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|Index||61 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"A Day at the Races" gets off to a start in the Standish Sanitarium,
and that should tell you something about this Marx Brothers movie.
Perennial hypochondriac Emily Upjohn (Margaret Dumont) may provide the
financial key to solvency for owner Judy Standish (Maureen O'Sullivan),
but only if experienced and trusted psychiatrist Hugo Z. Hackenbush
(Groucho) can be persuaded to take over. Translate that horse doctor
Hackenbush, who in the course of the film is conned by Chico in a
version of the "tootsie fruitsie" scam, gets plastered by both Chico
and Harpo as he woos blonde troublemaker Flo (Esther Muir), and dons
black face grease along with both brothers in the finale of an all
black musical number featuring "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm".
As others have noted in their postings, the musical numbers can get tedious, and for his part, Groucho doesn't have his way with the one liners as effectively as in some of the Marx Brothers' more appreciated films. But the maniacal frenzy is still there, punctuated by the horse race finale of the title, appropriately sealing the fate of the sanitarium in a twist when jockey Harpo loses his horse "High Hat" to an aggressive jockey who winds up taking him across the finish line.
There is one particular scene though in the "Winter Carnival" interlude that amazed me, as dancer Vivien Fey literally turns into a spinning top, encircling the dance floor in a blur. I've seen it done on a pair of skates, but to see it performed by Fey on tiptoe was truly incredible - and at the finish she was still standing!
Oh, and lest I forget, the romantic subplot to the story involves Maureen O'Sullivan and Allan Jones in an off again, on again relationship that doesn't really serve to move the story along other than Jones' character providing the financial backing for "High Hat", but with the Marx Brothers involved, the outcome of the race is never in jeopardy.
Strange as it sounds, a three-and-a-half star movie like "A Day at the
Races" represents a slump for the Marx Brothers, who'd been hitting grand
slams for years. Still, this is one of their best latter-day movies.
Groucho's masquerade as a "proper" doctor is brilliant, and Chico gets some
unusually strong material since he acts as the friend and confidant of
Maureen O'Sullivan, one of the loveliest and most likable Marx heroines.
The movie's pacing is off, particularly when the action grinds to a halt for a lengthy musical number involving some tacky blackface. For years, I used to watch a version taped off TV that was actually better than the theatrical cut, because it edited out the brief and unnecessary moments of racist humor and kept the action moving faster. But I've managed to come to terms with the flawed complete cut, even if it is a bummer to discover new footage that pretty much reeks.
All the film's sins are forgiven in the final reel, when the Marx Brothers cut loose for wild tomfoolery on the racetrack. The tricks they pull to delay the race are awesome, and the action builds furiously to a great "fakeout" ending.
Apropos of nothing, I watched "A Day at the Races" after seeing Smarty Jones lose his Triple Crown bid. It seemed appropriate. Maybe Harpo slipped some soap under Smarty's saddle...
The plot is something about Groucho running a sanitarium but that's not important. What is important is the comedy...the Marx Brothers were at their peak when this was made and they're fantastic. Their comedy bits are uproarious. But this is not as good as "Duck Soup" or "A Night at the Opera". Two big problems--the boring romantic pairing (and acting) of Maureen O'Sullivan and Allan Jones (some of the dialogue is horrid beyond belief) and some truly wretched musical numbers that go on forever. The Winter Carnival sequence is bearable (it's tinted blue in the print I saw, but it didn't help), but the song with the black singers and dancers is truly offensive. I realize it wasn't offensive back then but it is today. All the black people are so happy and cheerful and overacting that it's embarassing to watch. To make matters worse, the Marx Brothers actually smear grease on their faces so they appear in black face! Sad. Still, this gets an 8 for the comedy alone. See it on video or DVD where you can skip the musical numbers. Get rid of those and you have one hell of a movie.
*** 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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A Day at the Races is a funnier film than A Night at the Opera, but it
is also seriously flawed. Judy Standish (Maureen O'Sullivan) is the
unlikely owner of a failing sanitarium that appears to have only one
patient, the rich Mrs. Upjohn (Margaret Dumont). Judy is in love with
Gil Stewart (Allan Jones, again), a radio singer who buys a horse named
High Hat without realizing he's a jumper, not a race horse. Mrs. Upjohn
suggests that Judy hire Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho) to take over
the sanitarium, which Morgan (Douglas Dumbrille) wants to buy to turn
into a gambling casino. The only problem is that nobody knows that Dr.
Hackenbush is a horse doctor.
In one of the funniest scenes ever filmed, Chico, as the "Tootsie-Fruitsie" ice cream man, sells Groucho a whole library of books (concealed in his ice cream wagon) on how to win at the races. Another hilarious moment is when Chico gets Harpo admitted to the sanitarium as a patient. Groucho, upon examining him, finds him to be human, but just barely. Towards the end of the film. Mrs. Upjohn is examined by Dr. Leopold X. Steinberg of Vienna (Sig Rumann), whose goatee comes to a perfect point (Groucho: "And don't point that beard at me-it might go off!")
MGM was well-known for making the longest pictures in the industry, and there is a lot of unnecessary material here. The overproduced "Water Carnival" adds nothing to the movie, and the scene where the Brothers hide out in the "colored" neighborhood is offensive even by 1937 standards, despite the fine singing of Duke Ellington's Ivie Anderson.
Producer Iving Thalberg died during the filming, and Groucho felt that nobody else on the lot cared about the Marx Brothers (certainly not Louis B. Mayer, who despised him). The stupid plot device that ends the film would never have been approved by Thalberg. High Hat (with Harpo riding) is racing in the steeplechase against Morgan's horse. At the final jump, the horses land in a mud puddle, throwing both jockeys. Dazed, they climb back on, and Morgan's horse wins. Or does he? It seems that the jockeys climbed on the wrong horses, so High Hat's the winner! Nobody seems to care that Harpo actually lost the race. This lame ending spoils what could have been a truly great Marx Brothers film.
A DAY AT THE RACES (1937) **** The Marx Brothers running amok at the horse races with some brilliantly funny dialogue and outrageous bits of physical comedy, respectively by Groucho, Chico and Harpo. One of their best.
The Marx Brothers were the Beatles of comedy. And you could take any of a number of their films, and it would be funnier than anything produced in the last twenty years. This is a good example They play their usual selves. Groucho is the authority figure who is just as big a cheat and fake as Chico, who is the poor bum scheming to get ahead, and the great Harpo is the silent bum who is so much like a child. Dumont is the usual high society lady who Groucho antagonizes. And now we have the stunningly beautiful Maureen O'Sullivan playing the heroine. All we need now are gags. And they deliver. There's the scene where Groucho, Chico, and Harpo prepare for an examination, the scene where Groucho acts like different people on a telephone call with a bad guy. The "tutti frutti" scene. Plenty of great scenes. This has a plot, by the way. Saving a sanitarium from being taken over by a bad guy. As usual, logic does not become involved. Just great gags that make you roll over laughing, done by the masters.
If you insist on NOT being offended by a horribly politically incorrect portion of the film, then either don't watch the film or try to see it on regular network TV (where the offensive segment is usually excised). Harpo Marx has a song and dance number with a group of Black people that is sure to offend almost everyone. However, from a historical sense, it is quite a scene! Now, for the rest of the film. This movie is about as funny as A NIGHT AT THE OPERA but it fortunately has less singing. Groucho is at his best as Dr. Hackenbush, the vet who is mistaken for a human doctor and becomes the head of a sanitarium. It's high energy and silly and sure to please fans of the Marxes.
Call me a feminist but "That's not funny"
Not exactly LOL amusing. Maybe its an age thing. The film is after all 63 years old. Sure, I smiled but missed splitting my sides a la Something about Mary or Galaxy Quest.
For my money Hellzapoppin was a far brighter film. The dance sequences, particularly with the jolly negroes are spurious. They may have been bold and inclusive when the film was made but they seem stereotypical now.
The pizza I ordered to go with the movie was good though.
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