Casino operator Johnny Lamb hires down-on-her-luck socialite Lucille Sutton as his casino hostess, in order to help her and to improve casino income. But Lamb's pals fear he may follow ... See full summary »
Captain Spaulding, the noted explorer, returns from Africa and attends a gala party held by Mrs. Rittenhouse. A painting displayed at that party is stolen, and the Marxes help recover it. Well, maybe 'help' isn't quite the word I was looking for--this is the Marx Brothers, after all... Written by
Ken Yousten <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hooray For Captain Spaulding, the African Explorer
The first two surviving Marx Brothers films were based on their second and third major Broadway successes: THE COCONUTS and ANIMAL CRACKERS. As early movies they suffer from the rigidity of the early talkies. Papers used as props on the set had to be wet in order for the crackling of paper to be reduced as much as possible from being picked by the microphones. It is remarkable that the films survived to continue to bring pleasure to audiences. In the case of ANIMAL CRACKERS, for years it and the later A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA were tied up in copy-write problems that prevented them being released to the public. I did not see it until I went with my sister to see the film in 1974 in Manhattan.
This film is the one that established Groucho Marx's theme song, "Hooray For Captain Spaulding." Groucho's Jeffrey T. Spaulding has just returned from Africa, and has been invited to the Long Island estate of Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont). Her guests include the noted art collector and expert Roscoe W. Chandler (Louis Sorin). He's going to reveal a masterpiece of art that he has purchased. Mrs. Rittenhouse's "friend" and rival Mrs. Whitehead plans to steal the painting, and hide it to embarrass her hostess. Her daughter and her ex-butler Hives (Robert Greig) are in on this plot. Meanwhile Mrs. Rittenhouse's daughter Arabella (Lillian Roth) is trying to help her boyfriend John Parker (Hal Thompson), a struggling artist prove his abilities. Other guests include the musician, Signior Emmanuel Ravelli and the Professor (Chico and Harpo) and Spaulding's secretary Horation Jamison (Zeppo).
There are many similarities between this musical's book and THE COCONUTS, such as both having detectives named Hennesey, and both naming Zeppo Jamison. The struggles of Roth standing by her struggling painter-boyfriend mirror the struggles of Mary Eaton supporting her struggling architect-boyfriend Oscar Shaw. But here Groucho is a visitor, not the hotel owner/manager. And here there is more use for Zeppo. In fact, except for the third film (MONKEY BUSINESS)and the fifth film (DUCK SOUP), Zeppo never had as much to do that was funny in any of the Marx Brothers movies than here. He has to take dictation from Groucho regarding the legal team of Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger, and McCormick (pronounced "Hoongerdoonger"). It is a classic Marx routine.
There are some topical humor. Roscoe W. Chandler is a spoof on the noted millionaire and culture maven Otto Kahn, head of the Board of the Metropolitan Opera. Kahn was trying to find a location for the new opera house in the late 1920s, and we hear Chandler and Groucho discussing possibly putting it into Central Park. Kahn was from the old Wilhelmine Empire, and was an immigrant (though one who made good in banking). Chandler, in one stunning moment with Chico, turns out to be Abe Kabible, a fish peddler from Czechoslovakia (Chandler has to pay some blackmail to Chico and Harpo about this, but he does shoot back at Chico an inquiry of how long he's been an Italian!).
Another topical jab is regarding Eugene O'Neill's STRANGE INTERLUDE, where O'Neill had characters speak their minds separately from the regular dialog with each other. In fact, Groucho even admits he is going into a strange interlude of his own. His comments are spoken in a clipped, sad voice, and include a final set of lines where he sounds portentous - talking about strange figures, weird figures. Then he starts giving stock quotations!
The film is a little slow at spots, as was THE COCONUTS, but the brothers do well, as does Lillian Roth and Margaret Dumont. The film is very entertaining, and it is good that it is still around.
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