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: AT THE CIRCUS, 1939

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AT THE CIRCUS, 1939
Movie Reviews

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

SYNOPSIS:

Jeff Wilson, the owner of a small circus, owes his partner Carter $10000. Before Jeff can pay, Carter lets his accomplices steal the money, so he can take over the circus. Antonio Pirelli and Punchy, who work at the circus, together with lawyer Loophole try to find the thief and get the money back.

REVIEW:

Besides comedy, the Marx Brothers are known for music. Harpo obviously loved playing the harp. Chico had a unique way of playing the piano. The two got solos in just about every Marx Brothers movie. But then there was Groucho, who would sing and play the guitar occasionally. Unlike his Brothers, Groucho would have original songs written for him to sing. The most famous is probably “Hello, I Must Be Going/Hooray For Captain Spaulding,” because it became his TV theme song. The second most famous would be “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” The song was sung during the Marx Brothers’ return to MGM in 1939 for At the Circus.

Groucho plays a lawyer named Loophole who has been called onto the case to find $10,000 that is missing. One of the theater owners has had the money stolen by the strong man, Goliath, of the circus. Chico plays an employee of the circus who calls Loophole in to solve the mystery because lawyers seem to know everything. Harpo tags along because he is a Marx Brother. He also happens to be associated with Chico’s character in some way, but that doesn’t really matter.

Groucho arrives and tells, or actually sings, of his previous circus experience with Lydia. Now this would be a good time to point out that one of the reasons why this movie does not work is because the Marx Brothers belong in a circus. They do not belong in an opera house or a college or as rulers of a country, this is why those movies were so funny. It is also a reason why this one is not so good.

Anyway, Groucho conducts his investigation. He tracks down Goliath, but will not approach because he is afraid of Goliath’s strength. He has much better luck with the other accomplice, the circus midget. In the funniest scene of the movie, Groucho wants to see what brand of cigar the circus short man smokes because one was found at the scene of the crime. Unfortunately for him when Groucho asks for a cigar, Chico gives him one. He ends up giving Groucho plenty of cigars. This scene is also funny because it takes place in the miniature room of our midget. The two Marx Brothers struggle to move around in the small room. At the end of the scene Harpo comes in. Groucho and Chico have done a good job in messing up the little man’s home, but Harpo finishes it off with a sneeze that shakes everything up. The little man threatens to sue the intruders, to which Groucho hands the man his card and says he would be happy to represent him.
Stuck with dead ends, Groucho ends up finding out that the man who lost the money happens to have a rich aunt, who is played by Margaret Dumont. Groucho goes ahead of the circus and arrives at Dumont’s house just as she is preparing for a social gathering. Dumont mistakes Groucho for the promoter of French conductor Jardinet, who is supposed to play at the gathering. Groucho uses this mistake in identity to his advantage. He says the conductor wants $10,000 to play. Dumont agrees and Groucho telephones his friends to tell them to bring the circus to the social gathering.

There is some brief comedy as Groucho, Chico and Harpo try to coordinate the setting up of the circus with the arrival of Jardinet and company. Jardinet is told that he will perform near the ocean and once his symphony begins to play the guests will travel down to enjoy the music. This works and Jardinet and his symphony begin playing, but no one comes. Instead Chico and Harpo go down and cut the floating bandstand that the symphony is playing on. They go on through the night playing and floating in the ocean.

Irate at what has happened, the man who stole the $10,000 tries once more to sabotage the circus. He fails and a man in a gorilla or orangutan suit ensures that nothing happens to the circus. The gorilla suit was changed to an orangutan suit during the middle of production because the man inside the suit was getting too hot in the gorilla suit. This has led to an odd looking final result on screen.

This movie is notable for the rendition of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” and silent star Buster Keaton being on the staff as one of Harpo’s gag writers. Although Keaton added very little, saying that the Marx Brothers did not need his help. Keaton was there because Louis B. Mayer, who despised the Marx Brothers, wanted the group to take on a more Keaton-ish tone in their comedy. What Mayer got was a bad comedy by Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton standards.

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