Brothers Of Invention

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Talking pictures were barely a year old when anarchy broke loose at the movies. At the start of The Cocoanuts, Groucho Marx stalked down the steps in his Neanderthal slouch and spat out a flood of puns and insults. It was a new cinema art: rude descending a staircase.

If the Four Marx Brothers--Groucho, mute Harpo, Italianate Chico (pronounced Chick-o) and straight man Zeppo--weren't the fathers of every aggressive film comic from the Stooges to Sandler, they were surely their Dadas. And they're seen to best effect on The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection (UMVD, $59.98), which gathers the five Paramount farces they made from 1929 to '33: The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Horse Feathers, Monkey Business and Duck Soup. Compared with the bounty of extras offered on the recent package of seven other Marx Brothers films, the new DVD is pretty skimpy: no commentary, no documentaries, just three short clips of Marxes on the Today show. Nor is the ribaldry intact; a famous line ("I think I'll try and make her") from the Animal Crackers song Captain Spaulding, cut long after the film's release, is still missing. But why pick nits when the movies deserve such high Marx? With dialogue crafted by George Kaufman and S.J. Perelman and snappy tunes by Irving Berlin and the Kalmar-Ruby team, the films have a racy pulse to offset their primitive technique. Savor Groucho's balletic brashness and his byplay with that sublime foil Margaret Dumont. Find the source of many an immortal jape: "Go, and never darken my towels again"; "Well, who are you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?"; "You're fighting for this woman's honor, which is probably more than she ever did." Revel in the madness of the days when the Marxes and the sound-film medium were both young and fresh.

Did we say fresh? We mean devilishly, deliriously impudent. --By Richard Corliss