Until the halfway point or so, A Day at the Races moves quite well. Sure, it gets off to a slow start–introducing Chico as sidekick to Maureen O’Sullivan and setting up her problems (her sanitarium is going out of business), which isn’t funny stuff. I think Allan Jones even shows up as her nightclub singing beau before the other Marx Brothers make an appearance. But once they do, Races gets in gear.
There are a series of excellent sequences, all utilizing the Marx Brothers. Whether it’s Harpo doing physical comedy, Groucho and Chico doing a banter bit–with Harpo joining them in another one a few minutes later–Races uses them to wonderful effect. Director Wood even gets in a fine instrument playing number for Harpo and Chico.
And the supporting cast–O’Sullivan, Margaret Dumont, Leonard Ceeley, Douglass Dumbrille–is strong. Jones is an exception; his performance is broad, but he’s likable enough.
Until the second half, when the film should be giving him more to do acting-wise and doesn’t, instead giving him a long musical number. That long musical number, which leads to Harpo recruiting the nearby poor black workers into the number, kills Races’s pace. The previous musical interlude, with a lengthy (and gorgeous) ballet sequence, is about all it could handle. Maybe because there was great Marx Brothers comedy immediately following.
After the second musical sequence? Uninspired situation comedy. Races manages a satisfactory recovery in the finish, but it can’t make up the time.
Directed by Sam Wood; screenplay by Robert Pirosh, George Seaton and George Oppenheimer, based on a story by Pirosh and Seaton; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by Frank E. Hull; music by Franz Waxman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Starring Groucho Marx (Dr. Hackenbush), Chico Marx (Tony), Harpo Marx (Stuffy), Allan Jones (Gil), Maureen O’Sullivan (Judy), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Upjohn), Leonard Ceeley (Whitmore), Douglass Dumbrille (Morgan), Esther Muir (‘Flo’), Robert Middlemass (Sheriff), Vivien Fay (Dancer), Ivie Anderson (Vocalist) and Sig Ruman (Dr. Steinberg).