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The Marx Brothers


Apparently it was common practice until the early or mid-1930s for Hollywood to complete at least two negatives of studio movies, one for US/Canadian release and one for European release. This could be done with side-by-side cameras, or by actually shooting two perfect takes, or by keeping the best camera angles and takes for the US and assembling the second-best footage for Europe. If this also held true for the Marx Brothers, whose films were released in Europe, we may have the explanation to why scenes and lines occasionally are different in some versions of their films. Shortly after Richard Anobile's book Why a Duck had come out in the early 1970s, Buffalo Theatre historian Ranjit Sandhu was watching Horse Feathers and Duck Soup. He followed along in the book and noticed it was littered with mistakes. The next time the films were played (in 16mm on KOAT-TV Channel 7 in Albuquerque), Sandhu made tapes of the relevant sections and corrected Anobile's book in pencil and doublechecked the dialogue against the next few broadcasts. There were literally hundreds of little differences, for example:

Horse Feathers
1. "Who'll say seventy-six? Who'll say seventeen seventy-six? That's the spirit! Seventeen seventy-six!"

2. "Who'll say seventy-six? Who'll say seventeen point seventy-six? That's the spirit! Seventeen seventy-six!"

Duck Soup
1. "We foola you good, eh?"

2. "We foola you good, eh boss?".

There probably were two versions of each movie, almost definitely one neg for the US and another for foreign release, compiled when each film was made and while it still existed several takes of every shot. Regarding the Marx Brothers, the existence of several shots is demonstrated for example in the radio and movie trailors of Duck Soup, consisting entirely of rejected takes. The alternative versions of Horse Feathers and Duck Soup shown in the 1960s and 1970s were probably the foreign negs. That would explain why Allan Eyles in The Marx Brothers - Their World of Comedy quoted differently from Anobile. Sandhu last saw the alternative versions in about 1975 or 1976 and never since. The prints currently in circulation shows that Anobile's transcriptions were exact. Has anyone examined the Italian or French dubs of the Marx's films? A frame-by-frame comparison with the current home-video English versions would probably be revealing. This is food for thought which hopefully will serve as a catalyst for someone to sift through film collections and seek out variant versions.

Here are links to some interesting sites on the subject, recommended by Ranjit Sandhu:

A still capturing the burning college in Horse
, a scene which isn't in the film