‘A Night In Casablanca’ Blu-Ray Review – Late-Period Marx Brothers Offers Ample Laughs

The Marx Brothers are responsible for some of the most hilarious moments in cinematic history. Much like The Three Stooges, this sibling group has a comedic sensibility which transcends the time period in which they were active to the modern era where they are still remembered fondly by many. After a successful run of stone cold comedy classics throughout the 1930s, the group had intended to hang it up with 1941’s The Big Store. As we often see when public figures step away from the limelight, there is always a better than average chance they will return once again – especially when they get into debt. After a five-year absence, Groucho, Chico and Harpo returned together in 1946’s A Night In Casablanca. The lore around this film is that Warner Bros. threatened to sue the group over similarities to their classic Bogart picture, but history has proven this to be more of a clever publicity stunt. Ultimately, the film was more of a broad send-up of the genre than a parody of Casablanca. This late-period film is a minor effort from the group, but provides many moments that fans should find very funny. 

The plot of A Night In Casablanca is just cartoonish and over-the-top enough to serve as a decent framework for this comedy exercise. Set shortly after the end of World War II, the plot revolves around the Hotel Casablanca and its problem with keeping a manager. This may have something to do with a hotel resident named ​​Count Pfefferman (Sig Ruman), who is in fact escaped Nazi Heinrich Stubel. This villainous figure has already taken out three hotel managers who have gotten too close to discovering his plan to reclaim some stolen treasure that is fabled to be hidden at the hotel. Stubel thinks it would be easiest if he had the job himself, but instead the oblivious Ronald Kornblow (Groucho) takes over duties and earns himself a spot on the hit list. In the course of his duties, Kornblow crosses paths with Corbaccio (Chico), owner of the Yellow Camel company, who takes it upon himself to be his new bodyguard. The two are also aided by Stubel’s valet Rusty (Harpo), who often raises the ire of his employer with his perceived incompetence. 

The plot is wildly overcomplicated, but it is all window dressing to these clever exchanges and hilarious bits of physical comedy that exemplify the Marx Brothers. Groucho is having fun in this role he could play in his sleep as he often finds himself opposite Lisette Verea as Beatrice Reiner. Beatrice is a lounge singer who really tries to wind up Kornblow to mixed results. She is unfortunately in cahoots with Stubel, and by emotionally disarming the new hotel manager they hope to make him easier to snuff out. Groucho rattles off some of his best one-liners and innuendos when he is in the presence of a beautiful woman, and this film is no exception. The other two brothers get to inject some nice music into the story; pianist Chico has fun with “The Beer Barrel Polka” and harpist Harpo conjures up a lovely version of Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.” The brothers are at their best when they are together in the midst of a hilarious gag of hiding in a closet full of clothes that you have to see to truly appreciate it. The comedic timing is impeccable. 

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While mostly quite funny, this movie is not up to the high level of quality as some of their earlier masterpieces. Charles Drake and Lois Collier play a French lieutenant and his girlfriend who factor into the plot for expository reasons, but due to their bland personalities you can definitively say they are not being utilized for comedy. The action-packed climax also does not play to the comedy strengths of the trio, but it serves its purpose well enough. There are certain moments that are recycled from earlier works, but fans who are new to the group will be charmed all the same. When the movie is showing off little vignettes of comedy, it is operating at its highest level. It is when it tries to get a little too grandiose or plot-heavy that the comedy starts to miss the mark more. A Night In Casablanca is not top-tier Marx Brothers, but that still means it is better than a great number of comedies from this era. This will tickle you enough to justify the viewing. 

Video Quality

A Night In Casablanca makes its Blu-Ray debut thanks to ClassicFlix with a brand new 1080p master from a new restoration. For a film that is 75 years old, this is a truly wonderful presentation. The gorgeous black-and-white photography shines in high definition with natural grain intact. There is a pleasing amount of detail present with nice textures on the clothing and within the production design. The new transfer shows off a great amount of depth and enhanced detail within the film’s composition. Black levels are very deep with no overwhelming occurrence of black crush or compression artifacts. The contrast is well defined, and the track only experiences minor specks of damage and scratches. There are also a few stray, faint vertical lines that make a quick appearance without ruining the overall aesthetic of the film. ClassicFlix has done some marvelous work here. 

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Audio Quality

The Blu-Ray comes with a solid DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track that serves this movie incredibly well. Dialogue and background noises are represented in perfect harmony with all competing elements. This track does present with a minor amount of age related wear and tear and some slightly shallow sounding music. The music never overpowers the dialogue or other important information. There are optional English (SDH) subtitles included for the feature film. The good folks at ClassicFlix have done their best to prove the most stable track possible for this one. 

Special Features

  • A Night In Casablanca Trailer: A minute-long trailer that features still photos with voiceover work. 
  • Audio Extras
    • On Stage Performance Clip: A six-minute audio clip from 1945 in which the group tested out material prior to filming. 
    • Radio Commercials: Four-and-a-half-minutes of radio spots are provided here. 
  • Image Gallery: A collection of rare stills, lobby cards and other promotional materials are provided here. 
  • ClassicFlix Trailers: There are trailers provided for Africa Screams, Merrily We Live, The Noose Hangs High, Out Of The Blue and Zenobia

 

Final Thoughts

A Night In Casablanca does not present the Marx Brothers at their A-game, but even when they are slightly off the laughter is pretty consistent with these three. Their gift for witty barbs and physical comedy made them icons, and that remains just as clear today as it was then. ClassixFlix has rescued this one for a modern audience with a pretty fantastic Blu-Ray featuring a pleasing A/V presentation and a couple of special features that provide a nice window into the past. Classic comedy fans should not hesitate to pick this one up. Recommended 

A Night In Casablanca is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray and DVD.  

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: ClassicFlix has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

 

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