Movie Review: THE BIG STORE, 1941

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THE BIG STORE, 1941
Movie Reviews

Directed by Charles Reisner
Starring: The Marx Brothers
Review by Steve Painter

SYNOPSIS:

A detective is hired to protect the life of a singer, who has recently inherited a department store, from the store’s crooked manager.

REVIEW:

By 1941 the Marx Brothers had run their course. Their best work was behind them. Chico, the oldest, was 54 years old by that time. Groucho, the youngest of the brothers who were still performing, was 51 years old. After The Big Store (1941) was completed, the Marx Brothers decided it was time to retire. Their MGM contract was up and their many years of performing on the stage and screen had left them tired. Luckily this was not their last movie, because they deserved to go out better than what The Big Store turned out to be.

If a name is any judge of a movie then The Big Store certainly does not seem too original. It is not. There is only one good scene in the whole movie, and it is mostly funny today because of a similar line that Groucho would utter on his TV show.

Anyways, the story is about an heir who wants to sell his share in a department store so he can donate the money to a music conservatory. You see this man, Tommy Rogers, prefers to be a singer than the owner of his father’s store. The store’s manager, the evil Mr. Grover, has been stealing from Tommy’s father for a long time and does not want to see someone else take over the store. Tommy has a deal in place to sell the store, but something happens to him.

Grover hires a man to beat Tommy over the head when he enters an elevator. This makes Tommy’s aunt, Martha, who owns the other half of the store, a little afraid. Margaret Dumont makes her final appearance in a Marx Brothers movie here as Martha. Martha is engaged to Grover, so he has no worries about where her loyalties will lie if the police get involved once the store is sold and people find out he has been stealing.

Things change though when Martha hires a private detective, played by Groucho. Groucho, as he always does, tries to marry Margaret Dumont’s character. So now Grover has two people he has to try and get rid of. Chico is a friend of Tommy’s, which is how he fits into this. Ironically Chico’s character happens to be the brother of Harpo’s character, Wacky. Wacky is Groucho’s assistant.

We are introduced to Groucho and Harpo at the same time in this movie. It is rare that those two ever got a scene together. Unfortunately, this is not quite what it should have been. It is widely thought that Groucho and Harpo were the two funniest of the brothers. If the two funniest Marx Brothers are alone in a scene together then it should be dynamite, right? Not here. Instead, Harpo struggles to make coffee as Groucho talks on the phone about accepting the job to be Tommy’s bodyguard.

From here the story doesn’t really matter. It is a Marx Brothers movie so we know that in the end everything will turn out as they should. Grover is going to jail and Tommy will be able to sell his store and donate the money to all the needy kids at the conservatory.

The writers do deserve some credit with the setting. Letting the Marx Brothers loose in a big department store certainly has the potential for great comedy. It just is not present enough however. The best scene occurs when Groucho and his brothers try to catch some sleep on beds that are for sell.

A woman comes in and asks Groucho, who is lying on the bed, how much the bed costs. Groucho replies, “$8,000.” The woman says this can’t be, she can go and buy the same bed at another store for $25. Groucho says, “Yes, but not one with me in it.” And with that, we have the beginning of another classic Marx scene.

A man and wife with 12 children walk into the room. Groucho asks the man if he has any other hobbies. This line is great, but it has taken on even more meaning since Groucho’s TV show You Bet Your Life was on. Television lore says that during one episode a woman said she had 11 children. This amazed Groucho. The woman said, “I love my husband.” Groucho supposedly replied, “I love a good cigar too, but I take it out every once in a while.”

Getting back to the movie, after the scene with the beds that is compounded by customers, lost children and Chico, Harpo and Groucho causing chaos, there is s lull until the credits come up and the movie is over. The grand finale is a lengthy chase through the store that was supposed to recreate the finale in Go West, the previous Marx Brothers offering. Instead, it looks like cheap routines the Marx Brothers borrowed from Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Cops. Or just Mack Sennett-like jokes to be more accurate.

What makes the Marx Brothers so great is their uniqueness. There never was a comedy team like them and there probably never will be. They have their own brand of comedy and when writers and studios force them into something that does not match their comedic skills the result is a disappointment. That happened in Room Service and in At the Circus and again here in The Big Store.

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Movie Review: GO WEST, 1940

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GO WEST, 1940
Movie Reviews

Directed by Edward Buzzell
Starring: The Marx Brothers
Review by Steven Painter

SYNOPSIS:

The Marx Brothers come to the rescue in the Wild West when a young man, trying to settle an old family feud so he can marry the girl he loves, runs afoul of crooks.

REVIEW:

After the Marx Brothers made A Day at the Races (1937), they would not make another movie that could be considered in the same class as their previous work. Although in 1940 the three brothers made Go West, which is about as good as it gets for their later work.

Go West is a Western ironically. It involves Chico and Harpo who want to go west to acquire a fortune, as the streets are supposed to be paved with gold there. The bad thing is they do not have any train fare to pay for the trip. In a scene that is straight out of the classic Marx Brothers movies, Chico and Harpo are able to swindle Groucho out of enough money to get a train ticket.

As it tends to happen in Marx Brothers movies, something goes wrong and the brothers are in the middle of it. This time Chico and Harpo end up receiving the deed to the land owned by Dan Wilson as security for a $10 loan. Wilson’s land happens to be pretty valuable. It is right where two railroad companies would like to join their railroads. The man who brought the idea to the railroad company heads stands to gain as well. He wants to marry Wilson’s granddaughter.

The brothers end up in the western town and go into a saloon, as they tend to do in Westerns. Chico and Harpo are broke now, but use the land dead to buy a 10 cent beer. The saloon keeper they give the deed to has plans on selling his own land to the railroad company. This all seems to be a complex plot for a Marx Brothers movie, but it all smoothes out later.

Groucho, who has hitchhiked out west after being swindled by his brothers, arrives at the saloon and finds out that the deed Chico and Harpo had is worth a lot of money. He and his brothers steal the deed. This does not last long however, as the matrons above the saloon distract the three boys, as girls tend to do in Marx Brothers movies. This scene is humorous, but not a memorable one in the scope of the Marx Brothers work. Anyway, the deed ends up being stolen back.

We then have a love story in the plot and the three Marx Brothers feel bad about not having the deed, which would mean the two lovebirds can’t get married. One of those lovebirds is Wilson’s granddaughter who does not want to marry the conniving man who brought the land to the railroads attention. So to remedy all this the Marx Brothers decide to steal the deed back and then race to New York to present it to the railroad companies before they can lose it again.

This works and the Marx Brothers end up on a train bound for New York. Here is where the plot is not very deep. The Marx Brothers have to outrace a group of bandits to New York and do so while keeping the deed. The train scenes are great and reminiscent of some of the great comedy movies that have implemented trains in them. That is to say, this is the Marx Brothers’ time to use the train for comedic purposes as every other comedian has seemed to do.

On the way to New York the train runs out of fuel. This is no problem however as the brothers begin taking apart the cars in order to keep the engine running. So by the end of things there is the train engine and the skeletons of the rest of the cars. Of course the movie has to have a happy ending, so the Marx Brothers run the evil doers off the tracks and the lovebirds can be married.

Go West is not the greatest Marx Brothers movie ever made. It probably would not have been worth mentioning had it been made during their Paramount period, but for the time in their career when this movie was made it is not that bad. There is enough here, especially at the beginning and on the train, that it is worth watching if you are a Marx Brothers fan or a fan of an amusing comedy.

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Movie Review: A DAY AT THE RACES, 1937

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A DAY AT THE RACES, 1937
Movie Reviews

Directed by Sam Wood
Starring: The Marx Brothers
Review by Steven Painter

SYNOPSIS:

Doctor Hugo Hackenbush, Tony, and Stuffy try and save Judy’s farm by winning a big race with her horse. There are a few problems. Hackenbush runs a high priced clinic for the wealthy who don’t know he has his degree in Veterinary Medicine.

OSCAR NOMINEE – Best Dance Direction

REVIEW:

In 1933 the Marx Brothers released Duck Soup. The movie was a commercial failure. Today it is considered by film scholars to be the Marx Brothers’ best work, but at the time it caused Groucho, Chico and Harpo to leave Parmount. It also caused Zeppo to leave the group in order to pursue a career as an agent.The three Marx Brothers ended up at MGM where they made A Night at the Opera in 1935 under the watchful eye of film genius Irving Thalberg. The movie was a smash hit and was considered by Groucho to be the best movie the Marx Brothers ever made.In 1937 the Marx Brothers followed up A Night at the Opera with A Day at the Races. This movie took the same basic formula that Thalberg had used to make A Night at the Opera a success. A plot was used to weave together four or five big comedy scenes. Also the antagonists in each movie were beefed up so that they could cause real harm to the Brothers, unlike in the Parmount movies where the bad guys were just straight men to the jokes thrown out by Harpo, Chico and Groucho.

A Day at the Races is a decent movie. It is worlds better than anything the Marx Brothers did after, but it is not as good as the movies that preceded it. One of the reasons might be that it runs for 111 minutes. Compare this to Duck Soup and Horse Feathers (1932), which each lasted for just over an hour. The Marx Brothers comedy is based on speed. Groucho delivers his one-liners quickly. Chico’s brain takes some time to work, but his timing is still quicker than a lot of modern comedies. The comedy suffers when a Marx Brothers movie lasts for almost two hours. The normal lulls that occur during the musical portions of their movies is really drawn out here.

Anyway, the story involves Groucho as veterinarian Hugo Z. Hackenbush. Hackenbush happens to be the only doctor who the wealthy Mrs. Upjohn, played by Margaret Dumont, feels comfortable receiving treatment from. Mrs. Upjohn is staying at the Standish Sanitarium, which is about to be sold to some developers and turned into a casino. It is vital that Mrs. Upjohn get treated and then donate the necessary money to keep the Sanitarium running as a sign of thanks.

That is the basic plotline. Chico is an assistant to Judy Standish, the head of the sanitarium, and one of our two lovebirds. Alan Jones, who took over for Zeppo, plays her love interest. Harpo is a jockey at the racetrack near the Sanitarium. He becomes involved with the plot, loosely, because Jones’ character buys a race horse.

One of the great things about the Marx Brothers is that before they would shoot a movie, they would go on the road with their four or five major comedy routines written and perform those for a live audience. During this tour Groucho’s character was called Quackenbush, but apparently there were numerous Dr. Quackenbush’s who complained about the name. So instead of being a quack, Groucho’s veterinarian parading as a medical doctor is a hack.

Today there are three major comedy scenes that are memorable, although it was probably intended to make the ending a major comedy routine as well. Too bad it tends to drag on.The first great routine occurs when Groucho finds out there is a racetrack near by after being introduced as the new head doctor of the Sanitarium. He goes to check out the track and finds Chico, who offers to sell him some hot racing tips. Groucho eventually agrees and buys the tip. It is written in code however. So Groucho has to buy a book from Chico in order to decipher the code. This book refers him to another book. So Groucho buys another and another. Eventually Chico tells him he has to buy a whole set of books. So Groucho does and finds out what the code means. By this time the race has started and Chico has already placed all the money Groucho gave him on the horse Groucho wanted to bet on. Chico’s horse wins and he’s happy. He leaves Groucho standing with his whole body covered in books.

In the 1930s a new game took the country by storm. It was called charades. Naturally there would be no better player than Harpo. As happens quite frequently in Marx Brothers movies, Harpo finds out the evil plot that will unravel all the happiness in the movie. Since he can’t talk he has to communicate the evil plans somehow. Here he tries to warn Chico of a femme fetale’s plot to be caught while alone in the same room as Groucho, thus making Mrs. Upjohn angry and assuring that the sanitarium becomes a casino. Harpo’s charades work after a while and Chico understands what is about to happen. Harpo does a great imitation of Groucho’s walk and puts his finger under his nose like a mustache, but Chico’s first guess is “Buffalo Bill goes ice skating.”

That night Chico and Harpo do their best to break up Groucho and the femme fetale’s meeting. They bring up room service. They dress like Sherlock Holmes detectives and bring a dog. To which Groucho throws a piece of meat and the dog drags Chico around the room. They end up as wallpaper pasters and drop wallpaper on Groucho and the girl, just as Mrs. Upjohn is brought to the room by the evil developer. She is irate at what has happened to the room, but not at Groucho’s actions.

The final big scene occurs when the casino developers bring in a real doctor. They say that he can assure Mrs. Upjohn that nothing is the matter with her. Groucho and his two assistants, Chico and Harpo, do their best to stall the examination. They finally have to examine Mrs. Upjohn and end up trying to give her a shave, as well as many other things. In classic Marx Brothers fashion a horse comes galloping through the examination room and the three Brothers jump on it and leave the room.A Day at the Races is good up to this point. Then there is a minstrel song and finally the long drawn out ending in which Harpo ride’s Jones’ horse to victory in a race and everything ends happily. The movie can be considered the last good Marx Brothers film. This was also the last good movie they did for MGM. Thalberg, who really enjoyed the Marx Brothers, died suddenly during the filming of the movie. They did not have someone who understood or wanted their brand of comedy around, so they were kicked out on the streets once again, much like they were in their two MGM movies before they came back for the grand finale. Only this time there would be no grand finale for their career.

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Movie Review: DUCK SOUP, 1933

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DUCK SOUP, 1933
Movie Reviews

Directed by Leo McCarey
Starring: The Marx Brothers
Review by Steven Painter

Synopsis:

The fictional country of Freedonia is in financial ruins until the wealthy widow Mrs. Teasdale bails them out; under one condition, that the crazy Rufus T. Firefly runs the country. With the insane leader and inept spies from a neighboring country trying to steal top-secret information, chaos ensues.

Review:

Today Duck Soup (1933) is regarded as a comedy classic. In all the lists that discuss the top comedy movies of all-time Duck Soup always seems to make it. In fact it always seems to be the only Marx Brothers movie to make lists like this, which is unfortunate because there are better Marx Brothers movies. So what makes this movie so beloved by critics? Making fun of dictators is always a good thing. That is the focus of this movie.

Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, who has been given the throne of Freedonia because the government is in need of some money and their only source for money is Margaret Dumont’s character Mrs. Teasdale. Mrs. Teasdale will only loan the money if Firefly is named head of Freedonia. Of course her wish is granted.It is a gala day in Freedonia when Groucho is introduced as leader, which is a good thing because Groucho always remarked that he could only handle a gal a day. Once again, Zeppo plays Groucho’s secretary and basically only appears in the beginning and end of the movie.

After a song and dance at the introduction of Groucho as the leader, he is told that he must go to a cabinet meeting. Here we have a classic Looney Tunes gag. Groucho calls for his car and Harpo pulls up on a motorcycle with passenger car. Groucho gets in the car and Harpo starts the motorcycle. The motorcycle pulls away, but the car remains where it is.

This is the first of several gags that Looney Tunes would take from this movie. We are then introduced to Chico and Harpo’s characters who are spies for Freedonia’s rival nation Sylvania. Ambassador Trentino has hired the two to spy on Groucho. Harpo plays around with the Ambassador as Chico tells him a story of how the two shadowed Groucho. By the end of the story Trentino is disappointed in them, but vows to give them a second chance. To thank him, Harpo cuts off some of Trentino’s hair, spreads glue across his rear end and shakes hands with him using a mouse trap.

Harpo and Chico decide to start their spying by opening a peanut stand right under Groucho’s window. Here we have some good comedy between the peanut vendors and Edgar Kennedy’s character, the lemonade vendor. They have a big discussion about who should be selling under Groucho’s window. They end up exchanging hats and Kennedy’s hat is placed in the fire used to roast peanuts by Harpo.

Groucho finds out that Trentino is making moves on Mrs. Teasdale, so he decides to fight him so he can be kicked out of the country. Trentino ends up getting slapped, and threatens to leave the country, much to Groucho’s delight. Unfortunately for him, Mrs. Teasdale steps in and he remains.

Later, Groucho is called to Mrs. Teasdale’s where Trentino offers an apology for insulting Groucho. But when Trentino calls Groucho an “upstart” again, Groucho slaps him. In the famous words of Bugs Bunny, Trentino proclaims “This means war!” With that threat, battle plans are drawn. It is Trentino’s idea to get those battle plans, so he sends Chico and Harpo to Mrs. Teasdale’s to get them.

In the most famous scene of the movie, Harpo and Chico break into Mrs. Teasdale’s house and have to each dress up like Groucho to get the battle plans. Harpo is able to get the combination to Mrs. Teasdale’s safe, but is unable find the safe with the battle plans. Instead, he finds a radio that blares one of the loudest renditions of “Stars and Stripes Forever.” Scared, and with Groucho chasing him, Harpo runs into a mirror and brakes it. Since this is the Marx Brothers there is no glass lying around. Just Harpo, in Groucho disguise, staring at the real Groucho. Looney Tunes, and actually the Marx Brothers themselves, would steal this routine of one character trying to mimic the other character’s actions in a broken mirror. It was a famous vaudeville routine that was used by such comedians like Charlie Chaplin, and even made it into a few other film comedies, but the routine is now best known as a Marx Bros. bit.

As it ends up, Chico distracts Harpo and Groucho figures out he isn’t looking at a reflection of himself. Chico is brought to trial for treason and is close to being found guilty, but Mrs. Teasdale breaks in to say that Trentino is coming once again to try for peace. Groucho works himself up and ends up slapping Trentino before the man is able to utter a single word. It is now on to war.

After a big song and dance, in which Zeppo appears again, war starts. Harpo gets the word out about the war, Chico is working for the other side but decides to come back because Freedonia has better food and Groucho is managing the war while changing wardrobes after every shot.

The movie ends with the four brothers in Mrs. Teasdale’s place. They are there to defend her honor, “which is more than she ever did,” as Groucho says. They end up finding Trentino trying to invade the place and with his capture the war ends happily for Freedonia.

With all the jokes in this movie that have been taken by Looney Tunes it has been praised today by critics. But at the time, Duck Soup was a critical and commercial failure. It led to Paramount dropping the Brothers. For many years Groucho disliked the movie, but because it does contain routines that have become so well known and it does poke fun at dictators and it also lacks Harpo playing the harp and Chico playing the piano, Duck Soup gained a special place in Groucho’s heart near the end of his lifetime. It should reach a similar place if you are a lover of good comedies.

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Movie Review: MONKEY BUSINESS, 1931

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MONKEY BUSINESS, 1931
Movie Reviews

Directed by Norman Z. McLeod
Starring: The Marx Brothers
Review by Steve Painter

SYNOPSIS:
On a transatlantic crossing, the Marx brothers get up to their usual antics and manage to annoy just about everyone on board the ship.

REVIEW:

Monkey Business (1931) is sort of a precursor of things to come from the Marx Brothers. It involves the four Brothers as stowaways on a ship. This was exploited to a lesser degree in A Night at the Opera (1935). On its own, Monkey Business is average Marx Brothers. It has some decent laughs, but the ending is terrible and the stowaway scene in A Night at the Opera is a little better.

What this movie has that previous Marx Brothers movies didn’t is Thelma Todd. Todd was a comedienne who worked with Laurel and Hardy for a bit. Her life was cut short in a garage one night in 1935. Groucho makes a crack about locking Todd up in the garage and not letting her out during one of their scenes together. This line was cut out of the movie’s later releases, but is present in the current DVD offering.

The movie also is absent of Margaret Dumont. The Marx Brothers staple did not appear in the movie and has her character replaced by a wealthy man who has a daughter that Zeppo falls in love with.

We open up in bowls of a ship bound for America. The Marx Brothers are in barrels singing “Sweet Adeline.” They jump out of their barrels for the audience to see and Groucho makes some quips. They return to their barrels when they hear movement on the stairs coming down to where they are. The captain has sent the crew to find the stowaways.

The crew does just that, but they cannot catch the Marx Brothers. They race up the stairs onto the deck and from there unleash their mayhem on the passengers, crew and captain. Groucho and Chico hit up the captain first and end up eating his lunch and storing him in his closet.

In an interesting scene, Harpo runs away from one of the crew members and ends up in the children’s nursery. The kids are watching a puppet play. Harpo joins in as one of the puppet heads. This confuses the crew member and astounds the children. Harpo is the Marx Brother most associated with children and this scene is a perfect illustration of that.

Looney Tunes is famous for taking routines used by silent comedians and the Marx Brothers. One routine that was used in the cartoon involves a character shaving someone with a mustache. Of course the character who is giving the shave ends up shaving the mustache off completely. That happens here as one of the crew members wants a shave and in order to hide from him, Chico and Harpo pose as barbers. They give him a close shave and he leaves with no mustache.

The real plot of the movie comes in almost a third of the way through. This is when Groucho, who is on the run, ends up walking into the room occupied by gangster Alky Briggs and his wife Lucille, played by Todd. Briggs likes Groucho’s speaking ability and tells him he is part of the gang. Zeppo also walks into the room and becomes part of the gang as well. The idea is the two will provide protection for Briggs while he tries to get Big Joe Helton to give him a piece of New York. Helton has said he is retired from the gang turf war and just wants to live life alone in luxury with his daughter, who has the hots for Zeppo.

As it ends up, Chico and Harpo walk in on Helton while they are trying to find some quiet so they can play chess. Helton enlists them as his bodyguards. None of this really matters until the boat docks in New York.

The best part of the movie occurs when the Brothers attempt to get off the boat. They do not have a passport, causing them to have to steal one. They steal crooner Maurice Chevalier’s passport. In order to try and get off the boat each one tries to sing a song of his. Harpo gets the closest, as he has a miniature phonograph play Chevalier’s record. But the phonograph skips and he is kept on the boat with the rest of his brothers.

They finally leave the ship when a man falls ill. Groucho jumps in as he impersonates a doctor, much like what will happen in A Day at the Races (1937). Instead of having the patient removed from the ship, the crew ends up taking the Marx Brothers off on the cot.

This should be where the movie ends, but it doesn’t. Now in New York, Briggs comes up with a plan to take Helton’s daughter. Helton holds a party, where Groucho provides some good comedy and Harpo and Chico get their musical solos, but nothing else really happens. Helton’s daughter is kidnapped and taken to a barn. Chico and Groucho arrive there with a picnic and wait for Zeppo to knock out Briggs, thus giving a happy ending.

Monkey Business is not a bad movie, but it is not a great one either. As far as Marx Brothers movies go, it is not in the elite, but then again it isn’t one of their worst, like their movies from the 1940s. It is somewhere in the middle. As always, the major comedy scenes in the movie are worth watching. But a lot of the rest isn’t.

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Movie Review: ANIMAL CRACKERS, 1930

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ANIMAL CRACKERS, 1930
Movie Reviews

Directed by Victor Heerman
Starring: The Marx Brothers
Review by Steve Painter

SYNOPSIS:

Mayhem and zaniness ensue when a valuable painting goes missing during a party in honor of famed African explorer Captain Spaulding.

REVIEW:

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.

Movie Review: THE COCOANUTS, 1929

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THE COCOANUTS, 1929
Movie Reviews

Directed by Robert Florey, Joseph Santley
Starring: The Marx Brothers
Review by Steve Painter

SYNOPSIS:

During the Florida land boom, the Marx brothers run a hotel, auction off some land, thwart a jewel robbery, and generally act like themselves.

REVIEW:

Vaudeville acts are dead now, but at the turn of the last century they were extremely popular. Some of the best performers in vaudeville still remain with us in the form of the movies they made. Actors like Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields, along with a lot of other comedy acts, cut their teeth on the vaudeville circuit. When Hollywood came calling for their popular acts, the actors obliged and became silent movie stars.When sound came to movies more popular vaudeville acts could make the jump from stage to screen. One of those acts was the Marx Brothers. The four brothers from New York had been performing in vaudeville since the mid-1910s. Eventually their collection of comedy routines was structured around a plot, although never too structured, and the Brothers took their comedy to Broadway.

Their first Broadway play became a hit. It was called I’ll Say She Is (1924). Unfortunately little of that play remains intact. There is a great YouTube video of a scene in it, but that is all. Instead we are left with the second Broadway musical comedy put on by the Marx Brothers. The Cocoanuts was a huge success in 1926, and once sound came in, it was decided that it could be filmed as a movie. The film version of the play introduced the Marx Brothers to audiences outside of New York.

For those who have seen other Marx Brothers movies The Cocoanuts might be a bit disappointing. First of all, like a lot of other Marx Brothers pictures, parts of the movie are missing. In the years that have passed some of the negative been destroyed, so there are jumps and even where there aren’t jumps the negative has some haze on it. But it is still the Marx Brothers, which is always a good thing.

Irving Berlin wrote the music for the comedy, he of “God Bless America” fame along with other serious songs. The beginning is full of songs, and really drags. But once you get past the first three numbers, things pick up.

Groucho plays the owner of The Cocoanuts Hotel in Florida. Zeppo, always the great straight man, plays Jamison the desk clerk for the hotel. Groucho and Zeppo talk for a bit in the beginning, allowing Groucho to get in some good one liners, but that is about all that is good in the first 10 minutes of the movie.

Margaret Dumont, also a great straight man, plays Mrs. Potter, a wealthy woman on vacation with her daughter. Groucho is after Dumont’s money as always and our story concerns the troubles of Dumont’s daughter, Polly, and her boyfriend Bob. Bob is a wannabe architect, which means that Mrs. Potter feels he is not good enough for her daughter. Instead, she wants her daughter to marry Harvey Yates, a more well-off man.

Of course plot doesn’t matter much in Marx Brothers movies and this one is no different. Things get good in the movie when Chico and Harpo show up for a stay at the hotel. As always, the two partners try their best to steal whatever they can. When their suitcase opens up and Groucho sees that there is nothing in it, Chico tells him “Don’t worry, we’ll fill it up before we leave.”

The tough thing about writing a review of a Marx Brothers movie is that the Marx Brothers are in it. Their brand of comedy movies so fast and is so visual, especially Harpo, that it is hard to recreate through words what is on the screen. I will mention a few of the good scenes here, but you will have to watch the movie to rightly appreciate them.

The first appearance of the popular rotating door comedy routine is in this movie. A woman, who has the room next to Mrs. Potter’s, invites Harpo and Chico to see her. Her idea is to have them be in her room, while she goes into Mrs. Potter’s to steal a necklace. Of course she does not count on Groucho trying to sneak into Mrs. Potter’s room to see Mrs. Potter. So Groucho and the woman are trying to sneak into Mrs. Potter’s room without being seen and Chico and Harpo are trying to get into the woman’s room without anyone noticing. The scene was redone in many other Marx Brothers movies, most notably A Night at the Opera.

In another scene, Groucho tries to auction off some swamp land to raise money. He goes over his plan to boost bids with Chico. The idea is that Chico will start the bidding and then bid up whenever someone joins in, so that Groucho can get as much as he can for the land. Well, this doesn’t go quite as planned since Chico ends up being the only one that bids on the land. Of course he has no money and Groucho’s plan for quick riches is a failure.

Lastly, the ending is memorable. Bob has been thrown in jail for apparently stealing Mrs. Potter’s necklace. But Harvey and his female accomplice did the deed. Only Harpo knows this, and of course, he can’t tell anyone. So at the end a dinner is being hosted in the hotel by Mrs. Potter’s for the engagement of her daughter with Harvey. As part of the celebration, everyone involved with the wedding makes a speech. Speeches are boring and Harpo makes this clear, by walking away from the table each time someone speaks so he can get some punch. He comes back to the table drunker and drunker each time.

The Cocoanuts is not the best Marx Brothers movie, but it is the first. There was enough good comedy here to warrant more movies. There is enough good comedy in it still to warrant viewings today, even if only to understand where some of the later Marx routines came from.

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