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To anyone who has never seen a Marx Brothers film, it's hard to
describe. "Horse Feathers" just may be the wackiest, corniest, dumbest,
funniest and just plain craziest movie you've ever seen. It could be
any one of those adjectives. In my opinion, it's all of them. It's my
favorite film of these guys.
Perhaps no film has so many of the above-listed descriptions, in spades, as this one does. It just leaves you shaking your head. Some of the lines in here are some of the best I've ever heard and some of the scenes and jokes are the dumbest I've ever seen. One thing for sure: they come at you at a machine-gun pace. You barely have time to digest what you just saw and heard and there's another joke coming at you. You can barely keep up with it all. The football scenes at the end of the film are the most outrageous I have ever seen. They, like much of the movie, have to be seen to be believed. Yes, the latter is a little too ridiculous but, hey, that''s the Marx Brothers.
The only breaks from the non-stop jokes comes when one of the brothers decides to sing a song or play the piano or harp. Those tunes are so-so. The long harp solo by Harpo is too long. I read once where the brothers were opposed to having that in this movie...and they were proved right; it didn't fit. Other than that, this is 67 minutes of pure insanity.
HORSE FEATHERS, the fourth of the five Paramount Marx Brother Movies,
is one of their best - tackling the world of higher education in
America. Groucho is the latest of the Presidents of Huxley College,
which is doing very badly (apparently) not because of poor scholastic
standards but due to not having a successful football team. His son
(Zeppo!) steers him toward solving this issue, but with typical Groucho
ineptness he thinks the two semi-professional football players he is
looking for are Harpo and Chico. He proceeds to regret his own mistake,
until the climactic football game.
The music numbers of this film are well remembered, particularly Groucho's introduction ("I'M AGAINST IT!") and "Everyone Says I love you". The latter was sung to the anti-heroine of the story, Thelma Todd in her second and last film with the brothers. Thelma plays the "college widow", a popular fictional figure in early 20th Century American humor - a euphemism for an ever-ready widow of a college professor who was there to have sex with students or the staff. George Ade, the humorist who wrote FABLES IN SLANG, wrote a play called "THE COLLEGE WIDOW" in the teens of the 20th Century. Thelma is certainly effective as the vamp trying to help David Landau (President of Darwin College) get the football signals of Huxley College. Her scenes with Groucho and Chico are quite funny. Chico is playing the piano and she sings. She says she has a falsetto voice. Chico says that's all right, his aunt has a false set of teeth. And Groucho, when taking Thelma for a boat trip throws her a lifesaver (literally), while returning with a duck who interrupted his singing.
The final football game is the second best spoof of college football on film (the one in Harold Lloyd's THE FRESHMAN is a better one). In the end we see the boys demolish football huddles, football signals, even hot dogs (poor Nat Pendleton).
A delightful antique, it is well worth watching. This is one film I'm not against.
The Marx Brothers do it again in Horse Feathers. Next to the classic Duck Soup, this is probably their best film. Their anarchist style of comedy is unleashed on Huxley College, a troubled university with a losing football team that hasn't won a game since the 1880's. The film opens with Groucho becoming president of the college, starting off with the musical sequence "Whatever it is, I'm against it." Chico and Harpo are a iceman and a dog catcher, respectivly, and Zeppo is Grouch's son, who is enrolled in the university. The story, if it can be called that, leads up to a football game with Huxley's rival, Darwin University. This has to be seen to be believed.
While this film ISN'T as famous as DUCK SOUP or A NIGHT AT THE OPERA,
it's my personal favorite. I think it's probably because unlike these
other two pictures, there isn't all the singing and dancing in HORSE
FEATHERS plus it has at least as much energy as any other film they
made. Plus, unlike THE COCOANUTS and ANIMAL CRACKERS, there is a real
honest-to-goodness plot!!! So, it's not just one gag after another
Groucho is wonderful as the incompetent and perpetually horny Professor Wagstaff at Huxley College. Plus, as idiots mistaken for professional ringers, Chico and Harpo are at their best. Oh, and I guess Zeppo is in the movie, but as in all their early Zeppo films, he is pretty much a non-entity. You can really see why he never caught on as one of the Marx Brothers (nor did his other brother, Karl, who was by far the LEAST funny Marx Brother).
About the only negative about the film is the climactic football game. Even for a Marx Brothers film, this does get a little too stupid! But, the rest of the movie is so good, you really don't mind.
UPDATE: I just saw this film on the big screen and upon viewing it again, I am reducing the score to 8. Yes, it is good for the Marx Brothers but the plot, such as it is, is barely a plot at all, the film's ending is bizarre and senseless and a few of the jokes a bit less funny after re-watching. Still good and still worth seeing if you just turn off your brain and enjoy all the nonsense.
One of the better Marx Brothers movies. This one came right in the middle of their prime, between Monkey Business and Duck Soup (probably their two best films). While Horse Feathers isn't quite as funny as either of those, it still has plenty of laughs. The Marx Brothers were still young, but they knew what they were doing now. Again they take advantage of the film medium to do things they never could have done on stage, like the wild football finale. The involvement of the supporting cast is also kept to a minimum, which is always a good thing in Marx Bros. films. They do go back to relying on too many musical numbers. Groucho's opening song "Whatever it is, I'm Against it" seems awkwardly out of place, but it's interesting to see all four brothers do their own version of "Everyone Says I Love you." It's not their very best work, but it's not far from it either.
There's a lot of good material in this Marx Brothers feature, with just
enough plot to hold it together and to set up a very entertaining final
sequence. As usual, there are a number of memorable scenes to choose from
when picking your favorite parts of the movie.
This time the brothers are let loose on a college campus that is getting ready for a big football game. Groucho and Zeppo are the new college president and his son, while Harpo and Chico arrive from a nearby neighborhood in time to add their own kind of confusion. The campus setting allows them to satirize many aspects of college life, and there are some good off-campus scenes as well, most memorably the 'swordfish' scene in the speakeasy. It's capped off with a hilarious football game that is one of their best sequences.
This ranks highly on almost anyone's list of favorite Marx Brothers features - if you're a fan, make sure to see it.
I was challenged by a reader, because I wrote that a movie was funny.
His belief was that the movie wasn't funny, that it couldn't be because
the comedians were too old, and I wouldn't know in any case because I
was also too old. So I turned to the good old Marx Brothers.
Fortunately, some other unhappy soul had deleted my comment for this movie, so I can write a replacement.
I think this is funny. It shouldn't really matter to me whether anyone else does, except insofar as they support the market forces that guarantee I can access it. But as it happens, lots of other people also think it funny and I wonder why.
"Horse Feathers," if you do not know, was the frontier term for split boards about two feet long that were nailed on barns in an overlapping fashion like shingles. These were primitive, but had the advantage of keeping your major investment, your horse, warm. They are themselves ad hoc, somewhat random with some order, and an effective container. Such a barn was wholly man-made, but clearly the mind finds it handy to make the joke that if the barn looked like a chicken, then its name should follow.
Lexicographers know that language often naturally grows from these jokes. The older the term gets, the deeper the joke: "horsefeathers" probably originated in the 1870-80's homesteading era, and gained popularity as farm boys from those areas were mixed into the WW I army, the term used as a substitute for one whose use would have been punished for insubordination. It subsequently entered the print world when used in Wilson's second presidential campaign.
A youngster with no knowledge of its origin would simply hear "nonsense." but a wizened farmer would recall the image of a building that looks ridiculous, like a chicken. He would have recalled chuckling when thinking what part of the chicken he would enter and exit each day when doing his chores. It would contribute to giving his life enough richness to keep going.
I believe that the best humor is humor like this. It combines small twists of language with implied bigger twists of incited images. And it gets warmer and deeper (and funnier) the more you live with it.
The first (language and image), is what the Marx brothers invented in cinema. These guys had honed a stage act based on clever language timing, twists, perspectives implied by stereotypes. Its all in the words. But they were able to bring it to us in a frantic, ad hoc visual manner, so that we could have a blizzard of images like the feathered barn, the images themselves feathered together in a sort of story.
Eye and mind played with, and played through practice. These masters were not kids. Groucho by the time this was made was 43. He got funnier every year after that in working with these sorts of ad libbed word images. His "secret word" bit in "You Bet your Life," was even a part of this.
These, I think, are basic to the both the notion of what makes cinema work (folded images and narrative) and what makes humor attractive (naming enriched by ambiguous image). If you want to know yourself, you navigate through your cupboard of these that you have collected. You go to school. You play the game. You can only do this and truly laugh if you are old enough (or young and aggressive enough in collecting) to have something to rumble around in.
Marx brothers: old school funny. At least to me.
This is one of their Paramount projects before being reinvented again by MGM. More random; more eggs.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
What the Marx Brothers do to higher education in this film is roaringly funny, from the opening song "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It" to the end, possibly the most bizarre American Football "game" not played in the XFL! Groucho was at or near his best and it's probably the best (and most significant) role Zeppo ever had. Most highly recommended.
Plot (or should I say plan of attack) Entering a college campus, the
gang gets to deconstruct the whole idea of higher education.
The gags fly faster than speeding bullets. There's no real let-up, not even for hasty romantic interludes with Zeppo and Todd. It's like the boys have a hundred pages of material to squeeze into 70-minutes. Harpo's got more to do than usual, even a harp solo, while Groucho is at his caustic best with a zillion one-liners. I did miss his usual foil, Margaret Dumont, who should have been lurking somewhere in the faculty lounge. Instead, as a college president, he gets to insult anything collegiate, including America's unofficial national religion-- football. And check out that big game that looks more like Ben Hur than a sports contest. But what I really liked was Thelma Todd in the slinkiest gowns this side of Jean Harlow. And what a fine comedienne she was; too bad her life ended as several probing pages in Hollywood Babylon. All in all, this is the chaos brothers at their liveliest, and may cause highschoolers to rethink the whole idea of higher education.
Oh come on! You know the Marx brothers! Groucho, with his cigar, says
something that sounds serious, but then makes it into a joke; Chico,
with his Italian accent, mangles certain phrases, among other things;
Harpo doesn't speak but (literally) has all sorts of tricks up his
sleeve; Zeppo actually is serious...to an extent. In this case, Quincy
Wagstaff (Groucho) becomes dean of Huxley College and hopes to defeat
rival college Darwin in a football game. He hires two goof-balls,
Baravelli (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo), while the other college gets the
The truth is that you don't even have to understand the plot to have a good time. The movie is all about the Marx brothers' anarchic humor, particularly when Harpo causes a traffic jam and then plays a trick on a cop. The football game at the end is not like any game that you've ever seen. You're sure to love the whole movie. And just remember: swordfish.
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