Movie Review: A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA, 1946

Movie Reviews

Directed by Archie Mayo
Starring: The Marx Brothers
Review by Steve Painter


The Marx Brothers are employed at a hotel in postwar Casablanca, where a ring of Nazis is trying to recover a cache of stolen treasure.


Chico Marx was known for two things off-screen. First, he was known as a ladies man. His name was originally Chicko because he liked the chicks, but a promoter left out the k one night and the name became Chico. Chico was also an avid gambler. Sometimes this gambling addiction helped the Marx Brothers. He played cards with Irving Thalberg all the time. This friendship led to the Marx Brothers leaving Paramount for MGM and fame and fortune there under Thalberg. Then there was the bad side of Chico’s gambling – the debt. Chico was so far in debt by 1942 that the Marx Brothers had to come out of retirement to make a movie – A Night in Casablanca (1942).

Groucho plays the manager of a hotel in Casablanca, which is a similar occupation to being a saloon keeper. Warner Brothers reportedly investigated how far the Marx Brothers were going to go in the parody of their hit Casablanca, released in 1942. Legend has it that Warner Brothers would not let the Marx Brothers use the word Casablanca in their movie title, as it might confuse people with the Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman movie. Groucho supposedly responded that his group and several others before had used the word Brothers in their title before Warner Brothers came out. Whatever the truth to any of this, nothing stopped A Night in Casablanca from being made.The story takes place after World War II. Just to stick it to Warner Brothers, two previous hotel managers have been murdered before Groucho takes over. The reference is to the two German couriers who were murdered at the beginning of Casablanca. Just like in Warners’ picture this one has a Nazi as the bad guy. This time the Nazi, played by Marx veteran villain Sig Ruman, wants to take over the hotel so he can find some objects that the Nazis had stolen and hidden there.

Harpo has some nice bits in the movie. He plays the Nazi’s valet and accidently vacuums the man’s toupee so he cannot go out in public for fear of people noticing the scar on his head. Harpo probably has the best gag of the movie as well. He is introduced leaning against a building. A cop walks by and asks Harpo what he’s doing. Of course when he receives no reply he is forced to ask if Harpo thinks he is holding up the building. Harpo shakes his head yes, which causes the cop to come over and grab him for being a wise guy. As soon as Harpo leaves the building, it collapses in on itself.

Chico plays the owner of a cab company, which is kind of ironic considering his financial situation and the fact that most of the characters he played were down on their luck. But Chico isn’t exactly breaking the bank with all the money he is collecting; most people just don’t want to ride around on camels.There is an interesting dinner table scene in which Chico and Harpo try to get some money for their friend Pierre, who happens to know that there is some Nazi hidden treasure in the hotel as he was forced by the Nazis to fly items there. Chico and Harpo end up taking reservations for an already fully booked dining room. They are able to find tables and chairs and then move them onto the dance floor that is already crowded with people. They charge those who wish to get in a ton of money and pocket it and then sit them in the middle of the dance floor.

Other than this scene and Harpo’s introduction there really is nothing else worth going into detail about. Harpo has to tell Chico about a plot to kill Groucho through using charades, just like he did in A Day at the Races. There is also a scene at the end where the Brothers are unpacking the Nazi’s luggage and putting it into his closet as he makes a decision to leave Casablanca with the stolen merchandise. Too bad for him though, he accidently packs the Marx Brothers in his luggage trunks. The three are able to ambush him on an airport runway, inside his getaway plane. The only bad thing is no one knows how to fly a plane and Harpo has to take over. The plane crashes into the police station where the Brothers are able to expose the Nazi as a thief.

And with that the Marx Brothers should have gone into the sunset. A Night in Casablanca is not a great movie, but it is better than some of the later efforts by the Marx Brothers. It would have been a serviceable conclusion to a career that spanned more than four decades. But it was not the final movie made by the Marx Brothers. Chico’s gambling debts would cause one more, really unwatchable movie to be made before the three Marx Brothers called it a career together.

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