Tag Archives: Harpo Marx

A Day at the Races (1937, Sam Wood)

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.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

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).


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A Night at the Opera (1935, Sam Wood)

As good as the Marx Brothers are in A Night at the Opera–and George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind’s strong script is important too–director Wood really brings the whole thing together. The film has its obligatory musical subplot and romantic leads. Wood knows how to balance those elements with the comedy; during long music sequences, he brings in the Brothers for a quick gag. And Opera smartly establishes those romantic leads (played by Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones) in relation to their sympathies for Harpo and Chico.

Opera also benefits from having one wonderful heinous villain (Walter Woolf King as an obnoxious opera star) and two great doofus ones (Sig Ruman and Robert Emmett O’Connor). King has the biggest part in the film and the briefest comedic sequences. Ruman and O’Connor both have long, elaborate sequences.

But where Wood’s direction is most impressive is how he and Merritt B. Gerstad shoot the Marx Brothers. While there’s a great moment with Groucho admiring a long Harpo gag, my favorite is how Wood handles Chico and Harpo’s music scene. After a quick, finely staged song from Jones, Chico plays the piano, then Harpo plays the harp. Chico’s sequence is jovial and engaging. Harpo’s is jovial and emotive. It’s gorgeous and Wood gives it as much weight as any comedy sequence. It simultaneously breaks Opera’s reality and deepens the entire film.

The film’s perfectly timed, has some great exasperation from Margaret Dumont, and some wonderful sketches. It’s a marvelous Night.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Wood; screenplay by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, based on a story by James Kevin McGuinness; director of photography, Merritt B. Gerstad; edited by William LeVanway; music by Herbert Stothart; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Groucho Marx (Otis B. Driftwood), Chico Marx (Fiorello), Harpo Marx (Tomasso), Kitty Carlisle (Rosa), Allan Jones (Ricardo), Walter Woolf King (Lassparri), Sig Ruman (Gottlieb), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Claypool), Edward Keane (Captain) and Robert Emmett O’Connor (Henderson).


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Monkey Business (1931, Norman Z. McLeod)

It takes about seventeen minutes for Monkey Business to start. The first seventeen minutes are the Brothers running around a cruise ship, on the run from the ship’s officers. In those seventeen minutes–about a fifth of the picture–they manage to get in a number of gags, including Zeppo discreetly laying the groundwork for his romance with Ruth Hall, and play some music for a minute. Director McLeod choreographs it all beautifully.

Then Harry Woods and Thelma Todd show up–as cruise ship passengers–and the “plot” starts. Woods is a two-bit gangster after a now retired, but successful, gangster’s empire. Rockliffe Fellowes plays the retired gangster (and Hall plays his daughter–see how it all comes together?).

For another twenty minutes or so, the Brothers interact with the gangsters in various combinations, while Chico and Harpo wreck their usual havoc on ship. Groucho is, of course, far more concerned with romancing Todd away from her husband.

All of a sudden, with a half hour left, Business changes gears once again. The cruise ship has docked and the passengers are disembarking. There are some great gags here with the Brothers trying to get through customs before the story returns to the gangster angle.

Business gets a little long towards the end, with Chico and Harpo’s musical interludes awkwardly inserted (even though they’re wondrous to see and hear), but the finale’s outstanding.

Monkey Business is great. Zeppo as the romantic lead makes up for a forgotten subplot or two.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Norman Z. McLeod; written by S.J. Perelman, Will B. Johnstone and Arthur Sheekman; director of photography, Arthur L. Todd; produced by Herman J. Mankiewicz; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Groucho Marx (Groucho), Harpo Marx (Harpo), Chico Marx (Chico), Zeppo Marx (Zeppo), Rockliffe Fellowes (J.J. ‘Big Joe’ Helton), Harry Woods (Alky Briggs), Thelma Todd (Lucille Briggs), Ruth Hall (Mary Helton), Tom Kennedy (First Mate Gibson), Cecil Cunningham (Madame Swempski) and Ben Taggart (Capt. Corcoran).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE THE PARAMOUNT CENTENNIAL BLOGATHON HOSTED BY ANGELA OF THE HOLLYWOOD REVUE.


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