Directed by Victor Heerman
Starring: The Marx Brothers
Review by Steve Painter
Mayhem and zaniness ensue when a valuable painting goes missing during a party in honor of famed African explorer Captain Spaulding.
After the reasonable success of The Cocoanuts (1929), Paramount decided the Marx Brothers were talented enough comedians to have a second movie made. The second movie filmed would be the last Broadway hit the Brothers had – Animal Crackers (1930).
Animal Crackers is a favorite of Marx Brothers fans. One reason for this might be the music. Unlike in the first Marx Brothers movie where the Brothers do not get the plum musical numbers, in this one they do. The most famous number being “Hello, I Must Be Going/Hooray For Captain Spaulding.” Ironically this number does not feature Harpo or Chico, who are the two most musically gifted brothers. Instead, Groucho and Zeppo and Margaret Dumont and a host of others get the song.
As for the plot, it revolves around a party held by the wealthy Mrs. Rittenhouse, played by Dumont. The party is being held to honor the return of African explorer Jeffery T. Spaulding, played by Groucho. Chico and Harpo appear as musicians who are supposed to help provide entertainment for the guests. They do just that and even entertain the movie audience. As another part of the party, art collector Roscoe Chandler is going to show off the new painting he has acquired. Some jealous society girls get the idea to steal the painting. They do. And once again, Mrs. Rittenhouse has a daughter who has fallen for an artist, which is, again, a profession not good enough for her. So the daughter decides to have Chandler’s painting replaced by a copy her boyfriend made in art school. That makes three copies of the painting floating around.
Certainly Harpo and Chico are going to be involved in some way with all these paintings at the party. They end up stealing one of the copies during a rain storm and replace it with the one done by the boyfriend.
None of this is that important however. It is all about the comedy. Sure there are laughs when Chico and Harpo are stealing the painting. Chico hears a noise and tells Harpo to hide, so Harpo moves to the middle of the room and does a headstand.What makes Animal Crackers one of the special Marx Brothers movies is its beginning. Groucho is carried into the party by a group of Africans as if he is a sultan or something. He then meets Mrs. Rittenhouse and tells her he is glad to be here, but that he must be going. We go into the musical numbers and then Chico and Harpo appear. Chico as an Italian and Harpo as “The Professor.”
Harpo gets a hold of one of Captain Spaulding’s guns and starts shooting at the guests. A nice blonde walks by, ending his gun play, and he gives chase.
From there we are off. Chico and Harpo discover that Chandler is not the high society type, but actually some fish peddler they met in Europe. Chandler gets in a good line during Chico’s questioning of who he is. Chandler asks: “When did you become an Italian?” That is a question the audience would probably like to know as well.
Other highlights include Groucho discussing the merits of art with Chandler. He suggests Chandler should build his next gallery in Central Park. Chico and Harpo play bridge with Mrs. Rittenhouse. Harpo ends up with what seems like 50 aces of spades.
As always, there is time for Groucho to try and woe Margaret Dumont. He ends up suggesting that he marry both Dumont and her friend. This prompts her friend to say, “but that’s bigamy.” To which Groucho replies, “That’s big of me too. That’s big of all of us. Let’s be big for a change.” He ends the scene by walking to the pool with a group of bathing beauties.
Zeppo also has a nice scene here, probably his best in any of the movies he appeared in. As usual he appears at the beginning and end of the movie. At the end he is supposed to write a letter for Groucho to Groucho’s lawyers. Of course Groucho meanders around with the letter. When Groucho is finished with his dictation he asks Zeppo to read it back to him. Zeppo says he didn’t write anything down because he didn’t think it was that important. This irks Groucho and he takes a swipe at his brother.
In the end, Harpo ends up being the culprit. He has stolen two of the paintings, the real painting and the one done by the boyfriend. The movie ends with a cop trying to talk Harpo out of a life of crime, while all the silverware Harpo has stolen from the party runs down his sleeve.
Like all good Marx Brothers movies, Animal Crackers made an impact on future entertainers. Phil Collins named one of his albums “Hello, I Must Be Going.” Animal Crackers starts quickly and continues the pace throughout. Even some of the musical numbers that bog down future Marx movies do not interfere here.