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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Marx Bros. had such a hit with "A Night at the Opera" that MGM
wanted to cash in as soon as possible with another movie that is
basically more of the same. That isn't to say that this movie doesn't
have enjoyable parts but there is too much emphasis on the rather tired
plot of the good woman (here played by the MGM "Jane", Maureen
O'Sullivan) trying to save her business from the despicable villain
Morgan (Douglas Dumbrille).
Another disappointment is that we don't get to see the usual sparring of Groucho and Margaret Dumont (I think they share only a couple of scenes including the rather ridiculous "Examination") which had been such a staple in most of the Paramount films. Here, Dumont portrays a hypochondriac and there is only so much you can find amusing about that. The one scene that is hilarious between them is when Groucho shows the pill she apparently has been prescribed and tells her how much water is needed to swallow it: "5 or 6 gallons should do it". Never mind. Such a joke always falls flat when having to describe it.
As for the musical numbers, there aren't so many of them but they have totally been grinded through the MGM machine which states: "Make it big and give it class". The rather tasteless musical number with the Marxes in blackface is a product of a more unenlightened time and should therefore be seen as such and nothing more.
The Marxes are of course the same as they always were and there is only so many times you can see them and still find them funny, except maybe Groucho but one of the rather ridiculous scenes is between Harpo and Chico where Harpo makes Chico play a bizarre game of charades to figure out what is going on and it is sort of unnecessary. I have already mentioned the "Examination" scene but one thing is sort of funny about it and that is the great Sig Rumann who again gets to play the totally perplexed character he made a specialty and Groucho saying: "Stop pointing that thing at me unless you intend to use it" (referring to his beard).
The horse race is somewhat funny but is bogged down by the rather poor editing job that many 30's movies suffer from and of course there is a happy ending where all the main characters march down the street singing which is also a typical MGM staple.
So all things considered it is moderately funny but there aren't really any really hysterical scenes as in their former films and the age of the premise and the brothers themselves are also starting to show. That they would make 5 more or so movies as a team is of course surprising but it has been well documented why they did it (see biographies).
Having picked them up after their Paramount period, MGM seems to have
decided it didn't trust the Marx Brothers. Just as with most modern studio
products there's a feeling of a package designed by committee, in which
everyone is guaranteed to dislike something. Did MGM execs seriously think
people who didn't find the Marxes funny would come along to see the
It's a movie of loosely strung-together set-pieces (of course), and one wants to watch individual scenes rather than sit through the whole show. Groucho's mastery of verbal and physical comedy remains immensely compelling and Harpo is an excellent clown, but the plot is rather tiresome as well as being (of course) total nonsense, and the male romantic lead (Allan Jones) is a prize bore to end all prize bores. There's a surplus of production values at the expense of pace, and the musical sections seem to have wandered in from several other films, none of them awfully good.
MGM simply hedged too many bets, and it's already clear the formula hasn't much of a future. One has to treasure this film for enshrining some iconic comedy routines, but it feels less like a shrine than a sarcophagus.
With their seventh film, A Day at the Races, the Marx brothers return
with yet another entertaining show. The story, this time, is about Judy
Standish (Maureen O'Sullivan), the owner of a sanatorium in financial
distress. In order to save the sanatorium from the evil creditors, the
dubious horse doctor Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx) is hired, since
one of the rich patients Mrs. Upjohn (Margaret Dumont) is hopelessly in
love with him. Certainly, it is not the most original plot ever it is
quite similar to the one in most Marx films I have seen nor is it the
best, but after all, it is merely a vehicle for a number of sketches,
and as long as those are good enough, it is fine by me.
In fact, for those who have seen a fair share of the Marx brothers' films, a lot of things will be familiar. Margaret Dumont is the naive, hysterical lady who never understands what is going on. Chico is the charming Italian who is trying to save the lady in trouble and gets his moment with the piano. Harpo is the mischievous and silent helper, who, of course, gets to play the harp. Groucho is the quick guy with the killer one-liners, strange posture, and who has a keen eye for most girls, except for Dumont. But the beauty of it is that it works; since the sketches are different, it does not matter much.
Speaking of sketches, A Day at the Races definitely has some of the funniest that the brothers have done. There is a hilarious scene in which Groucho is trying to fool the evil Whitmore (Leonard Ceeley) over the telephone regarding his credentials as a doctor. Another highlight is when Groucho is trying to get a tip from Chico at the race track but ends up with a library. And overall, the sharp dialogue is truly excellent (take, for instance, Dr. Steinberg's (Sig Ruman) claim that Mrs. Upjohn "looks as healthy as any woman I ever met," to which Groucho replies that "you don't look as though you've ever met a healthy woman"). Actually, one of the musical numbers, where Groucho is trying to pick up Flo (Esther Muir) while fending off Dumont, is very amusing as well.
While the musical numbers are always my least favourite part of the Marx films, A Day at the Races offers some of the best ones. The classical dance segment is at least pretty, and perhaps offers the best visuals I have seen in these films, with stark black and white reflections in the water at which the scene takes place, and the lindy hop number is very energetic. Only Allan Jones' "Tomorrow Is Another Day" is somewhat of a drag. That being said, they still hamper the pace of the film severely, and without them the film would be half an hour shorter without losing much in terms of comedy or plot; they were perhaps needed in the vaudeville show, but might just as well have been lost in the translation to film. Still, music or not, A Day at the Races finds the Marx brothers at their comedic peak and, to me, even surpasses classics such as A Night at the Opera.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Marx Brothers invade the world of thoroughbred racing...and create
a lot of laughs in doing so.
Maureen O'Sullivan of Tarzan fame is Judy, and she owns a sanitarium that is in serious financial trouble. One of the patients, a wealthy widow named Emily Upjohn (Margaret Dumont), has the funds necessary to help Judy, but she is planning to leave since the doctors cannot find anything wrong with her. She declares she will meet up with the doctor who did find something wrong with her, Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho).
Seeing a chance to help Judy, Tony (Chico) says that Hackenbush is coming to the sanitarium, which keeps Dumont from exiting the facility.
Judy also has help from her boyfriend Gil (Allan Jones), who has invested in a racehorse named Hi Hat. His goal is to turn Hi Hat into a race winner, theoretically accumulating enough prize money so the sanitarium can be saved. The problem is that Hi Hat is not that good a racehorse.
Hackenbush gets the notice to head to the sanitarium. He is a doctor, but a horse doctor. Of course, this creates mayhem that only the Marx Borthers could pull off.
The protagonists all have their adversaries to deal with. A man named Morgan is out to take over the sanitarium and create a casino. Gil is short on cash to pay for expenses relating to Hi Hat, so the horse is in danger of being taken by the sheriff. Fortunately for Gil, Tony and Stuffy (Harpo, playing the role of the jockey) are ready to help if necessary.
The Marx Brothers are great as usual in this picture. Groucho's one liners are consistently funny. Chico plays the kindhearted con artist very well, and he has his share of good lines, too. And Harpo just makes you laugh without ever speaking, and is great at it.
The film also becomes part musical at a couple of points. Jones sings, Harpo plays the harp (what else?) and Chico plays the piano, and all three do a good job.
There are a lot of memorable scenes in the movie. The race tips scene is a good one, as is when Tony and Stuffy try to sabotage Hackenbush's date with a woman. There are plenty of laughs at the track as well (which is actually Southern California's own Santa Anita Park). As of this writing, I have seen five Marx Brothers films, and this is my favorite. It is a good one, so if you want to laugh, watch "A Day at the Races."
This is another movie that I was really wanting to see mainly because I
am really a person who totally loves the very hysterical Marx Brothers,
and so I got a DVD copy of this movie and so one day, I actually go to
watching it, and I can say that this Marx Brothers movie is another
very funny one. This movie is laugh out-loud hysterical, it is also
another great Marx Brothers masterpiece that you will really be
laughing at in hysterics! I have seen just about all of the Marx
Brothers movies and I have gotten a lot of laughs out of every single
one of their movies! This is not their best movie that they made, I say
that their best film is Duck Soup, which is also what I got the most
laughs out of, but this is the best movie of the late 1930's that is
going to get you laughing! This is one movie that I can say when I saw
it I was laughing at almost every single minute of its length, this is
another movie that is very hysterical and will really get you going! If
you haven't seen this yet, then you should!
What I really love about this movie like with a lot of all of the Marx Brothers movies is that I love a lot of the abusive jokes and wisecracks the Groucho makes, because he can be so abusive, and he can be so very hysterical at the same time! I have just said that this is not the Marx Brothers best movie, but it is just a very hysterical movie that is another of the funniest ones that I have seen!
I totally, completely, absolutely, and most definitely love this very hysterical film starring the Marx Brothers, because it is just SO HYSTERICAL!
Judy Standish (Maureen O'Sullivan) is counting on the Marx brothers and a horse called Hi Hat in saving the sanitarium.Groucho is Dr.Hackenbush, who is actually a horse doctor, but they don't know that.Chico is Tony, a helper at the sanitarium and Harpo is Stuffy, the jockey.A Day at the Races (1937) is great fun for all the Marx fans, like me.It's full of some incredible gags that will make you crack up.The movie includes Harpo playing the harp, Chico with the piano and Groucho dancing.One funny scene is where Chico convinces Groucho to bet on an other horse, not the one that was going to win.Groucho has to buy all those books from him to find out the name of the horse.Then there's Harpo with his mime act and Chico has to guess what he's trying to say.And of course the great Margaret Dumont as Emily Upjohn.The brothers took the dignity of Maggie, stripped her in a way in so many movies it's a wonder she didn't get upset.Maureen O'Sullivan is marvelous.She made a great Jane for Tarzan and she made a great leading lady in a Marx brothers movie.Allan Jones makes a great replacement for Zeppo.Groucho was one of the kind.He was a wise-cracker and a hustler, at least in the movies.I never knew the real Groucho.Chico with his Italian accent and Harpo with no accent, all the brothers left a mark in the movie history.And that's a mark that's gonna stick.
This is, so far, the only Marx Brothers movie I've seen. I was hugely disappointed by it. The movie contains some funny jokes (the bookselling scene-hilarious!!), but it gets completely ruined by the musical numbers. They seem to go on forever, destroy the fast pacing of the first half of the movie and leave you with a sour taste in your mouth.
With the same director as its predecessor "A Night at the Opera", and the
same cast (down to I don't know how many bit players), "A Day at the Races"
is decidedly the better of the two movies - if you ask me, the main reason
it's considered less of a classic is that it was made second rather than
Groucho is at his best when he's riding high, lodged in a cosy sinecure and exploiting it outrageously. Too much of the opening act of "A Night at the Opera" is spent getting him there; here, he's swiftly made director of the sanatorium in the opening scene, which leaves more time for fun afterwards.
And the fun is more fun this time. The musical numbers are less intrusive, both because they're inserted into scenes where the narrative would naturally pause to take a breath, and because they're inherently better and more inventive. This is surely Chico's best piano-playing scene. Harpo's harp schtick always bores me a little (nothing else about him does), but at least it arises naturally out of the destruction of the piano, so that even if it were positively tedious the tedium would be a price worth paying. And Harpo's flute-playing scene in the black ghetto has as much genuine, living fantasy in it as anything in "The Wizard of Oz". (If you think you can detect any of the racism of the 1930s in what we see on the screen, may I suggest you become a dowser, where you'll be paid to walk over dry land and "detect" the underground water which everyone knows to be there but which reasonable people don't claim to be able to sense.)
I think the jokes are funnier this time, too - marginally. It could be that the Marx brothers are better organised relative to one another, with the right proportion of skits involving all three together, Groucho alone, Groucho playing against Chico, etc. And there's no denying that, in the end, the three are able to wreak more havoc at a race track than they ever could in an opera house. I don't want to knock "A Night at the Opera"; I love that film, too; but this one is more inspired.
To say you don't like A Day at the Races is blasphemous. You can note
it as the first sign of their decline, or the last film they made that
actually clicked, but that it doesn't work, that's taking your life in
your hands. Yet, I will.
I cannot call A Day at the Races a movie with no great comic moments. I can't say that about any Marx Bros. movie, even the execrable Big Store. The question is how often do they come, and how often do you find yourself clicking the "skip" button on the DVD remote.
The film has three unequivocally great bits: Tootsie-Frootsie Ice Cream, Chico and Harpo keeping Groucho from being found in flagrante delicto by Margaret Dumont, and Margaret Dumont's medical examination. What surrounds these, at least up to the 1 hr., 20 min point, is lesser Marx, but generally good excepting those scenes when Jack Jones's father and Mureen O'Sullivan are present, or ballets, or songs, or spirituals or....
A lot of it isn't the material or the brothers' delivery of it. We have another gooey and extensive Allan Jones romantic subplot, this time featuring Tarzan's mate (and Mia Farrow's mother), Maureen O'Sullivan. And the musical bits outside of Harpo and Chico's solos are just too long and don't seem to have a real function in the film except to satisfy what was assumed to be the public's thirst for MGM musical numbers.
But a lot of it is how the brothers are used. Groucho is much too much an avuncular type, going for pathos with lines to O'Sullivan like, "What if I'm not the doctor you think I am?" (Groucho is a vet when everyone thinks he's a renowned M.D.) It's not that Groucho can't do pathos. It's just that Groucho doesn't demean his abilities even if one would think he should. Can you imagine him saying, "I'm not the explorer you think I am" to Margaret Dumont in Animal Crackers?? What's more, Harpo seems unusually underused here. He has lots of scenes with Chico, or with Chico and Groucho, but virtually nothing alone, unlike in A Night at the Opera, or any of the Paramount films. When you don't have Harpo with his own bits, even briefly, that takes a lot away from a Marx Bros. film, too.
One plus to note in the film, however, is Margaret Dumont. On a web page, as evidence of Ms. Dumont's legendary inability to understand any of the material she ever acted in, it quotes Maureen O'Sullivan as saying that Dumont had referred to Mrs. Upjohn (her character in Races) as a "serious part, not like the others." Well, it is serious in the sense it's a far more three dimensional character than Mrs. Potter, Rittenhouse, Teasdale and Claypool. In those roles, the material basically gave Dumont the opportunity to play straight man to Groucho, no mean feat, and no one could have done it better. But Mrs. Upjohn is not merely stuffy, or snooty, or naive--she's neurotic. Her need to be reassured she's sick when she isn't is a grand comic bit on its own, as is her attraction, then disaffection, then attraction again to Groucho (it's the only film where Groucho proposes to her seriously and she accepts). She won a Screen Actors Guild award for this and it's not too difficult to understand why.
As stated before, there's no Marx Bros. film that's worth total rejection, and there's plenty of good Groucho insults and Chico con games here. It just would have been nice had the film been shorter, had less plot, less music, more comedy, and above all, more Harpo.
So I say watch until the examination screen, skip the musical numbers (except Groucho dancing with Esther Muir), mute it whenever Irene Hervey's ex and John Farrow's wife are present, turn it off and be happy
The scenario just never seems to matter when it comes to The Marx Brothers.For me,as funny as their films always are to me,they have a tendency to run together and I can never remember off the top of my head what plot goes with what film.They were always just so busy doing what they did so well that you were just too busy laughing.They were very good at making you not care what the plot was about at all.They were also so musically inclined that they could hypnotize you with that too.Every film was a grand showcase for their talent,and A Day at the Races was certainly no different.It's another gem from these multi talented genius's.
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