Movie Review: LOVE HAPPY, 1949

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LOVE HAPPY, 1949
Movie Reviews

Directed by David Miller
Starring: The Marx Brothers, Marilyn Monroe
Review by Steve Painter

SYNOPSIS:

The Marx Brothers help young Broadway hopefuls while thwarting diamond thieves.

REVIEW:

The final Marx Brothers movie was Love Happy (1949). At least it was the final movie for the three Marx Brothers to appear together. In 1957 they all appeared in separate segments of The Story of Mankind. Actually, for a good part of Love Happy, only Harpo and Chico appear. Groucho is nowhere to be seen, which really takes away from this movie.

In order to pay off more of Chico’s gambling debts the Marx Brothers were forced to make this last movie. For the rest of his life, Chico’s gambling debts would have to be paid off by either Groucho or Harpo or Zeppo, who became rich as an agent after leaving the Marx Brothers act. Although money was the main reason why the Marx Brothers decided to make another movie, getting funding was not so easy. In fact, there was so much trouble getting funding that the end had to be changed to accommodate some product placement advertising from the firms that were paying for the movie.

If you are a fan of Harpo Marx then this movie should appeal greatly to you. Harpo wrote the story and is the main character. In a familiar routine, Harpo begins the movie by stealing something. This time it is food. He ends up stealing a can of sardines that contains priceless diamonds. Being the great guy Harpo is; he was not stealing the food for himself, but for a group of struggling theatre performers.

The theatre company is in such dire straits that the show’s backer is threatening to close the group’s play before it can be taken to the stage. He wants to reposes some of the scenery used for the play, but is foiled in his attempt by Faustino the Great, a mind reader who is looking for a job. Of course Faustino is played by Chico and because Chico is able to foil the plot, the grateful director allows him to remain as part of the crew.

With Harpo stealing the diamonds a $1,000 reward is put out for his capture. Harpo is captured and taken to the apartment where they bad guys attempt to interrogate him. Although it seems like an obvious comedic situation to use with Harpo, this is the first time that he is put in a situation where people try and make him talk. Typically it is Chico who tries to get Harpo to talk, and he knows that Harpo doesn’t talk, but here the bad guys have no idea Harpo can’t talk so there is some good comedy in them trying to use interrogation techniques while trying to make Harpo speak. Of course they can’t. They get too tired and when they leave, Harpo telephones Chico, who is able to understand him when he communicates through a bike horn.

Apparently the can of sardines that contain the diamonds was left outside of the theatre for a cat to eat. Harpo finds the sardine can when he arrives back at the theatre. Amazed at what he has found, Harpo pockets the diamonds.

The bad guys have tried to get the diamonds back themselves, but have failed. So they decide to enlist the help of a private detective, this is where we are formally introduced to Groucho. The movie actually starts with Groucho saying that he has been trying to find these diamonds for many years and the story we are about to see is how he was able to finally get them. This is all very nice, but the scene in which the bad guys threaten to kill Groucho in an hour if he does not get the diamonds back before them is notable for the first appearance of a future screen legend – Marilyn Monroe.

In a walk-on role, Marilyn Monroe was cast as a client that comes to see Groucho’s character just after the bad guys arrive. Groucho is so thankful that someone has opened his door to let him out that he runs and leaves, but when he sees that Marilyn Monroe is the girl who opens the door he immediately comes back in where the bad guys are and tries to seduce the young screen legend.

The introduction of Marilyn Monroe and Harpo’s interrogation scenes are basically all that are worth mentioning in the movie. The rest is Groucho and the bad guys chasing Harpo around the roof tops of New York while billboards and lighted advertisements, put up by the movie’s financers, clutter the screen.

Today, Love Happy is billed as a teaming of Marilyn Monroe and the Marx Brothers in order to get people to watch the movie. Don’t be fooled though. Neither one is at the top of their powers. The Marx Brothers were doing this for money and Marilyn Monroe did not know how to use what she was given yet. Perhaps in another time or place this team would have worked out well. The possibilities sure could have been endless, but so could’ve the teaming up of Lucille Ball with the Marx Brothers in Room Service and that was also a dud.

The bottom line is, don’t watch Love Happy unless you are a huge fan of Harpo.

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Movie Review: A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA, 1946

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A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA
Movie Reviews

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

SYNOPSIS:

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.

REVIEW:

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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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: 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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Movie Review: ROOM SERVICE, 1938

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ROOM SERVICE, 1938
Movie Reviews

Directed by William A. Seiter
Starring: The Marx Brothers, Lucille Ball
Review by Steven Painter

SYNOPSIS:

The Marx Brothers try and put on a play before their landlord finds out that they have run out of money. To confuse the landlord they pretend that the play’s author has contracted some terrible disease and can’t be moved. Originally a stage play, the setting shows it’s origins, but this is vintage Marx Brothers.

REVIEW:

Lucille Ball is considered a comedic genius today. The Marx Brothers are looked at in the same way. So when you put the two together you should get one of the best comedies ever made right? Not exactly. The two combined to create Room Service (1938) for RKO. At this time Ball was just beginning her comedy career. The Marx Brothers were past their prime at this point. Also, Room Service, which was a hit Broadway play, was not written with the Marx Brothers in mind. This is the main reason why the movie just does not work.

As would happen many times more in the future, and happened quite often in the past, Chico was in debt due to his love of gambling. In order to bail him out, the Marx Brothers made a movie for RKO. RKO loved the idea of having the Marx Brothers and they thought Room Service would be a good movie to have them in, since it was a hit on the stage. In order to help make it a more Marx Brothers friendly movie, they brought in writers who had previously worked with the Brothers. They hoped this would get them some of the Marx magic that was present in all of their previous work. It did not happen.

Groucho plays a struggling theater company owner who has holed up in a swanky hotel, along with the rest of his production company. Groucho’s brother-in-law happens to be the hotel manager, so he lets the debt ride for a little. It is not until the hotel is being looked at by Gregory Wagner, played by Donald MacBride, that the screws have to be put to Groucho and his crew. Groucho happens to have a play that he thinks is a hit all ready to debut in the hotel’s auditorium. But some money is needed to pay off the hotel bill otherwise the crew will be lost and Groucho’s play will not go on.

In the midst of this, Chico and Harpo arrive and ask if they can stay with Groucho. Harpo has been kicked out of his own apartment complex because he couldn’t pay the rent. The same happened to Chico. In one of the only funny scenes, Groucho and the hotel manager are discussing what they should do when Chico walks into the room carrying a moose’s head. This is just something that you would expect in a classic Marx Brothers movie, but there is very little of it here.

In order to get some money, Groucho turns to a wealthy businessman who knows nothing about the theater, but wants to get involved in it. His secretary happens to be Lucille Ball. I should also mention that the writer of the play Groucho wants to produce pays him a visit to see why the play has not been produced. He is broke as well and asks Groucho if he can stay with him. Of course Groucho says yes. The writer and Ball have a brief romance in the movie.

Having plenty experience in swindling people, Groucho is able to convince the businessman that his property is a good investment. The man agrees to pay Groucho, the only catch is the money will not be there until 10 a.m. the next morning. Wagner wants all the non-payers out of the hotel as soon as possible. So the Marx Brothers have to devise a way to stay in the hotel until 10.

They do this by having their young writer friend come down sick with the measles. Naturally, Wagner cannot kick a sick man out onto the streets. But the Marx Brothers forgot one thing. They have no food in the room. They send Harpo out to get some food so that they will not starve. He comes back with a turkey, but the bird manages to fly out the window.

They end up ordering room service, which means that the writer must not be as sick as Wagner originally thought. So Wagner decides to have a look at the patient. In order to prepare him, Harpo grabs a funnel and blows ink spots onto the writer’s face.

As Wagner becomes more suspicious, the writer becomes sicker and sicker. Eventually they have him mock killed. The Brothers give stirring renditions of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” during this time period. In the end, as Wagner, the hotel manager and the Brothers mourn the loss of their writer friend, Groucho’s play becomes a success on the stage. Things end up well once again for the Marx Brothers.

Room Service is not a good movie. It has some funny bits, but not enough to warrant a watch of the movie. The script is funny and the ideas are good, but this is just not a Marx Brothers comedy. It probably would have worked better if some other comedians had done it, but with the Marx Brothers you expect anarchy, not being stuck in one room for the whole movie.

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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: A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, 1935

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A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, 1935
Movie Reviews

Directed by Sam Wood
Starring: The Marx Brothers
Review by Jeremy Richards

SYNOPSIS:

Rosa and Ricardo are two aspiring opera singers and lovers. Rosa is close to fame, while Ricardo is forced into the background. Enter Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho Marx), an opera manager trying to marry the widowed Mrs. Claypool (Margaret Dumont), who is a large contributor to the opera. While spending a night at the opera, Otis runs into old friends Fiorello (Chico Marx) and Tomasso (Harpo Marx), who manage Ricardo’s career. Unwittingly, Groucho signs Ricardo as his client, but can convince no-one of his talent. The four men set off from Italy to New York in search of Rosa and fame; however, found out as stowaways, they become fugitives in America and lose all prestige with the opera companies. Their only chance is to sabotage the stage and prove their talent one night at the opera.

REVIEW:

The Marx Brother’s comedic genius shines through in “A Night at the Opera,” one of their most popular films ever. Including some of the brother’s famous vaudevillian jokes, the film also went on to have two hit songs. The jokes are delivered with such speed and conviction that by the time you get one you may have missed the next. Brothers Chico and Groucho play off each other and the entire cast; all the while Harpo Marx delivers his unique brand of slapstick. The film has gone on to become a classic, so much so that the Library of Congress keeps this film preserved in the U.S. National Film Registry.

Made in 1935, this black and white movie may not hold up to the acting styles we are used to from today’s Hollywood stars. Then again, some Hollywood stars may find it difficult to keep up with the comedic timing the brothers perfected while working in Vaudeville. The jokes are usually a simple set-up and punch line style, with almost the entire cast playing straight roles to the brothers’ comedic fools. Particularly in this film, the brothers were encouraged to practice the jokes while they were performing their live stage show, to see what kind of laughs they could get from the audience.

This film also has a romantic sub-plot between two opera singers. Although uncommon today, a film like this would often have romantic sub-plots, songs, and of course the brothers’ comedy. This was also a common theme in Vaudeville, where there would be many different types of entertainment on one stage in an evening. Subsequently, two of the songs sung in this film later went on to become hits of their day.

Again this is an older style of film, so don’t expect many camera tricks or special effects. There are no rapid close ups and most of the scenes have few cuts if any at all. Despite this, there are still famous action sequences of Harpo Marx doing his own stunts, like hanging off the side of a cruise ship, and swinging on ropes behind the scenes during an opera.

In the early days of film there weren’t the same capabilities as today. Theatre was the only way to see this kind of show, so the films were set up very similarly. The brothers had perfected their characters on the stage, and were very simply transporting them to film. What film allowed the brothers to do was have an hour-and-a-half dedicated to their unique humour, as well as allowing the brothers to showcase their other talents. I don’t think there is a Marx Brother’s film which does not include a scene with Harpo playing the harp.

This film represented a few firsts for the brothers, such as switching to MGM studios from Paramount. Some of the suggestions made by MGM were to make the brothers’ characters more helpful to the two lovers instead of making everyone the butt of their jokes. This is also the first film were brother Zeppo Marx didn’t play the role of the romantic lead. Zeppo had left the group, feeling he didn’t have any more to contribute, as his character wasn’t well-fleshed-out. Zeppo became a talented Hollywood agent. Rumour has it though, that Zeppo could play a better Groucho than Groucho himself.

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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: HORSE FEATHERS, 1932

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HORSE FEATHERS, 1932
Movie Reviews

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

SYNOPSIS:

Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the new president of Huxley U, hires bumblers Baravelli and Pinky to help his school win the big football game against rival Darwin U.

REVIEW:

Horse Feathers (1932) is my favorite Marx Brothers movie. It has classic scenes, music and off course classic jokes. It is also the first Marx movie to focus around Groucho, actually it is the first movie that has a plot that revolves around the Marx Brothers.

While the Brothers were in vaudeville they had a play called Fun in Hi Skule that featured what they would later claim to be their funniest jokes. Part of the play took part in a high school classroom where Groucho was a teacher and Harpo and Chico were students. The basic idea was lifted from that play and became Horse Feathers.

Instead of being a teacher though, Groucho has just been named head of Huxley College. By some weird quirk Zeppo is Groucho’s son, even though Groucho was only a few years older than the youngest Marx. Zeppo tells his father that the college needs to win a big football game for some reason. This is the plot, which is never too complex or too necessary in Marx Brothers movies. What really matters is Zeppo is involved in a relationship with Connie Bailey, played by Thelma Todd, a college widow. A college widow is someone who would hang around colleges and prey on young boys, which would make one a combination of a cougar and a gold digger today.

Of course when Groucho learns of his son’s relationship he must put a stop to it, not because he’s a good father, but because he wants a piece of the action as well. But before he can do this, there is that football matter. Zeppo tells his dad that two great football players hang out at a speakeasy. Let me write down here that this movie has aged a little bit with college widows and speakeasies, just wait until the end when you see how football was played in 1932.

Anyway, Groucho makes his way down to the speakeasy where we have the most famous scene in the movie. Chico is an ice man and is told to watch the door to the speakeasy for a few moments. To get in, you have to say the password. As has been copied numerous times since, the password is Swordfish. So Groucho comes along, makes three guesses and can’t get in until Chico tells him the password. Then Groucho locks Chico out. Chico tries to use the password, but Groucho tells him that he’s switched it but he can’t remember what he switched it to. So now Groucho ends up outside. The two are locked out of the speak. Along comes Harpo though, who plays a dog catcher, and he gives the password by placing a sword inside a fish he just happens to have in his pocket.

Once inside the speakeasy, Groucho ends up hiring Chico and Harpo as the two football players. Huxley’s main rival on the gridiron is Darwin and the Darwin man, who happens to be the husband of Thelma Todd’s character, gets the two real football players.

This doesn’t matter though as Groucho gets Harpo and Chico to enroll in school. He also makes inroads with Connie Bailey. Actually, all four of the Marx Brothers vie for her heart. They do so by giving separate versions of “Everybody Says I Love You.” Zeppo sings the original version. Chico sings the Italian version. Groucho strums the guitar and sings the cynical version. Harpo whistles the tune to a horse and then plays it on his harp for Connie Bailey. These renditions are another big highlight of the movie.

It is finally time to play football and the Darwin team looks like they’ll destroy Huxley, so Groucho sends Chico and Harpo to kidnap the two speakeasy football players. This doesn’t work and the two of them end up being kidnapped and missing most of the first half of the game. They end up escaping by sawing through the floor, another gag Looney Tunes took from the Marx Brothers.

The two finally make it to the stadium. Harpo does so in a makeshift chariot. The four brothers appeared on the cover of Life Magazine in the chariot as a promotion for the movie. From there it is the standard comedians on a football field routine.This movie might not be mentioned by film historians or scholars as one of the best Marx Brothers movies, but Marx Brothers fans love it. Woody Allen, who was a great admirer of Groucho, thought so much of the comedian and this movie that he titled one of his movies Everyone Says I Love You. Of course the John Travolta movie Swordfish takes its name from the famous scene in this movie.

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