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Animal Crackers was the second of two Broadway shows that starred the
Marx Brothers and was done at the Paramount Astoria Studios. After they
went to Hollywood, with the exception of Room Service, all their
material was original for the screen.
The Brothers were doing Animal Crackers on Broadway in 1928-1929 and it had a respectable run of 191 performances. In fact while they were doing Animal Crackers on stage, for a part of 1929 they were shooting The Cocoanuts at the Astoria Studios. Unlike The Cocoanuts, nearly the entire Broadway cast was used in the film, with the exception of the juveniles, Lillian Roth and Hal Thompson. Also unlike The Cocoanuts nearly the entire Bert Kalmar-Harry Ruby score was discarded with the notable exception of Groucho's immortal theme Hooray for Captain Spalding. Kalmar and Ruby did write the ballad that Roth and Thompson sing, Why Am I So Romantic for the screen version.
Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Rittenhouse of the Long Island horsey set is throwing a party and the guest of honor is Groucho with his secretary Zeppo as Captain Spalding. Crashing the party is Chico and Harpo.
But not only is Captain Spalding on display, Dumont is giving an unveiling of a famous painting for which two people have brought copies for different purposes. Of course the original does get stolen and there's no use me going on any further because the plot just dissolves with the various monkeyshines engaged in by the Marx Brothers.
My favorite bits are Groucho when he does a devastating lampoon on Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude. It turned out to be too good a satire because when the play made it to the screen two years later, no one took it seriously.
Secondly is Chico and Harpo, mercilessly threatening to expose hoity toity art critic Louis Sorin who they knew back in the day as Abie the Fishman. Actually that's kind of sad in a way because Sorin may be a snob now, but he did in fact educate himself out of peddling fish and rose in an honorable to a legitimate living. But you don't think about that while Chico and Harpo are doing their thing.
Although like The Cocoanuts it's a photographed stage play, Animal Crackers works a whole lot better. The play itself was primarily on one set on the stage and it transitions better to the screen than The Cocoanuts did.
The brothers are at their most anarchistic and zany here, try not to miss it.
The Marxes second film is an even more uncinematic production than their first ("The Cocoanuts"). The camera barely moves throughout the picture, and matters are not helped at all by the fact that the print is in fairly poor condition, with entire frames missing from several scenes. And, as usual, the film contains far too much music. Nevertheless, the brothers (and especially Harpo and Chico, who in my opinion have all the funniest scenes) are amazingly lively for a 1930 film, and they make it worth seeing after all. (**1/2)
When Discussing a Marx Brothers Film it is Obligatory to Condescend to
the Extraneous Musical Numbers (those without the Brothers) and the
Plot. In This, the Second Marx Feature and the Second Filmed Stage
Play, the Plot is Heavily Intrusive and the Music is Forgettable at
The Marx Brothers, Perhaps More than Any Other Comedy Team. Seem to Contrast Greatly with the Burdensome Baggage Because Their Zany Anarchy is So Wildly Untamed and Ill Fitting to the Society Surrounding Them that it is a Catastrophic Collision.
When Groucho, Chico, and Harpo are Doing Their Thing it Commands Attention and Admiration. The Timing is Pure Punctuated Pandemonium and the Visual Display of the Odd Looking Brothers Demands Comment Just Because of the How Odd They Look. They are Like Another Species Invading Our World and Making Their Marx.
"Sometimes" Zeppo is On Hand In This One as is Fan and Groucho Favorite Margaret Dumont. The Straights are Lillian Roth and Louis Sorin. The Film Itself is Still in Motionless Mode, However the Sound has Improved from Their First Attempt.
Overall, It is Better than Coconuts (their first) but Not as Good as What Was to Come as the Marx Brothers Continued to Improve Peaking with Either Duck Soup (1933) or A Night at the Opera (1935) Depending on Who is Doing the Talking. You Can Bet it Won't be Harpo.
The Marx Brothers' second movie is one of their funniest, despite
suffering from some of the same limitations of the early sound era as
their first film, The Cocoanuts. It's a great movie with the Marx Bros.
at their zany best. Groucho is Captain Spaulding, Chico is Signor
Emanuel Ravelli, Harpo is The Professor, and Zeppo is....well, who
cares who Zeppo is? He actually gets a funny scene in this movie,
taking dictation from Groucho. That's uncommon as he was usually just
the straight man. The movie's plot, such as it is, revolves around a
painting stolen at a party thrown by a rich dowager (Margaret Dumont)
for famed explorer Capt. Spaulding. The guys are all funny and the
movie's full of memorable sketches, songs, and one-liners. Lllian Roth
is enjoyable as half of the obligatory romantic subplot. That's a
rarity for the Marx Bros. movies, where typically the two young people
shoehorned in for a romantic subplot are the worst part of the picture.
Roth's charming presence makes it more bearable this time. Special
mention to the amazing Margaret Dumont, who was a vital part of the
success of the best Marx movies. Here she even gets to do some physical
comedy in a hilarious scene with Harpo.
I love the Marx Bros' Paramount films for their energy and eccentricities. From this movie until Duck Soup, the boys were at their best, in my opinion. Yes, they made some good ones after that but they were more polished and structured than the Paramount movies. Animal Crackers is a classic with many great jokes and routines, including "Hello I Must Be Going," breaking the fourth wall, the bridge scene, "elephant in my pajamas" and pretty much every line of dialogue Groucho has.
Can you imagine seeing the brilliant Marx brothers on the vaudeville stage? Must have been the best thing ever. Sadly this movie is the closest we can be to it. What a magical essence in every scene. The card scene has to rate as one of the funniest piece of celluloid EVER! Every modern cinema so-called comedian ( Sandler,,Wilson,,Stiller,,,the list goes on) should be strapped to a chair in front of these guys and be educated in how to make funny. The haunting silence of Harpo just shows how clever he was to make us laugh without speaking ,just using whistles , props and honkers. Chico plays the straight but funny guy perfectly and Groucho steals every scene. While it does look like a filmed stage play it adds to the vaudeville silliness. If ever you need cheering up put this on..I literally laughed till i nearly cried..God bless 'em all!!
The greatest thing about the Marx Brothers was the diversity of their
comedy. Groucho was ultimately a master of the one-liners, Chico
alluded to ethnic stereotypes that were popular during his days doing
vaudeville, and Harpo was the clown, pulling sight gags from every
pocket he had in that huge overcoat he wore. Animal Crackers, their
second film as The Marx Brothers, allows them free reign to indulge in
their manic brand of comedy due to an absence of plot. What is
immediately apparent upon viewing the film is just how postmodern it
is. Groucho laments his inner thoughts to camera and a statue shoots
back at a startled Harpo, all combining to make one truly insane 95
minutes, made all the more risqué with this being before the
introduction of the Hays Code.
Famour explorer Captain James T. Spaulding (Groucho) arrives at a house party hosted by the upper-class Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont). Whilst there, he manages to swindle, insult and charm the various guests who are in attendance, namely Roscoe Chandler (Louis Sorin), an art collector who has brought one his most prized paintings to display to the guests. Also there is musician Signor Ravelli (Chico) and his mad sidekick The Professor (Harpo), who are harbouring a plan to steal the painting and replace it with a forgery. Unfortunately for them, there are others who wish to pull off the same trick for different reasons.
While the songs are nice and catchy (Groucho's intro song "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" was used in TV quiz show You Bet Your Life, which Groucho hosted), the technical aspects suffer the same way as many films did with the sudden introduction of sound. The screen is crammed with characters, much like a play would be, and this sense of disorganisation takes a little away from the film.
But it is all about the comedy after all, and here all three of the brothers are on top form, with Groucho providing the killer lines "one day I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know" and "we took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren't developed. But we're going back again in a couple of weeks!" (Zeppo also appears, but only briefly). When the plot becomes too ridiculous or the action moves away from the Marx Brothers, stick around for another 30 seconds and they'll be something else to laugh at - it's just that funny.
This movie is where the Marx brothers legend started. They all come to work in this one, Groucho with his legendary one-liners, Harpo, with is "ball-busting", and Chico with his great ideas. Groucho, by far makes this movie what it is, however chico and harpo are very funny to, such as the bridge game. Its a wonder why this movie does not get as much respect as their later one's such as Duck Soup and Horse Feathers. I would say that this movie is as funny and enjoyable as any Marx Brothers movie.
More than 30 years ago when I was a kid, I remember watching this movie on CBS on a Saturday but the only parts I remembered were the "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" number, a duet between the romantic leads, Harpo's harp solo, and the ending. So now I've watched the entire thing on DVD and let me tell you, it's a lot better than The Four Marx Brothers' previous movie, The Cocoanuts. For one thing, not only do we get another confused wordplay between Chico and Groucho but also that between Chico and Harpo when the latter pulls something different when the former asks for a "flash"! Besides Chico, Harpo also plays a little on the piano this time to another comic sequence they do with Groucho. Oh, and while Zeppo didn't do much in the last one, here he does some funny bits with Groucho concerning some dictation of a letter. And Margaret Dumont more than earns her "fifth Marx Brother" reputation with her own lines and actions with the brothers not to mention her laughs during many of them. I also liked seeing Lilian Roth, so soon after just watching her in The Love Parade, as one part of that romantic duo I referenced at the beginning of this review and though she's more subdued here than in TLP, she's still enjoyable (not to mention stunning to watch) here. If there's one disappointment in watching this again, it's that the line from Groucho's in that "Captain Spaulding" number-"I think I'll go and make her"-is still missing. Still, this was a most enjoyable Marx Brothers movie and that's good enough for me! P.S. When I read Steve Stoliar's book "Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho's House", the most fascinating find there was his contribution to getting this movie back in re-release in the 1970s after disappearing from circulation a couple of decades ago. So we have him to thank, along with survivor Groucho's help, for this being available again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Tell me, what do you think of the traffic problem? What do you think
of the marriage problem? What do you think of at night when you go to
bed, you beast?" While not their best film (which I still insist is "A
Night at the Opera"), "Animal Crackers" is still a zany,
no-holds-barred slice of laugh-a-second entertainment from the never
dull Marx Brothers - a quasi-musical comedy with all the bells and
whistles you'd expect from the siblings, featuring some very memorable
moments. Here are a few of my favorite: The scene in which Groucho
stands between the two women at the bottom of the staircase and
diverges and digresses from an inexplicable monologue is outstanding,
and one of his shining moments. The payoff is when the group of sexy
women parade down the stairs where he declares that he's been waiting
for years at the bottom of the steps for such an occasion.
Perhaps one of Harpo's best acts is the Bridge scene, where he and Chico sit down with two ladies for a game. His skill with props and his perfect timing has always astounded me ... he was, in my opinion, the hardest working Marx Brother. I also feel he does his best harp playing in this film.
Chico's highlight was, of course, his scene on the piano. Although the film does seem to take an awkward break here just to see him play, it's nonetheless a pleasure to enjoy his skill and the obvious delight he takes in showing it off.
Like all of their features, by the end of the story everyone around the brothers have been driven mad by their antics and nonsensical behavior, and you leave the film no deeper or enlightened than you were before, but simply with a big smile on your face.
While straightforward in its story structure, Animal Crackers is nothing less than a sheer delight. Some of the early sound recording may feel static, but with such hilarity and entertainment on show, you forget about any minor flaws Animal Crackers might have. The film does look good, the cinematography is nice and the sets are good. The film skips by, while the script is witty and sharp with some hilarious lines such "Did somebody call me schnorrer"(one of my favourite ever entrances in a Marx film) and the sight gags are clever and brilliantly timed, the part when Groucho shoots an elephant in his pyjamas is just hysterical. The direction and acting are top notch once again, Groucho is just great fun here, and Margaret Dumont matches him perfectly. Overall, a sheer delight, not the Marx Brothers very best(Duck Soup in my opinion with A Night at the Opera a close second) but it is my top 10 of Marx Brothers flicks. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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