Embezzler, shill, all around confidence man S. Quentin Quale is heading west to find his fortune; he meets the crafty but simple brothers Joseph and Rusty Panello in a train station, where they steal all his money. They're heading west, too, because they've heard you can just pick the gold off the ground. Once there, they befriend an old miner named Dan Wilson whose property, Dead Man's Gulch, has no gold. They loan him their last ten dollars so he can go start life anew, and for collateral, he gives them the deed to the Gulch. Unbeknownst to Wilson, the son of his longtime rival, Terry Turner (who's also in love with his daughter, Eva), has contacted the railroad to arrange for them to build through the land, making the old man rich and hopefully resolving the feud. But the evil Red Baxter, owner of a saloon, tricks the boys out of the deed, and it's up to them - as well as Quale, who naturally finds his way out west anyway - to save the day.Written by
Gary Dickerson <email@example.com>
The name of Groucho Marx's character, "S. Quentin Quale", caused a stir when the film was first released due to the subtle but clear joke: the use of the term "San Quentin quail", which means "jail bait". See more »
Opening card: Foreword: In 1851, Horace Greeley uttered a phrase that did much to change the history of these United States. He said: Go West, young man, go west. This is the story of three men who made Horace Greeley sorry he said it. See more »
I have to go back to being somewhat of a contrarian on this one. The consensus is that Go West is passable, at least, but not one of the better Marx Brothers films. Tied up with that is the fact that Go West is a late-career Marx Brothers film. It's in their MGM period, which many fans consider not as good as their earlier Paramount period. They were all around 50 years old while shooting this one. The follow-up was The Big Store (1941), after which they announced that they were officially retiring as a comedy team. They ended up doing a couple more films together in the 1940s--A Night in Casablanca (1946) and Love Happy (1949), but the conventional wisdom has it that those were provoked more by a need to pay for Chico's gambling debts than they were by a desire to make a film together (which is not to say that they're not good films).
For me, however, Go West is another excellent entry in a long string of Marx Brothers films that are primarily 10 out of 10s. Maybe it's that I'm also a big fan of westerns, but this western spoof is sublimely enjoyable. Western parodies were big in 1940, the year of Go West's first release (its wide release came in 1941), with W.C. Fields' My Little Chickadee premiering in February and Jack Benny's Buck Benny Rides Again opening in May. Perhaps because of that climate, Go West did better critically and popularly when it opened than would be indicated by its current "middling" reputation. But as with anything, there is a lot of crowd following in opinions on films. The consensus tends to evolve over time, despite the fact that the films themselves do not change.
Go West has Groucho Marx in his usual huckster mode as S. Quentin Quale. He's short $10 for his train fare to head to the western United States. He spots Joseph (Chico Marx) and Rusty Panello (Harpo Marx), takes them for a couple suckers and tries to bilk them of $10. But they're better con artists than he is, and end up ripping him off instead.
Somehow they all end up out west anyway. Joseph and Rusty come into possession of the deed to Dead Man's Gulch, which Terry Turner (John Carroll) was hoping to sell (his grandfather is the one who gave it to Joseph and Rusty) to the railroad magnates back east so they can complete the first transcontinental line. Go West ends up being about a number of people attempting to con each other out of money and the deed, in a race to see who can get it to New York first.
Of course, the plot is primarily an excuse for a series of gags. Like usual, the comedy in the film is a balance between slapstick and intellectual humor. Appealing to my tastes, the Marx Brothers are often surrealistic in their humor, as well, both verbally and visually. They continually play "games" with the conventions of film in general and the western in particular, making this clear right off the bat--any pretense at holding the plot supreme is joyously sabotaged in the first 10 minutes when Go West becomes an extended gag instead (as the brothers try to bilk each other out of the money needed for train fare). The gag could just as well be set on any stage, in any context, and work the same. The name of the game is irreverence--towards film, towards the genre, and towards various other conventions, including those they have established for themselves in previous films--and the Marxes do it as well or better than anyone else.
The gags are pleasantly varied, but the film has some wonderfully serious moments that work well, too. Each brother gets a song, and each song is at least semi-sincere. Chico shows off his skills at the piano, eventually playing in the upper registers with a piece of fruit. During a scene where they have to spend the night with an Indian tribe, Harpo transforms a loom into a harp and ends up performing a beautiful jazz tune. Groucho plays guitar and gives us slightly bizarre singing that resides somewhere between authentic blues and vaudeville goofiness. Although these moments might at first seem like unwelcome breaks from the otherwise madcap proceedings, the songs are magnificent, and temporarily become transcendent moments that one wishes wouldn't end.
Go West is most famous, perhaps, for its climactic train sequence, and rightfully so. The brothers channel the Keystone Cops and produce an extended series of increasingly outrageous, surreal and hilarious stunts/gags. Buster Keaton's infamous film The General (1927) was an obvious influence, and in fact, Keaton was an uncredited writer for Go West, as Keaton was employed as a gag writer for MGM at this time. I don't want to give any of the material away here, but it's worth watching the film for the climax alone, and in fact, during the pre-VCR days when 8mm home projectors were all the rage, the ending of Go West was siphoned off and marketed by itself.
The Marx Brothers' performances are fine, of course, as are all of the technical elements, but the rest of the cast is great, too. Just watch the subtle range of attitudes that the two "villains" progress through while chasing the train in their relatively simple cart, for example. And of course, like always, it doesn't hurt that there are beautiful women around, even if there not in the film that much.
While I agree that Go West is perhaps not the best Marx Brothers film, that's only because they have so many 10s that it's too difficult to pick. Even if you end up thinking that it pales compared to their Paramount-era work, Go West is still worth seeing.
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