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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.
The Marx Brothers had a run of four critically and commercial popular
films for Paramount--but when DUCK SOUP was released in 1933 it tanked
in a major way, so much so that Paramount was suddenly unenthusiastic
about future projects. Enter Irving Thalberg, who was best known for
"prestige pictures" made at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a studio that tended
to emphasize family fare. Thalberg and MGM seemed an unlikely venue for
the anarchy of the Marx Brothers, but Thalberg had ideas--and the
result was two extremely popular films: A NIGHT AT THE OPERA and A DAY
AT THE RACES.
In both instances Thalberg placed the wild humor of the Marx Brothers at the service of a romantic subplot. Where RACES is concerned, that plot is particular bizarre. Judy Standish (Maureen O'Sullivan) has inherited a sanitarium and if she is unable to repay her debts she will be bought out by a casino! Her fiancée Gil (Alan Jones) has a plan to save the day: he has bought a race horse and hopes to win the money she needs. Judy finds the scheme ridiculous and turns instead to wealthy patient Emily Upjohn (the formidable Margaret Dumont)--who insists that Judy employ her favorite doctor, Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush. And with a name like that, this can only be one actor: Groucho Marx.
Marx Brothers fans argue a lot about whether the Paramount or MGM films were better. I tend to come down on the side of the Paramount films, which are edgier, but there's no denying that both A NIGHT AT THE OPERA and A DAY AT THE RACES are exceptionally entertaining films--and when you combine horse racing, a water ballet, a medical sanitarium, mistaken identities, and mix them thoroughly with some of the most outrageous one liners and set pieces imaginable... well, you have a classic on your hands. The whole thing is a hoot, and if you can get through the famous Florida call scene without busting a gut you need to go to a sanitarium yourself.
The DVD release offers an extremely good, if not entirely pristine, print of the film and it comes with several bonuses. Unfortunately, these are not particularly memorable; the commentary track is at best uninspired. But who cares when you've got the Marx Brothers zinging along very close to the peak of their skills? Strongly recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
With tomorrow the day that Groucho Marx died 30 years ago, three days after Elvis did, I thought I'd view what is now considered the last classic film he and his brothers would ever make: A Day at the Races. Highlights: "Tootsie-Fruitsie" ice cream sequence with Chico and Grouch, Groucho's dancing with both Margaret Dumont and Ester Muir (acceptable replacement for the late Themla Todd), the entire "operation" sequence with all Marxs, Dumont, and the hilarious reactions of Sig Ruman, Chico and Harpo's piano/harp sequence, the race at the end, and the musical sequence with Harpo playing flute with many energetic African-American performers dancing up a storm. Forget that the last group are stereotyped here, they're still entertaining. The romance between Allan Jones and Maureen O'Sullivan may slow the proceedings down at the beginning but they become more tolerable as the film goes on. A bit longish but still entertaining with some of the most funniest set-pieces in the Marx Brothers' careers, celebrate Groucho Marx by watching this or any of his earlier classic films with his brothers if you're really in the mood for some zany laughter!
If Thalberg had lived longer, chances are he would've tightened up the
pacing of this film, which does drag in spots. This is, however, the
last Marx Brothers film that was an "A" picture.
The brothers went along with Thalberg's plan to expand their audience by making them more sympathetic to women. This paid off in spades in their first two films for MGM, less so afterwards as production values gradually declined in their three other MGM pictures.
A Day At the Races was meant to be viewed in a movie theatre packed with people, and the "dead spots" between some lines of dialogue was intentional. Certain key scenes were rehearsed live in front of audiences, and the laughs were timed with stopwatches.
When filming, pauses were timed to coincide with the expected laugh time of the audience. Otherwise the audience would miss hearing some important dialogue.
Consequently, when viewed on TV, the film does drag a bit.
Leonard Maltin is right when he describes the plot as "The Marx Bros.
wreak havoc at the sanitarium." That about sums up the plot of this
typical Marx Bros. outing with MARGARET DUMONT in fine form as the
leading hypochondriac patient who thinks Groucho is Dr. Hackenbush.
Little does she knew he's a veterinarian.
It's classic Marx Bros. stuff, with the seduction scenes between Dumont and Marx rating some of the funniest laughs. In between there are a few song numbers, the most vivid being the extended water ballet sequence with ALLAN JONES on the vocals and some dazzling dancers photographed in blue/gray filters for this sequence only.
The plot has pretty MAUREEN O'SULLIVAN needing some fast cash to keep hold of ownership of the sanitarium, with the rich Dumont being their only hope--unless their race horse comes in. But the plot is of little consequence. The film is a series of running gags or vignettes that make as little sense as a crazy patchwork quilt. As a real medic, veteran comedian SIG RUMAN has fun with his role as Dr. Steinberg.
For Marx Bros. fans who can go with the flow, it's one of their top hits. No one else has much of a chance to shine and the songs Allan Jones is given to sing are pretty forgettable.
Strange that Sam Wood was chosen to direct this zany kind of farce. Production-wise it has the typical MGM gloss.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I think this may have been their second picture for MGM, made under
Thalberg, who died during filming. It was a personal loss to the Marx
Brothers because Irving Thalberg was a personal friend as well as a
tasteful if commercial executive. It didn't damage their performance.
The MGM films don't show the reckless antinomian impulses of their earlier Paramount films but they have better production values and what they lack in anarchy they make up for in structure. This is a very funny movie if you're in the mood for this kind of comedy.
It has some classic set pieces and some memorable Marx-Brothers lines. I'll just mention a few in passing, without getting into the story because the story, as usual, doesn't amount to much and ends in a silly horse race.
1. The scene involving Chico as a tout at the race track and Groucho seduced by his siren call, always discovering that each item he buys from Chico requires the purchase of yet another item for decoding purposes.
2. The medical examination of Margaret Dumont by Groucho, a veterinarian posing as a doctor, under the scrutiny of two real doctors, including a skeptical Sig Rumann. The farcical goings on destroy the set when they wind up with the overhead sprinklers turned on. "Are you MAD?" Dumont screams. "No, we're not mad, just terribly hurt," Groucho mutters and the brothers exit the examining room on horseback.
3. "All God's Children Got Rhythm." It takes place in an African-American shanty town, a musical number in which the darkies are led around by Harpo playing a pennywhistle. Yes, it's racist, but the performances by the black cast can't be faulted. (They include a young Dorothy Dandridge.) The jitterbug numbers are brief but stunning. The three couples are really excellent dancers, and it's not just a matter of radiating some inner agency. Sometimes a dancer pauses, holding a pose for a beat, the way Fred Astaire (but not Gene Kelly) did. Their timing is exquisite. The troupe we see are "Whitey's Lindy Hoppers," organized in the mid-30s by the head bouncer at the Savoy Ballroom in New York. "Who dat man?"
4. Finally, I won't really try to describe the scene in which Groucho tries to seduce the blond Thelma Todd and is constantly interrupted by Chico and Harpo in various disguises, except to note that when Todd enters Groucho's hotel room, she hands him her coat. "I always take the wrap," he says, throwing it on the floor. "Thank you," says Todd. "Thank YOU!" (Can't help chuckling as I think about it.)
See it if you can.
'A Day at the Races' has small bits that reach the magic of the Marx
Brothers we have seen in 'Duck Soup' and 'A Night at the Opera',
although as a whole it does not come close to both. If you consider
those two movies as their highpoint this is the first stop in their
slide down, which of course means it still is pretty funny.
Here we have Groucho as Dr. Hackenbush, a vet pretending to be a doctor, who must be the savior of a sanitarium that almost has to close its doors. A rich woman (Maragret Dumont) really likes the doctor so her money could be very useful. The sanitarium is owned by Judy (Maureen O 'Sullivan) and the man who loves her, Gil (Allan Jones), hopes to win the money with a new race horse he has bought. Chico and Harpo Marx have the same goals although their characters are mainly there for some great moments of comedy.
Yes, there are some great moments here. There is an early scene where Chico helps Groucho making a bet which is hilarious even though it goes on and on, Harpo has some great mime acts, and of course we have the usual musical number with the piano (the other musical numbers are quite dull). Simply said, there is nothing wrong with 'A Day at the Races', it only has the disadvantage that it comes right after 'Duck Soup' and 'A Night at the Opera'. They were funny from start to finish, constantly giving us a smile on our face. 'A Day at the Races' is definitely funny, but not the entire time.
After the success of Night at the Opera, the Marx Bros. were
sensational again. Reunited with Night at the Opera director Sam Wood,
A Day at the Races was their second movie with MGM, and it is widely
agreed that this was their last "great" film. Chico, Harpo, and Allan
Jones (also from Night at the Opera) come up with a plan to make money
in a horse race to save Maureen O'Sullivan's Sanitarium. Groucho, in
his favorite role, plays the horse doctor posing as Psychiatrist Hugo
Z. Hackenbush. The plots are never that important so I'll stop there.
The comedy routines are hysterical, which is all you need to know. God
bless Margaret Dumont for putting up with the examination scene!
Unfortunately, this doesn't mean the movie is perfect. The MGM Marx Bros. films recycled the same love story in all of their movies, so they tend to drag. The musical numbers are far too long and just plain boring. There is one scene where the Bros. appear in black face to blend in with an all black chorus; needless to say this scene is offensive. This film's ending is just not up to par with Duck Soup, Night at the Opera, or Horsefeathers.
Still, this is a must see for any Marx Bros. fan. The Tootsie-Fruitsie Ice Cream skit and Groucho's shenanigans on the telephone are classics. A Day at the Races was the Bros. most financially successful film. From here on out the Marx Bros. films declined. Groucho, Harpo, and Chico were never able to reach the top again. Well, Groucho did make a comeback in the world of television, but that's a different story.
I know most persons like the Paramount Marxes best! And Maybe it's the better ones for the pure Marxists (Not Karl of course). I can also agree with the ones that think the MGM Marx Brothers pix had too many operatic numbers! What this movie had was the gloss MGM feel with outlandish slapstick! We get the famous Ice-cream scene, which is actually another front for Chico and betting. Groucho who is actually a horse doctor or vet, but yet as always pains the life of Margaret Dumunt. That is where the hand washing comes in!. I'm not sure of the interviews with Groucho in early 70's on Dick Cavett, that Margaret Dumont never understood that they joked with her. Without telling spoilers! somehow the scenes in Young Frankenstein when they say Frau Bluscher! and a horse gets mad, can come from this film, even if the reason is very different. Anyway I think this is one of the Marx Brothers broadest funniest pix they made!
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