Casino operator Johnny Lamb hires down-on-her-luck socialite Lucille Sutton as his casino hostess, in order to help her and to improve casino income. But Lamb's pals fear he may follow ... See full summary »
The Marx Brothers try and put on a play before their landlord finds out that they have run out of money. To confuse the landlord they pretend that the play's author has contracted some terrible disease and can't be moved. Originally a stage play, the setting shows it's origins, but this is vintage Marx Brothers. Written by
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When Gordon Miller calls to reception pretending to be Dr. Glass, he is holding the phone receiver with his right hand. Seconds later, when he is about to hang up, he is holding it with his left hand. See more »
ROOM SERVICE (RKO Radio, 1938), directed by William A. Seiter, is a different kind of Marx Brothers comedy: their sole venture at RKO Radio; their first and only comedy based on a Broadway play not originated by them; the only one that was remade; and one of the few in which Groucho assumes an ordinary name, not the unusual ones like Rufus T. Firefly or Otis B. Driftwood. Although he, Chico and Harpo resume their traditional costumes and characters, they don't take time out to sing, play the piano or harp, nor do they create havoc by chasing or insulting women. (Margaret Dumont, where are you?) It does return them to a hotel backdrop, which has served them well with both play and screen adaptations of THE COCOANUTS with Groucho as hotel manager. This time around he plays an unpaying guest. While the brothers do practically have the entire movie to themselves, for a change anyway, a couple of production numbers near the end might have helped to bring some life into this comedy considering that it being based on a play, has become exactly what it is, a filmed stage play, with no underscoring and little camera movement though plenty of movement from its principle players.
The story takes place at the White Way Hotel in the Times Square section of New York City. Gordon Miller (Groucho) is a theatrical producer, along with Harry Binelli (Chico), his associate and director, Faker Englund (Harpo), the brains of the organization, "which will give you the idea of the organization," quotes Miller; and a cast of 22 actors awaiting for the backing of a new show. Miller's bill has reached $1200 and is long overdue. The reason he is able to remain as long as he has is because Joe Gribble (Cliff Dunstan), the hotel manager, happens to be his brother-in-law. However, the hotel may soon acquire vacancies due the arrival of Gregory Wagner (Donald MacBride), a hotel efficiency expert, who has come to inspect the books. Christine (Lucille Ball), Miller's secretary, arranges for Simon Jenkins (Philip Wood), a potential backer, to meet with him, but in due time. Enter the arrival of Leo Davis (Frank Albertson), author of "Hail and Farewell," penniless, who comes to board with Miller until the play's opening. Through tricks and deceit, Miller arranges to have food brought into the rooms, and keeps from getting evicted by having Leo faking his illness (measles), with Christine later acting as his "nurse" to Faker as he fills in for Leo (and pretending suicide at one point) while the young playwright finds time for lovemaking with Hilda Manny (Ann Miller), the girl he loves, while all becoming hotel prisoners until the play's opening. "Jumping butterballs!!" Labeling ROOM SERVICE as either the weakest or funniest of the Marx Brothers comedies relies solely on the individual viewer. By today's standards, it can be judged as a hit or miss comedy. Donald MacBride, who originated his Wagner role on stage, along with several others in the cast, has become a familiar face in many subsequent film outings, however, his constant shouting of "Jumping Butterfalls" does grow tiresome after a while. With the exception where the cast of the play gathers together singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," the acting troupe implied is never seen. In spite of weaknesses and strong points, with Groucho and Chico nearly playing it straight, along with Lucille Ball, the screenplay does have its quota of laughs, mostly from the silent Harpo, even with little to do, never disappointing as being the funniest of the Marx trio, especially with his blank stare upon the arrival of Leo; his method of steadily eating his food portion without taking a moment to pause and chew; and the chasing of a live turkey he had acquired from a raffle for a meal across the room; as well as his fake suicide and how his "body" must be disposed of without arousing suspicion. "Jumping butterballs!"
Unlike their ventures at MGM, RKO has allowed the Marx Brothers to be surrounded by character actors in the comedic sense. Instead of casting a handsome, serious-minded leading man with a flare for singing, they acquire Frank Albertson as a naive playwright. Fine casting, though the likes of WC FIelds' own Grady Sutton might have added more humor to the story. Then there's Charles Halton as Doctor Glass; Alexander Asro as Sasha Smirnoff, the Russian waiter who sneaks in a meal to Miller in hope of landing a part in his next play; Philip Loeb as Timothy Hogarth; among others.
As already mentioned, ROOM SERVICE was remade, six years later, as STEP LIVELY (RKO, 1944) with Frank Sinatra, George Murphy, Gloria DeHaven, Anne Jeffries, Wally Brown and Alan Carney in the Albertson, Groucho, Ball, Miller, Harpo and Chico roles, which in numerous ways, improves over the original as being faster paced, and as the title implies, "lively," yet it is the Marx Brothers 78 minute adaptation to be the one remembered most due to frequent revivals, starting with commercial television prior to 1985 (with the original RKO logo substituted with a Movietime or C&C Television title-cards and the elimination of end casting credits), video cassette since the 1980s (with original distributor being Nostalgia Merchant to Turner Home Entertainment , to its current availability on DVD. ROOM SERVICE used to be a frequent check-in on American Movie Classics prior to 2001, but currently registers well on Turner Classic Movies ever since its premiere in 1994. "Hail and Farewell." (***1/2)
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