A Day at the Races Blu-ray Review: Better Than a Bowl of Tootsie-Fruitsie Ice Cream

After A Night at the Opera, the Marx brothers spent A Day at the Races, their seventh film and second at MGM, where producer Irving Thalberg strove to focus the characters anarchy by giving them purpose in the story. His plan worked to great success for the two aforementioned films, of which were directed by Sam Wood.

Buy A Day at the Races Blu-ray

As Day begins, Tony (Chico) tries to bring guests to the struggling Standish Sanitarium, run by Judy Standish (Maureen O’Sullivan. She has about a month to pay up the money she owes to Mr. Morgan (Douglass Dumbrille), who wants to take over the property to turn it into a casino next to the race track and night club he owns. Judy’s business manager Mr. Whitmore (Leonard Ceeley) is involved with Morgan. Stuffy (Harpo) is a jockey, who will ride Hi Hat.

Judy’s boyfriend Gil (Allan Jones, returning in the Zeppo role) is a singer who buys the horse Hi Hat intending to give his winnings to Judy, but she’s not so sure about the idea. Gil is behind on the feed bill, which has the sheriff involved, who wants to impound the horse before it races.

The wealthy Mrs. Upjohn (Margaret Dumont) is a patient at the sanitarium, but is a hypochondriac. She’s upset when the doctor tells her she’s “perfectly well, when [she knows she’s] on the verge of a nervous collapse.” She threatens to leave until Tony tricks her into thinking her favorite physician, Dr. Hackenbush (Groucho), is coming. Tony sends a telegram to Hackenbush to come to sanitarium. He is eager to get reacquainted with Upjohn and her assets. He fails to mention he’s a veterinarian.

Posing as a seller of tootsie-fruitsie ice cream, Tony sells Hackenbush a tip that requires some code books to decipher. It’s very funny to watch Groucho, usually the smartest guy in the room, such as when he outsmarts Whitmore who is calling to get background, get outsmarted by Chico. As the scam evolves, Groucho can see what’s happening but it’s too late.

At the Gala Water Carnival in Morgan’s nightclub, Gil sings and then a ballet occurs, Hackenbush flirts with a blonde to Upjohn’s frustration. Tony plays piano and Wood’s camera placement is great as the viewer can see him play. Stuffy takes a turns at the piano and turns it into a harp.

Stuffy learns that the blonde is actually a plant to frame Hackenbush by Whitmore. After conveying this idea in a funny form of charades, Tony and Stuffy work to get rid of her in their trademark chaotic lunacy. More insanity ensues as they stall Upjohn’s examination so another doctor can examine Hackenbush’s medical techniques.

Hiding in the stables, Gil sings a song to cheer up Judy. During it, Harpo gets mistaken for the angel Gabriel by a group of African American adults and children in a song and dance sequence that features “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” by Ivie Anderson from Duke Ellington’s orchestra and Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. When the authorities arrive, Morgan’s voice sends Hi Hat into a jumping fit. This leads Gil to enter the horse in a steeplechase race with Stuffy riding. The climatic sequence finds Tony and Hackenbush finding ways for Morgan to speak into the PA system to fuel Hi Hat.

The video is presented with 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. Restored from a new 4K scan, the image looks quite pristine. Inky blacks and bright whites contribute to a strong contrast. Film grain is noticeable as are texture details on objects and costumes. Depth is most apparent in the musical numbers and horse race scenes. There is occasional softness of focus and the high-definition leads to rear projection images to stand out as fake, but otherwise a sharp, clean picture.

The audio is available in DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono. Dialogue is clear. Singing and music come through with good clarity and dynamics. The track shows its age with a slight hiss but otherwise a very serviceable track.

The Special Features taken from the previous DVD release, except where noted, are:

  • A commentary by author/film historian Glenn Mitchell, who speaks sporadically at times, so there are pauses in his speaking.
  • On Your Marx, Get Set, Go! (28 min) – Karen Hillhouse’s 2004 documentary about the brothers gathers folks to tell their story and sing their praises featuring the likes of Dom De Luise, Anne Beatts, Carl Reiner, Robert Osborne, Larry Gelbert.
  • A Night at the Movies (10 min) – A Robert Benchly short
  • Cartoons (21 min) – “Gallopin’ Gals,” a horse racing by team of Hanna and Barbera; two Captain and the Kids cartoon The boys steal “Mama’s New Hat” from a horse who isn’t happy about it, “Old Smokey” is an old firehouse horse and is being replaced by a new fire engine.
  • Audio Treasures – Dr. Hackenbush (New, 10 min), a deleted song sung by Groucho; A Message from the Man in the Moon (3 min), a deleted song by Jones; Leo Is on the Air Radio Promo (13 min)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

A Day at the Races is very entertaining and is arguably the last time the Marx Brothers were so funny in a film. The Blu-ray delivers a pleasing high-definition presentation with a good amount of extras. Before spending money on code books at the track, buy this for your video library.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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