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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
Here's the Thing. If You Like Raw, Unfettered, Unpolished, Marx
Brothers Without Sometimes Intrusive Overblown and Dated Musical
Numbers, the Paramount Films are It. The MGM's were Ultra-Polished,
Audience Tested, Over Thought, Overblown, and Slick.
This is the Longest of the Brother's Movies and it Feels Like it. The Musical Numbers Go on and On and the Romantic Subplot with Alan Jones and Maureen O' Sullivan is as Sappy as it Gets, and the Conclusion, the Race Itself is So Overstuffed it Can Feel Like a Marathon.
But, the Marx's Comedy Routines are Superb and Despite the Attention to Detail and the Glossy Production of the Ballet, it is the Jitterbugging, African-American Number, "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm" Combined with "Who Dat Man" that Highlight.
The Zany Medical Examination, and Tutsi Frutsi Ice Cream Skits are Classic Marx Brothers Routines and are the Most Remembered. The Movie May Seem Long, and It Is, the Energy May Dissipate at Times, but Still, This is a Prime Marx Brothers Movie and Most Fans Place it in the Top Half of All Their Output.
Paramount or MGM...Take Your Pick...In the End it's Still...The Marx Brothers...and You Can't Get Any Better in Depression Era, or Any Era, Comedy.
'A Day At The Races' is another laugh riot from the Marx Brothers. Ranging from slapstick to dialogue oriented humour, the story may be uneven and at times it may feel like a series of sketches connected together into one story, this film remains a fun watch. More than 70 years have passed but this is proof that a great comedy will survive and go on for decades. The inclusion of music, such as the song and dance sequences were also a delight to watch. The three brothers display their comedic gifts but for me it is Chico Marx who stands out. Maureen O'Sullivan gives a charming performance and Margaret Dumont is hilarious, especially in her scenes with Groucho. There are several memorable laugh-out-loud scenes but it is the final race sequence that tops them all. Many seem to have a problem with the way black people were portrayed in this film. However, I found that song sequence a sheer delight and perhaps one of the best parts of the movie. Regarding the painted face, I don't think that part was designed to be derogatory or a joke on black people but to show how the stupid authorities (who were searching for the three brothers) fail to see beyond skin colour.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a Marx Brothers fan, I have much praise for "A Day at the Races," a
screwball comedy starring our heroes Groucho, Chico, and Harpo! Groucho
is Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush, a horse doctor who takes over as chief of
staff at a sanitarium. Chico is Tony, sanitarium chauffeur. Harpo is
Stuffy, a jockey at the nearby racetrack. Together the threesome, along
with the handsome tenor Gil Stewart (Allan Jones), rally to help the
lovely Judy Standish (Maureen O'Sullivan) maintain her rightful
ownership of the sanitarium. And that's all I need to reveal about the
plot. (Don't read any further if you haven't yet seen this picture.)
My favorite highlights from "A Day at the Races" - and believe me, there are many - include the following. In the unforgettable "tootsie frootsie ice cream" scene at the racetrack, Tony gyps Dr. Hackenbush out of his money by selling him loads of books containing phony racing tips. The medical examination of the humorless Mrs. Emily Upjohn (Margaret Dumont) is absolutely WACKY! Hackenbush does some clever telephone voice acting in order to distract Judy's crooked business manager Mr. Whitmore (Leonard Ceeley). There is a grand musical celebration involving Stuffy and the African-American community in a combination of singing, cheering, playing games, playing instruments, jitterbugging, and overall merrymaking. (The singing of "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm" is led by Ivie Anderson, for years a staple with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.) During the dance - featuring excellent musical accompaniment conducted by Franz Waxman - Hackenbush repeatedly switches his partner from Mrs. Upjohn to a rather sneaky blonde (Esther Muir). Stuffy completely destroys a grand piano with Rachmaninoff's famous Prelude in C-Sharp Minor (which in real life Harpo once played repeatedly on the harp just to annoy the composer), and then he plays the piano's soundboard like a harp. Tony and Stuffy add a lot of loud, boisterous hilarity to Hackenbush's quiet dinner date with the aforementioned sly blonde. Every time Tony gives a five dollar bill to the sheriff (Robert Middlemass), Stuffy secretly takes the bill out of the sheriff's pocket and gives it back to Tony. Dr. Hackenbush's medical examination of Stuffy is zany, with several memorable lines that could only come from Groucho.
"A Day at the Races" might not exactly be the BEST Marx Bros. comedy every made - the water carnival ballet interferes with the comedic pacing of this film, for example - but it is still a winner. It's quite astonishing how many tricks the Marx Bros. can think of in order to stall the final horserace while they are able to sneak Gil Stewart's thoroughbred (named Hi Hat) onto the track, with Stuffy as the jockey, of course. At the very end of the picture, when Hi Hat wins the race and all the principal protagonists parade around the track, Hackenbush bursts into a snippet of song, and his one brief phrase is very lyrical. It may be a pity that Groucho doesn't sing more often in this film, but this is more than made up for in other Marx Bros. films.
A Day At The Races was probably the Marx brothers' last wholly brilliant movie. After this they made more films which had some outstanding comic moments, but were on the whole lesser efforts. This movie doesn't compare too well against "Duck Soup" or any of their previous movies, but it had a lot of brilliant moments. Chico conning Groucho, Harpo destroying a piano and removing a harp from the wreckage, the climactic horse race and best of all is the scene where Groucho, Harpo and Chico are dressed as doctors and are about to examine Margaret Dumont. This is their longest film and unfortunately the extra time is not devoted to the comedy. Allen Jones is given too much screen time and his songs are painfull intrusions on the comedy. MGM's persistance in including romantic sublots may have been a wise financial move when it was made, but now I have to fast forward through every one of Allen Jones's scenes for fear of dying of boredom. 8 out of 10.
A Day at the Races was made after A Night at the Opera, and it isn't as good a film. It also pales in comparison with earlier Marx Brothers films like Duck Soup and Horse Feathers. Nevertheless, it is still a very entertaining picture, with some very funny sequences. The scene with Chico selling Groucho the race tips must rank as one of the group's best. All in all, well worth seeing if you are a fan of the Marx Brothers or a comedy fan in general.
I have become a huge fan of the marx brothers movies, and this one is no exception. A day at the races may not have as much historical significance as some of their other works, but, regardless, it is still an utterly amusing experience to watch. The fast paced dialogue of Groucho and Chico's accent thrive. And this is one of the Marx movies that even better exemplifies Harpo's talents for pantomime, as can be demonstrated in his explanation scene to Chico (a true comedic scene for the ages). Also, the bedroom scene with all three and Groucho's 'woman', the ice cream selling scene, and of course the hilarious finales (charachteristic of all Marx movies) make for some of the priceless comedic follies of film history, and set a great model for today's comedic movies to follow (hint hint) This is the classic stuff, and it's what is really funny. More so, its funny without profanity... something very few funny movies of today can attest to.
How does one begin? Groucho is Dr. Hugo Hackenbush, a veterinarian who has human patients. Chico is a sort of con man and Harpo is a jockey. In order to save the day, a horse with a minimal reputation must be taught to run and save a sanitarium. It's ironic that the Marx Brothers would be in such close proximity to such a place. In addition to Groucho's frantic repartee, there is another wonderful performance by hypochondriac Margaret Dumont who in a hissy fit is about to turn her back on the sanitarium because her doctor has said there is nothing wrong with her. Meanwhile, there is the usual cast of nefarious bad guys who have an investment in stopping the horse from being successful. The boys must hide the horse and figure out a way to get him to run. In the middle of all this is music by Harpo, a group of black gospel singers from that part of town, and the romantic efforts of Groucho toward Dumont who cluelessly goes about her business among this craziness. Of course, there are ridiculous racing scenes that add to the comic soup. Like all Marx brothers movies, it's a series of bits and comic schtick, but sit back and enjoy.
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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