genre, certainly is appealing for others: the 1932 horror film Dr. X, which, like 2020’s release of The Mystery Of The Wax Museum, was filmed in the Two-Color Technicolor process, with those elements nearly gone. But, in collaboration with UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Film Foundation, the film has been restored in the process (and the black-and-white version is included as well) for the Blu-ray release, which, from what I have heard, is highly recommended for those interested in that aspect of film history!

Personally, I would say that, apart from Warner Archives, I have mixed feelings about this year. Kino Lorber has been continuing to make deals with Universal and MGM, bringing out a lot of films (some of which they have remastered/restored themselves). I’m thrilled to see more W. C. Fields movies (four this year) that came from them (especially after having seen their Insider talking on multiple forums in the past about how their previous W. C. Field releases weren’t great sellers), with three more being worked on for next year (plus a few other non-W. C. Fields titles that were announced but are getting new 2K or 4K remasters that have pushed them into next year). We also got more Bob Hope from Kino, although I’m disappointed that their release of Nothing But The Truth was missing some of the film’s footage that had previously been included on Universal’s DVD, and the missing stereo sound on Thoroughly Modern Millie (for its overture, entr’acte and exit music) is also disappointing (and there have been a handful of other releases from them with a few mistakes this year as far as I’ve heard). And while I’m disappointed that Kino’s three-film set of Deanna Durbin films from the previous year was a poor seller (enough so that they dropped the other six films of hers that they had licensed, which I can’t say as I blame them for doing), I was thrilled to see Universal step up with their own MOD Blu-ray releases and release all six of those films (plus one more that I didn’t see coming!), along with the likes of State Of The Union and a Woody Woodpecker Screwball Collection in what was their most appealing lineup (to me) since their first year of releasing anything on Blu-ray via that line! Criterion has finally gotten into the UHD game, but (since I haven’t upgraded to that technology yet), they’ve really only had two releases this year that appealed to me (Bringing Up Baby and High Sierra). To be fair, with their higher prices, I don’t mind, given how much Warner Archive and others have been releasing. ClassicFlix has mainly been focusing a lot of their time, money and effort in their restorations of the Our Gang/Little Rascals shorts, but they’ve also finished out their DVD-only run of Hal Roach streamliners, along with a few other DVD-only films (due to lack of decent film elements), along with their Blu-ray and DVD of International Lady (they also announced a Blu-ray and DVD release for the 1949 Black Magic that was originally scheduled to come out this fall, but has since been delayed into next year). Overall, I think that 2021 has been filled with a great many releases on disc (too many in my book, both in terms of budget and time to watch everything), and what I’m hearing/seeing coming in 2022 looks to be just as good (if not better)!

Previous years:




What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… A Night At The Opera (1935)

As I promised when I reviewed Animal Crackers recently, I had one more Marx Brothers film up my sleeve to review. So here we are for more fun with Groucho, Chico and Harpo in their 1935 classic comedy A Night At The Opera! Also, much like my review of Animal Crackers, I had some help and inspiration from some of my friends for this one, so I would like very much to thank Angela and Mary for their thoughts and ideas!

Coming Up Shorts! with… How To Sleep (1935)

(Available as an extra on the A Night At The Opera Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 10 minutes, 40 seconds)

Robert Benchley gives a lecture on how to fall asleep. Of course, all we see is how much trouble he has falling asleep. Whether it’s trying to take a hot bath (or not), or trying to drink warm milk (and raiding the fridge at the same time), or the gymnastics that occur as one tries to sleep, it’s easy to relate to for those who struggle to get a good night’s sleep. Robert Benchley, of course, does a good job with the lecture, while also trying (and failing) to successfully demonstrate what he is talking about. Good fun, anyways!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Sunday Night At The Trocadero (1937)

(Available as an extra on the A Night At The Opera Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 20 minutes, 18 seconds)

Studio executives and various celebrities come to the Trocadero nightclub, in order to see the show being put on there. Reginald Denny is also on hand with his candid camera to get shots of the guests. It’s an interesting short, especially to see some of the various movie stars, like Robert Benchley, Frank Morgan and Groucho Marx (without his greasepaint mustache). There are a few fun songs, one or two of them with an accompanying dance routine that are entertaining. Some of the humor, particularly from Peter Lind Hayes as a uniformed messenger trying to do impressions for the execs, falls a bit flat. Honestly, the biggest problem here is that this short is very much in need of restoration, particularly for the sound, which is very hard to decipher sometimes.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Los Angeles: Wonder City Of The West (1935)

(Available as an extra on the A Night At The Opera Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 8 minutes, 32 seconds)

This short, from the TravelTalk series, focuses on Los Angeles. We see a few of the various landmarks of the city, before it focuses on a few of the movie studios. It’s fun seeing a few of the studios, especially RKO (which I haven’t seen too many pictures of). Near the end, the short stops at the Disney studios, and we even get to see Walt himself for a moment or two. I will still admit to not really being much of a fan of this series of shorts, but this one was kind of fun to see because of the movie studio aspects.

And Now For The Main Feature…

(The curtain is down.)

(Author): (Over loudspeakers) Welcome back everyone! Back by popular demand, it’s our Narrator, Host and Writer masquerading as the Marx Brothers! So heeeeere’s our Narrator again as Groucho!

(The Narrator comes walking out in that stooped manner that Groucho Marx was known for, wearing a tuxedo, horned-rimmed glasses, exaggerated eyebrows and a greasepaint mustache).

(Narrator): Thank you for that introduction, but that’s Nate Nubender to you! We do have names, you know!

(Author): (Walking onstage) So what? We’ve got more important things to do than worry about your silly names, so let’s get this show on the road! Raise the curtain!

(The curtain rises, revealing the set once again covered in Christmas decorations, including a tree, presents, lights and stockings on the fireplace. A steamer trunk is standing in the center of the stage. A banner reaches from one side to the other, with the phrase “How’s this, Lonnie Orangebottom?” printed across it.)

(Narrator): “Lonnie Orangebottom?” Whose funny name is that?

(Author): (Furious) Applebottom! That’s supposed to be “APPLEbottom!” Wait until I get my hands on those guys!

(Narrator): (Mocking the Author) What’s your problem? You said so yourself: We’ve got more important things to do than worry about your silly names!

(Author): Oh, shut up! I’m going to tell those two a thing or three when I find them (Walks offstage in a huff)

(Narrator): Well, now that I’ve got the stage to myself, it’s time for me to make a speech to introduce everything. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!

(The audience pulls off their ears and throws them at the Narrator.)

(Narrator): Hmm, this audience has been watching some Mel Brooks lately… (Speaking to self) Hey, maybe I can use this… (Back to audience) Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your beards!

(Members of the audience pull off their beards and throw them at the stage, filling it with facial hair.)

(Narrator): That’s the ticket! (Whistles)

(The Writer comes on wearing a very large trench coat, a battered top hat, a blonde wig, and carrying a cane with a horn on one end and a broom on the other end, while also holding a bag. He starts sweeping the hair into the bag, and, when it is filled, takes it to the steamer trunk to empty it out.)

(Narrator): While he’s doing that, let’s get started with the story! The movie opens on the streets of Italy, as various Italians break out into bits of operatic tunes —

(Host): (From offstage) Hold it! (Pokes head in from the side) Before I come out, is “Orangebutt” here?

(Narrator): No, he’s off looking for you two elsewhere.

(Host): (Speaking in a fake Italian accent) That’s-a fine! (He walks out, wearing a curly-haired wig, a Tyrolean hat and some slightly run down clothes, as the Narrator shakes his head.)

(Narrator): Well, now that you’re out here, why did you stop me from telling the story?

(Host): Because you’re confusing some of the audience, that’s why! You’re trying to start with the film’s original opening, which hasn’t been seen in a LOOONG time (and you’re too young to have seen it yourself, you’re just trying to work with the description on the Wikipedia page). When the movie was originally released in 1935, it did indeed have a longer opening, and slightly longer running time. What later transpired was that the film was cut (when exactly, I’m not sure, as I’ve seen different sources state different timeframes). Everything that was cut from the film was particular references to Italy, partly due to the Italian government’s objections that it made fun of the Italian people. All those scenes were cut from the master negative (and supposedly destroyed), so that is the way that the movie has been seen ever since (and some of those edits are fairly noticeable). There is a rumor that —

(Author): (Gradually getting louder as if getting close to the stage) Where are they?

(In a comical, cartoonish fashion, the Host and the Writer both drop what they are doing and make a beeline for the steamer trunk. They manage to get it closed just a second before the Author pokes his head onstage.)

(Author): I could have sworn I heard the Host’s voice around here. Have you seen them?

(Narrator): Hearing voices, eh? You know that’s bad for you!

(Author): Oh, you’re no help! (Goes back to looking around offstage)

(Narrator): (Walks over to the trunk and locks the Host and Writer in) Serves those two right for interrupting the story. (Walks back to center stage, while the trunk starts shaking about) Anyway, the wealthy Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont) has hired Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx) to help get her into society. So far, he hasn’t done much for the salary that she is paying him, but he has helped her contact opera impresario Herman Gottlieb (Sig Ruman, billed here as “Siegfried Rumann”) to help finance an opera show in America. Gottlieb tells her that they should sign Italian tenor Rodolpho Lassparri (Walter Woolf King), and when Driftwood hears how much they are willing to pay Lassparri, he decides to go sign Lassparri himself (and try to pocket some of the money). Meanwhile, at the theatre, Lassparri is angry with his dresser, Tomasso (Harpo Marx) –

(Host): (From inside trunk) Hey, are you going to let us out?

(Narrator): Not yet! As I was saying, Lassparri is angry with his dresser, Tomasso. He is also annoyed at leading lady Rosa Castaldi (Kitty Carlisle), who has spurned his affections in favor of one of the members of the chorus, Ricardo Barrone (Allan Jones). Ricardo’s childhood friend Fiorello (Chico Marx) returns after wandering from one job to another, and offers to be Ricardo’s manager. When Driftwood comes backstage after the opera to sign Lassparri, he ends up talking with Fiorello and accidentally signing Ricardo instead. When Gottlieb gets backstage, he rectifies Driftwood’s mistake, and so Gottlieb, Mrs. Claypool, Driftwood, Lassparri and Rosa (Lassparri’s choice of leading lady) get on a boat to head to America. Lonesome for Rosa, Ricardo stows away in Driftwood’s steamer trunk, along with Fiorello and Tomasso.

(Host): (From inside the still shaking trunk) Hey, let us out!

(Narrator): Oh, alright.

(As soon as he unlocks the trunk and they start to walk out, they hear the sounds of the Author’s returning footsteps, and hurriedly get back in the trunk. The Narrator finishes locking them in and turns around to lean on the trunk just as the Author comes back onstage.)

(Narrator): Any luck finding them?

(Author): (Frustrated) None at all. They seem to have left the building.

(Narrator): Ah, too bad. Shall we get back to the story?

(Author): Eh. I’ll let you get back to it in a moment. In the meantime, we’ve got to plan the Thanksgiving meal. The Christmas decorations may not matter much, but we do need to have the meal planned out. (Pulls phone out of pocket) What do you think we need?

(Narrator): Well, we need some food, that’s for sure.

(Author): (Frustrated and annoyed) I KNOW that. What should we get?

(Narrator): What have we got for drinks?

(Author): Well, we’ve got our regular milk, chocolate milk, strawberry milk, milkshakes –

(Narrator): Whoa, whoa! Let’s turn off the taps on those cows, we don’t want to milk this joke too much, as we only need the regular stuff!

(The Author writes this down on his phone as the Narrator is speaking.)

(Narrator): So let’s see, we need some turkey, with all the stuffing.

(Host): (From inside the trunk) With two slices of ham.

(Narrator): With two slices of ham.

(Honk from inside trunk)

(Narrator): Make that three slices of ham.

(Author): What else?

(Narrator): Well, we need some scrambled eggs, deviled eggs and green eggs.

(Host): (From inside the trunk) With two slices of ham.

(Narrator): With two slices of ham.

(Honk from inside trunk)

(Narrator): Make that three slices of ham.

(Author): (Looking up from phone) Green eggs and ham?

(Narrator): Well, you didn’t expect me to just pass by the obvious reference did you, Sam I Am?

(Author): (Shaking his head as he goes back to his phone) What else?

(Narrator): Well, how about some baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and fried potatoes.

(Host): (From inside the trunk) With two slices of ham.

(Narrator): With two slices of ham.

(Honk from inside trunk)

(Narrator): Make that three slices of ham.

(Author): Any fruits or salads?

(Narrator): Have you got any grapefruit?

(Author): Yes.

(Narrator): Well, squeeze the grapes out for some wine, and that’ll be our fruit.

(Host): (From inside the trunk) With two slices of ham.

(Narrator): With two slices of ham.

(Honk from inside trunk)

(Narrator): Make that three slices of ham.

(Short honk from inside trunk)

(Narrator): And one slice of pork.

(Author): (Starting to get suspicious) Any dessert?

(Narrator): What options are there for pie?

(Author): Apple, pumpkin, cherry and raspberry.

(Narrator): Well, give them some ice cream and leave the sugary stuff in my room. No sense in giving those two enough sugar to start bouncing off the walls. We just finished repairing them from the last time.

(Host): (From inside the trunk) With two slices of ham.

(Narrator): With two slices of ham.

(A series of twelve honks from inside trunk as a fog bank rolls in from right stage.)

(Narrator): I would have said make that fourteen slices of ham, but there seems to be a fog bank rolling in. Better get that food ordered so that it can get here!

(Author): Ok. (Starts walking towards right stage, mumbling to himself) How in the world a fog bank is coming in to a stage, I’ll never know… (Walks offstage)

(Narrator): (Unlocking the trunk and poking his head in) That’s just fine. We know he’s an idiot, but you do realize that every time you open your mouth, I’m taking a big chance on him not figuring it out?

(Author): (Coming back toward stage) Hey!

(The Narrator quickly closes up the trunk and turns to look towards the Author.)

(Author): I found the source of the fog! Somebody left a fan running over here by the dry ice!

(Narrator): Well, that’s fine! Why don’t you turn it off and get around to the food?

(Author): OK!

(The Author goes back off to turn off the fan. The Narrator starts turning around again to open up the trunk, but the Author pokes his head back out, forcing the Narrator to abandon that action.)

(Author): I forgot to mention, getting the turkey might be difficult, as they seem to be a bit scarce this year.

(Narrator): Don’t worry about the turkey. I’ll take care of that.

(Author): OK. But don’t forget, if you find the other two, tell them that you all need to tame your antics down. This isn’t a review about one of Paramount Marx Brothers films, where they were a lot more anarchic. After doing Duck Soup at Paramount (long considered something of a flop), they came to MGM on the urging of producer Irving Thalberg (a bridge partner of Chico’s). Under Thalberg’s direction, they became less anarchic, and more focused on helping the lead romantic couple against whatever villains they faced (as opposed to anybody who happened to cross the Marx Brothers’ paths). (Goes back offstage)

(The Narrator finally has his chance, and lets the Host and Writer out of the trunk.)

(Host): He does realize that’s why we’re picking on HIM, right? That he’s our “villain?”

(Narrator): Who know, and who cares? The fun is in getting his goat! (Turns to the Writer) Now, it’s YOUR job to get a turkey! So get going!

(The Writer salutes him with his cane, and starts marching offstage.)

(Narrator): Well, now that that’s taken care of, shall we get back to the story?

(Host): Yes, let’s.

(Narrator): As I was about to say before that mess, when the three stowaways get out and about on the ship, they are caught and locked up. With Driftwood’s help, they escape, and disguise themselves as three famous bearded aviators. However, when the ship docks, they are taken to a ceremony at city hall, where police sergeant Henderson (Robert Emmett O’Connor) realizes that they are fakes. All three escape, and stay with a reluctant Driftwood at his hotel.

(All of a sudden, the air is filled with feathers, as the Writer comes in chasing a turkey and swinging a rubber mallet. The Narrator and the Host start ducking to avoid being hit with the mallet.)

(Host): That looks like the (Ducks down) turkey from Room Service, doesn’t it?

(Narrator): (Ducks down) That certainly looks like the (Ducks down), the one, yes.

(Host): Well, it looks like we’ve got our Thanksgiving Turkey cover –

(The Writer hits the Host on the head with the mallet, knocking him out. The Writer stops chasing the turkey, which gets away, and catches the Host, putting the mallet under his head to hold him up. He pulls out a bottle of smelling salts, and waves them under the Host’s nose.)

(Narrator): That’s good. That shows that you’re sorry.

(The Host starts to wake up. Before he can finish sitting up, the Writer grabs the mallet and hits him on the head again, knocking him out.)

(Narrator): Serves him right. I’ve been meaning to get rid of him and hire a new Host, anyways. Know anybody that’s available?

(The Writer nods enthusiastically, pointing to himself.)

(Narrator): Oh, so you’re available. Well, that’s fine. Let me get a contract out for you. (Pulls a couple of contracts out and starts reading them.) Let’s see… this contract is for an E. Hu… (Looks down at the unconscious Host and sets the contract on him before looking at the next one.) Alright, and this one hasn’t been signed yet, so we’re good. Now, shall we go over it together?

(The Writer nods.)

(Narrator): Ok. The first part says that, uh… “The party of the first part shall be known in this contract as the party of the first part.” That sound good to you so far?

(The Writer nods. The Host starts to wake up, and the Writer hit him again with the mallet.)

(Narrator): Stay asleep, you. Now, what’s next? Oh, yes. “The party of the second part shall be known in this contract as the party of the second part.” How’s that?

(The Writer frowns, and tears off the top part of his contract.)

(Narrator): That bad, huh? Well then… (Tears off the top part of his contract) Uh… “The party of the third part shall be known in this contract -“

(The Writer grimace and tears off another part of the contract.)

(Narrator): Now, is my word worth anything to you about the next few paragraphs?

(The Writer shakes his head “no.”)

(Narrator): Well, then, let’s – (Tears off more of his contract.)

(The Writer tears off most of his contract.)

(Narrator): Not much left, is there? You must have really been on a tear last night! Is what’s left good enough for you?

(The Writer nods, and then hits the slowly reawakening Host with the mallet again.)

(Narrator): Ok, then. Why don’t you sign it?

(The Writer nods, and then signs it “I. Watt.”)

(Narrator): That’s fine. Now, I’ve got a new Host! (Starts to pocket the contract)

(The Writer notices the last paragraph, and points to it to show the Narrator.)

(Narrator): What? That? That says “If any of the parties participating in this contract are shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified.” That’s in every contract! That’s what’s known as the sanity clause!

(The Writer looks at him with a quizzical look on his face.)

(Narrator): Now look, you. I made this contract with you, not him (Pointing to the unconscious Host). You better not be trying to tell me that there’s no Sanity Claus.

(The Writer shakes his head “no” vigorously, and pulls a white beard and a red Santa suit out of his overcoat and puts them on. He pulls a bell out of his coat, and starts to walk around the stage ringing it.)

(Narrator): (Tears up the rest of the contract) Well, there goes that. Either he’s insane, or I am. Either way, that contract is worthless.

(The Host wakes up and holds his head.)

(Host): Ouch. What hit me?

(Narrator): Haven’t you been hitting the eggnog a little early this year?

(Host): (Still holding his head.) No, who do you think I am, Oliver Wendell Douglas?

(Narrator): (Gives the Host a side-eye.) Well, we’ll let that one pass. Anyway, getting back to the story, on the day of the opera opening, Gottlieb and Lassparri gets Driftwood and Rosa fired from the opera company. All the men decide to try and help get Rosa back her job, but when Gottlieb decides to turn them in to the police, they try to lock him up in a closet and disrupt the opera.

(Author): (Coming back onstage) Well, the food order is all taken care of — (Spies the Host and Writer) YOU.

(The Host and the Writer both duck back in the trunk. The Author hurriedly comes over to the trunk, and opens it up, only to find a squad of heavily bearded solders who start marching out as a backdrop of a war-torn countryside comes down. The Narrator’s outfit changes into a general’s uniform.)

(Author): Soldiers?!?! Where did these men come from?!?

(Narrator): From Freedonia, where else? This is what happens when you call their leader, Rufus T. Firefly an “upstart!”

(Author): Since when did I call Firefly an upstart? I don’t even know the man!

(Narrator): There! You did it again! All right men!

(The soldiers all line up at the back of the stage, while the Author stands on the prosceunium, shaking quite visibly.)

(Narrator): Ready!

(The soldiers raise their rifles.)

(Narrator): Aim!

(The soldiers take aim at the Narrator.)

(Narrator): Fire!

(The backdrop of the war-torn countryside rises back up, and the soldiers disappear before they can fire a shot. The Narrator’s costume reverts back to the tuxedo.)

(Narrator): First, the three men try to delay the opera by messing with the sheet music for the orchestra.

(Author): Wait a minute! Did I get shot? What happened to all the soldiers?

(Narrator): What soldiers?

(Author): The ones that you were ordering to shoot me!

(Narrator): (Winks at audience) I have no idea what you’re talking about. Now, let me get back to the story, please.

(Author): (Still visibly shaken) Sure.

(Narrator): Once the orchestra get themselves back in order, the opera starts. So, Fiorello and Tomasso get in costume to mess around onstage, while Driftwood causes trouble in the audience.

(A new backdrop of a horse race at the Ascot Racecourse drops down, and the Narrator disappears. The Author finds himself in the center of a racetrack.)

(Author): Now what?

(The sound of thundering horses’ hooves starts to shake the ground.)

(?): Come on. Come on, Dover, come on. Come on Dover, come on.

(The sound of thundering horses’ hooves starts to increase in volume. We see a lady in a beautiful floral dress behind a fence, but her face is hidden by her hat. She raises up her head so that her face is seen, and it is revealed to be the Narrator, still looking like Groucho Marx except for the dress.)

(Narrator): (To audience) I’ll bet you didn’t expect to see me here!

(The horses come rushing by the Author, narrowly missing him.)

(Author): (frozen in terror) Yikes!

(Narrator): Come on Dover! Move your bloomin’ –

(The Ascot Racecourse backdrop rises back up, and the Narrator’s costume reverts to the tuxedo. The Author falls over in a faint.)

(Narrator): All right, boys, time to take him away!

(The Host and Writer both come walking out in medical attendants’ uniforms with a stretcher between them. They toss the Author on, and walk off.)

(Narrator): That’ll take care of him for a bit. As I was saying, the opera is a disaster with the boys’ antics, until finally, they kidnap Lassparri, forcing Gottlieb to put on Ricardo and Rosa. But will the audience accept them? And will Ricardo, Tomasso and Fiorello be able to avoid deportation?

(The Host and Writer both come back on in their normal outfits. And by “normal,” I mean their Marx Brothers costumes. The Host comes out to the Narrator, while the Writer leans against the wall.)

(Host): Finally got through the story, eh boss?

(Narrator): Yes, indeed. After Duck Soup, the fourth Marx Brother, Zeppo, retired to become an agent. As a result of Duck Soup not going over so well, the remaining Marxes were worried about how well audiences would respond to them. At Thalberg’s suggestion, they took their material for A Night At The Opera on the road, testing it out on audiences on the stage. When stuff didn’t work, they re-tooled it, until they got the laughs they were aiming for, and then they inserted that material into the film.

(Host): And it worked, right?

(Narrator): Yes, indeed. Audiences took to it, making the film one of the Marx Brothers’ biggest hits. Thalberg planned out their next film, A Day At The Races (and they were under contract for another film), but Thalberg died during production of A Day At The Races, resulting in the Brothers’ film career going downhill as they were stuck with a studio that didn’t know or care about what to do with them.

Personally, I’ve seen this movie many a time over the years. I will admit, I do prefer the anarchy of their earlier Paramount film, but this one still has the Marx charm. Obviously, there’s the stateroom scene, with a whole bunch of people getting crowded into a small room (and the preceding “Hardboiled Eggs” routine right before it). There’s the Marxes messing with the police sergeant at the hotel room, as they move the furniture from one room to another, confusing him completely. And the contract signing/tearing. Simply put, the Marx Brothers have some of their best material here. The romantic aspect of the plot may not be the greatest, but it’s certainly better than the stuff that they were saddled with after Thalberg’s death. A good part of that is actor and singer Allan Jones, who manages to do all right (even if he is far from the zaniness of the Brothers), with the song “Alone” being what I consider to be this film’s standout musical moment. This movie is considered a great comedy for good reason, and it’s one that I certainly have no hesitation about recommending!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection, utilizing a 4k Scan of the best surviving preservation elements. While they have scoured the world over to try to find an uncut version of the film, they’ve had no luck so far. It’s been rumored that a print containing some (but not all) of the removed bits was found in Hungary, but apparently it hasn’t been verified or something, as the Warner Archive Blu-ray still has the same cut version that everyone has been seeing. But, in its defense, the picture has been cleaned up of all dirt and debris, and certainly looks better (even with its still obvious edits) than it has in a long time, which still leaves me wanting to recommend the release (especially for those who want more of the Warner-owned films from MGM and RKO)!

(Author): (Coming back onstage) Finally, I caught up with you two! Oh, what I’m going to do to you two!

(The Author grabs the Host from center stage, and walks over to the Writer, who is still leaning against the wall.)

(Author): And just what do you think YOU’RE doing? Holding up the building?

(The Writer nods enthusiastically.)

(Author): Well, you’re coming with me!

(Host): Be careful! Don’t forget, Harpo was holding up a building in A Night In Casablanca!

(Author): Don’t give me that! The building won’t come crashing down if I remove him!

(Upon pulling the Writer away from the wall, the building, or at least the part behind the curtain, does indeed start to cave in on the Author, while the Host and Writer safely join the Narrator, who is standing on the proscenium.)

(Author): (Weakly from beneath the rubble) Ow.

(Host): (Laughing along with the Writer) I TOLD you not to remove him!

(Narrator): Well, that’ll be all for now, folks! We’ll be back again when we get the theatre repaired (or get rid of the nut who tore it down, whichever happens first)!

Film Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #5 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2021

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Animal Crackers (1930) – Groucho Marx – At The Circus (1939)

Animal Crackers (1930) – Harpo Marx – At The Circus (1939)

Animal Crackers (1930) – Chico Marx – At The Circus (1939)

Animal Crackers (1930) – The Marx Brothers – At The Circus (1939)

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