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Doctor Hugo Hackenbush, Tony, and Stuffy try and save Judy's farm by winning a big race with her horse. There are a few problems. Hackenbush runs a high priced clinic for the wealthy who don't know he has his degree in Veterinary Medicine. Written by
John Vogel <email@example.com>
The "Grand Steeplechase" sequence at the end had to be shot twice. Both times a crew member persuaded Chico Marx to gamble on it and not only to bet on the outcome of a rigged non-race, but to bet on a horse other than the one scripted to win. Chico, all his life an avid gambler, could offer as excuse only, "The odds were 20 to one." See more »
When Tony starts playing, the piano clearly shows "Steinway and Sons." In later shots the logo is missing. See more »
I want to announce your association with the Sanitarium. We'll send your picture to all the papers.
The Florida papers?
Yes. We want it for publicity.
Publicity? Oh, we mustn't have any of that, Miss Standish. You know, the ethics of my profession.
But, we have to get new patients.
Well, after all, the old patients were good enough for your father.
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A DAY AT THE RACES (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1937), directed by Sam Wood, capitalizes on the current trend of horse-racing movies done by the numbers during the 1937-38 cycle, notably MGM's own 1937 releases of "Saratoga" and "Broadway Melody of 1938" as well as "Stablemates" (1938). Starring those three Marx Brothers, in their second collaboration for MGM, following the enormous success of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935), this horse opera, being the longest running feature film of their screen career, stop-watched at 111 minutes, did prove quite successful then, and because of its good track record, still remains a sure bet comedy today.
The first Marx Brother to be introduced in the story is Chico. He plays Tony, a chauffeur for Judy Standish (Maureen O'Sullivan), whose sanitarium is in financial trouble. Morgan (Douglass Dumbrille), the owner of a nearby racetrack and hotel, along with his associate, Whitmore (Leonard Ceeley) want to take over the sanitarium so to convert it into a gambling casino. He offers Judy the option of accepting $5,000 from them or face a mortgage foreclosure, but she prefers to wait the 30 days. Gil Stewart (Allan Jones) her fiancé, has purchased Hi-Hat, Morgan's race horse, for $1,500, gambling her life savings hoping to win enough money to get Judy out of debt. However, Mrs. Emily Upjohn (Margaret Dumont), an exclusive patient of the sanitarium, expresses her need for a doctor, even though there is really nothing physically wrong with her. Realizing that Mrs. Upjohn's financial support could save the hospital from ruin, Tony notifies Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx) of Palmville, Florida, who is well acquainted with Mrs. Upjohn, unaware he is a horse doctor, and making him chief of staff. Then there's Stuffy (Harpo), Morgan's jockey, with a natural flair for horses, who gets to ride Hi-Hat, who turns out to be a jumper, as well as quite fearful to the sight and sound of Morgan himself.
The Music and Lyrics by Bronislau Kaper, Gus Kahn and Walter Jurmann: "On the Blue Venetian Waters" (Sung by Allan Jones/ danced by Vivian Fay,recently restored to its original sepia tone); "Tomorrow is Another Day" (sung by Jones); "Blow That Horn, Gabriel," "All God's Chillin' Got Rhythm," "All God's Chillin' Got Rhythm" (reprise/finale), along with "A Message From the Man in the Moon" (sung briefly by Groucho Marx/ otherwise cut from final print, and heard instrumentally during opening credits). "Tomorrow is Another Day" is quite a good tune with Jones in fine voice singing to charming heroine O'Sullivan that shifts into a parade from the black community singing and dancing to "All God's Chuillin Got Rhythm" with the Marxes, headed by Harpo playing a flute like the Pied Piper, with one of the vocalists being future star Dorothy Dandridge.
As already mentioned, A DAY AT THE RACES is quite long, in fact, everything about the movie is long: the song numbers, the comedy routines, the narrative, and the horse racing finale (so clever that it's been reused several times since then in other hydrazine), resulting to perfectly timed structures, although the water carnival ballet number performed by Vivian Fay near the beginning could have been shortened, in fact substituted into another movie categorized as a musical. One of MGM's debits is having this look more like a lavish scale musical than a Marx Brothers comedy, with the trio off screen for long intervals, with occasional cutaways during the ballet as a reminder that this is a Marx Brothers comedy and not a ballet musical choreographed by George Ballachine. After it is all over, Chico and Harpo get to do their traditional musical bits with piano and harp at length. Groucho doesn't do a song solo, which is unfortunate, because his style of singing and dancing always brings pleasure during these musical interludes.
With this being the seventh Marx comedy, it's evident that some of their routines are rehashes yet improvements from their earlier outings. At this point, could anything new be added to their comedy material? In fact, something has: Harpo's mimed message through constant whistling, facial and hand gestures, telling Chico about Groucho falling victim to Flo Marlowe (Esther Muir), as schemed by Morgan. The Groucho and Chico exchanges are highlights, the best being their seven minute Tootsie Fruitsie ice cream bit where Chico posing an ice cream vendor actually a race tract tout making a sucker out of Groucho by selling him racing tips that ends up being a stack of hardbound books taken from his pushcart. The madcap examination room sequence involving Harpo and Dumont are notable attention grabbers as well. In true Marx tradition, Margaret Dumont falls victim to their shenanigans, usually being the prime insult by Groucho through one of his classic re-marx: "Emily, I have a little confession to make. I really am a horse doctor, but marry me and I'll never look at any other horse." Sig Rumann should not go unnoticed as Doctor Steinburg, a pointed beard Viennese specialist who arrives to examine Mrs. Upjohn, thus preventing Hackbush from performing his own examination on Emily.
In spite of long stretches, A DAY AT THE RACES does have its doses of winning streaks thanks to the staff and performers combined, several recalls from A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. The film in general is not perfect, but worthwhile comedy thanks to the Marx Brothers expert horsemanship. Recommended viewing during the late evening hours before "hitting the hay." Formerly available on video cassette, a format that had been in circulation since the 1980s, which has since been discontinued in favor of the much improved DVD format, A DAY AT THE RACES can be seen intact whenever shown on Turner Classic Movies. (***)
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