''Well, all the Jokes can't be good you've gotta expect that once in a while,'' Groucho apologizes to the camera during a momentary lull in Animal Crackers, one of the five essential Paramount comedies included here. Happily, most of the gags and routines showcased in these subversively madcap classics are as good as it gets, the gems true Marx-ists crave (with the possible exception of the carbon-dated Cocoanuts). Whether baiting high society in Crackers, stowing away on an ocean liner in Monkey Business, tackling education literally in Horse Feathers, or going to war with fresh fruit flying in their masterpiece, Duck Soup, the Brothers, with their impudent, iconoclastic blend of witty wordplay, knockabout farce, and sublime clowning, remain as bracing as a Groucho zinger and as lyrical as a Harpo harp solo.
EXTRAS We're fighting for the Marx Brothers' honor, more than Universal has
done with this lackluster set. The studio's merger with NBC scored three
old Today show appearances, with Harpo, Groucho, and Harpo's son, less
than a half-hour total. There are two original trailers, but no
commentaries or interviews, and the films themselves are in the same
scratchy condition of previous VHS editions. Hooray for Captain
Spaulding, but boo to Universal. I'd horsewhip them, If I had a horse.
All films: A