Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Prince and the Showgirl

Year 7, Day 101 - 4/11/15 - Movie #2,001

BEFORE: I would have loved for Movie #2001 to be something from the world of sci-fi, which could have been a nice tribute to Kubrick or Arthur C. Clarke, but it wasn't meant to be.  Instead I'm playing upon the link between Groucho Marx and Marilyn Monroe (last seen in "How to Marry a Millionaire"). They co-starred in one film, "Love Happy", which I'm not inclined to watch.  But this allows me to get the Laurence Olivier chain out of the way.  

Here's how the rest of April will shake down: Olivier/Shakespeare, Marlon Brando, a week of Robert Redford, some Steenburgen, a couple of De Niros, a couple Sean Penns, a couple Kristin Wiigs, and then I'll be set up for the new Avengers film.  It's a bit convoluted but I'm satisfied with the plan.

THE PLOT: An American showgirl gets entangled in political intrigue after the prince regent of a foreign country attempts to seduce her.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "My Week With Marilyn" (Movie #1,769)

AFTER: At first it seems quite jarring, going from the Marx Brothers to Olivier - a bit like reading MAD Magazine before you start your English Literature homework.  But this really worked out fine - Groucho played the ruler of a fictional country named Freedonia in "Duck Soup", and here Olivier plays the ruler of a fictional country called Carpathia.  I had to check Wikipedia, but Carpathia is a European region, not a country - it's only a country in this film and in "Ghostbusters II".  

(Additionally, "Duck Soup" was the film-within-a-film seen in "Hannah and Her Sisters", and this was the film-within-a-film referred to in "My Week With Marilyn".  Small point of order.)

Olivier always seemed like a bit of an odd duck to me - classically trained, of course, but by the time I was old enough to know who he was, he was (I assume) scrambling for roles in the 1970's, playing Van Helsing in a Dracula remake and then Neil Diamond's father in a re-working of "The Jazz Singer".  I probably knew him best as Zeus in "Clash of the Titans", but this film proves that he missed his true calling - appearing on "Get Smart" as the German-accented head of KAOS.  (Meanwhile, the role of Franz Liebkind in "The Producers" remained forever tantalizingly just out of his reach.)

Which is my way of saying that he really hams it up here as a German-like Grandduke, monocle and all, who invites an American actress to dinner while he's in London for the coronation of King George (I'm gonna say VI, but I'm terrible with British king numbering) in 1911.  Nope, it's George V - another tip of the hat to Wikipedia.  The implication here is that any woman in London would jump at the chance to have dinner at the embassy with the Grandduke, followed by a roll in the hay (OK, probably some velvet cushions) and then some lovely parting gifts, thank you for playing.  

But this is an AMERICAN showgirl, meaning she's got moxie.  Or she's too dumb to take a hint and GTFO, either way works.  Before she can do the walk of shame, she's spotted by the Grand Dowager, who either assumes that her son-in-law has a new steady girlfriend, or she invites her to the coronation as her lady-in-waiting just to piss him off, either way works.  The point is, she sticks around the embassy for, I don't know, three days (?) wearing the same evening gown.  I think she may have even slept in it, which is kind of nasty.  Even Marilyn Monroe wouldn't seem too fresh after three days sewn into that dress. 

There's an attempt at a reversal here, after a few contrivances that keep the chorus girl at the embassy long past her expiration date, she tries her hand at political maneuvering, but in the form of a seduction, similar to the one that the Grandduke tried on her - alcohol, violins, a little flattery.  And he didn't seem to even notice, or he didn't care - either way works.  Yep, a land war in Europe got delayed a whole three years, thanks to Marilyn Monroe - that's a historical fact, look it up if you don't believe me.

NITPICK POINT: The coronation scene itself is embarrassingly short on details - we don't get to see King George or his bride, or even stand-ins pretending to be them.  Instead we're focused on Monroe's character as she stares wistfully at a few stained glass windows, and we get to feel all the wonder and excitement of her reading her church program.  

Also starring Laurence Olivier (last seen in "Rebecca"), Sybil Thorndike (last seen in "Stage Fright"), Jeremy Spenser (last seen in "Kind Hearts and Coronets"), Richard Wattis (last seen in "The Man Who Knew Too Much"), Paul Hardwick (last seen in "Octopussy"), Esmond Knight.

RATING: 3 out of 10 vodka shots

Friday, April 10, 2015

Duck Soup

Year 7, Day 100 - 4/10/15 - Movie #2,000

BEFORE: It's finally here, big movie #2K, and I should probably be thrilled, but instead I'm just sort of strung out and exhausted.  Not from watching movies, although I'm sure staying up so late every night doesn't help, but really work's been a bear dealing with the release of CHEATIN' in theaters across the U.S., and doing the necessary publicity and promotion work, also working out my boss's travel schedule for making appearances at screenings across the country.  I'll finally have a chance to catch up on some accounting work and other projects while he's gone, provided there aren't too many daily fires to put out.

This is going to wrap things up for my Marx Brothers chain, I wish I could say it's been a blast, but mostly it's been pretty blah.  Call me crazy, but I'll take a modern-day comedy, as crappy as they are, over one made in the 1930's.  These films definitely had their time, but that whole era no longer exists - plus there's the inherent sadness that comes from watching images of dead people on the screen.  Sure, their work lives on, but it's sort of like watching ghosts.  Moderately amusing ghosts.

THE PLOT:  Rufus T. Firefly is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighboring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Great Dictator" (Movie #1,887)

AFTER: Definitely the best of the bunch as far as Marx Brothers films go - and I'm not sure I can exactly quantify why, but it's something to do with this film being just pure nonsense from start to finish.  In other films like "Horse Feathers" or "A Day at the Races", we see the boys in more realistic situations like a school or a sporting event, very regulated places that get infected with their brand of controlled chaos.  But putting them in a fictional country with no rules, essentially setting them wild, that's another story.

Just to think there's a country where someone can be appointed president on a rich woman's say-so, well that kind of contradicts the "Free" in "Freedonia", doesn't it?  And Rufus T. Firefly's decrees are contradictory, right from the start - laying down unreasonable laws (in song, of course) about chewing gum and taxes, graft and marriage.  Of course, Zeppo's in tow as Firefly's right-hand man, the same position he held in Capt. Spaulding's employ.

The other two brothers show up (together, as usual) as spies for Sylvania, assigned to get the dirt on Firefly.  And of course they go directly from selling him peanuts to being members of his cabinet.  What better way to keep an eye on him?  

This film is perhaps most famous for the "mirror" sequence, where Chico and Harpo dress in similar nightclothes as Groucho's character, and when they're spotted, they pretend to be his reflection in a mirror, so he doesn't realize that an enemy spy is in the room.  This highlights an interesting aspect of the four brothers - if you take away the wigs, hats, glasses and greasepaint, supposedly they all looked very much alike.  That probably explains why they wore the distinguishing wigs and hats in the first place.  Zeppo even worked as Groucho's stand-in during the power outage scenes in "Animal Crackers", allowing them to keep shooting the film on a day that Groucho wasn't available.

So here they put the old family resemblance to good use - when you dress Harpo and Chico up in similar nightgowns, and give them fake glasses and greasepaint moustaches, of course they're going to look like Groucho, enough to pass as his own reflection.  But I do have a NITPICK POINT about the scene - it's set up with the breaking of an actual mirror, and there's glass all over the floor.  Mere seconds later, Groucho arrives and naturally mistakes the disguised Harpo for his own reflection, because there was a mirror there before (and conveniently, an identical looking room on the other side).  But where did all the broken glass go?  There certainly wasn't enough time to clean it all up.

I'm sorry, I know it's a comedy and should be therefore taken as the stuff of nonsense - but these are the little things that bother me.  This is also the film that Woody Allen is seen watching in "Hannah and Her Sisters" when he's depressed and suicidal and needs cheering up.  God, what does that say about me, if this film cheers up Woody, but it's not doing the same for me?  I mean, I enjoyed it all right, it's a funny film, but it wouldn't even crack into my Top 10 list of favorite comedies.  To each his own, I guess.    

Also starring Margaret Dumont (also carrying over from "Animal Crackers"), Raquel Torres, Louis Calhern (last seen in "Notorious"), Charles Middleton (last seen in "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House").

RATING: 5 out of 10 burning hats

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Animal Crackers

Year 7, Day 99 - 4/9/15 - Movie #1,999

BEFORE: While we were in Atlantic City, we had dinner one night at Gallagher's steakhouse - I've never eaten at one of their locations before, perhaps because the name conjures up images of a certain comedian who smashes things with a giant mallet, and that seems like no way to serve food in a classy restaurant.  Perhaps that's ridiculous, but it exemplifies the same sort of clash between low comedy and high society that one tends to see in Marx Brothers films.

Another quandary tonight - if I watch the last few Marx Brothers films online, that doesn't help out my watchlist at all, which now risks being stuck at 169 for three days.  And since I have just 200 viewing slots left for the year, I still could conceivably finish this year, but only if I can manage to add no more than 30 more films (a slot for "Avengers: Age of Ultron" is already taken).  

So, I'll watch two films today, Thursday - these Marx Brothers films are fairly short, anyway - and then the last one tomorrow, and by Saturday I'll be back to where I'm making progress in reducing the list again.  

THE PLOT:  Mayhem and zaniness ensue when a valuable painting goes missing during a party in honor of famed African explorer Captain Spaulding.

AFTER:  This is the one where Groucho plays the explorer who's appearing as a guest at a party at the Long Island mansion of Mrs. Rittenhouse.  Zeppo arrives in two as Spaulding's right-hand man, and then soon Chico arrives as Emanuel Ravelli, a musician to play at the party, and Harpo follows as his cohort, "The Professor".  Together they make $10 an hour to play, and $12 an hour to not play.

Harpo's Professor proceeds to grab a gun and within 5 minutes, he's firing at the guests and servants like ducks in a shooting gallery, which is an odd direction to take things, but before long a pretty maid walks by, so he drops the gun and starts to chase her.  Nothing like a little mass shooting and non-consensual sex to liven up a party.  Is it me, or were there different standards for humor back in 1930?  

Ravelli and the Professor also liven up the place by blatantly cheating at a bridge game, adding extra aces when needed, and tearing up the cards they don't need. After that it's delay, delay, delay until the painting is stolen.  And then delay, delay, delay while everyone talks about looking for the painting, but no one really does anything to look for it. 

In the end, nearly everyone confesses to stealing the painting, which seems a little confusing.  I can understand why the young man who painted a similar painting has a motive for confessing (sort of), but why was everyone else so eager to take credit?  Then the painting - which not only resembles a poster more than a canvas, but also manages to take a fair amount of folding and beating for a valuable work of art - is restored to its owner, and everything just goes back to normal, I guess, except that the Professor proceeds to drug everyone with a pesticide sprayer.  That suggests either a mass Jonestown-like killing or a party at Bill Cosby's house.  He proceeds to lie down next to a pretty girl, so I'm going with the latter.  

Again, this seems to all come from a different time, where humor wasn't like it is now.  Although this film is famous for Groucho's quips like "One time, I shot an elephant in my pajamas.  How he got in my pajamas, I don't know."  And his wisecrack to Chico on the piano, "Say, if you get near a song, play it!"  Chico indeed does play a song, which sounds a lot like the 1950's song "Catch a Falling Star", but it's really his trademark song, which is titled "I'm Daffy Over You". 

Also starring Margaret Dumont (last seen in "A Night at the Opera"), Lillian Roth, Hal Thompson, Louis Sorin, Robert Greig (last seen in "Horse Feathers")

RATING: 3 out of 10 pith helmets

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Monkey Business (1931)

Year 7, Day 99 - 4/9/15 - Movie #1,998

BEFORE: I think it's pretty obvious where I've been heading, to movie #2,000, and if it's going to be a Marx Brothers film, that might as well be "Duck Soup", which is generally regarded as their best film, and is also on that list of "1,001 Movies to See Before You Die", as well as the AFI's list of the "Top 100 American Movies", and also Entertainment Weekly's list of the "100 All-Time Greatest Movies".  

However, there's a big problem - I don't have a copy.  Turner Classic Movies ran a bunch of Marx Brothers films on New Year's Day, but not all of them.  They ran the later ones, and not the early Paramount films - why?  Who knows, such decisions are above my pay grade.  But I'd rather not circle back here again, so I figured I'd obtain the missing key films somehow.  

First attempt: Amazon Prime.  My wife's got a membership, so signing in as her gets me access to free movies, a tactic I've used four or five times during the course of this project.  Except they're not offering the older Marx Brothers films on Instant Video, except for "Duck Soup", and that one's not for free.  Second attempt: Amazon's offering a DVD collection, called the Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection, with the three films I need - but that would take two days to reach me, and that would slow me down.  

Third attempt: Barnes & Noble.  After striking out at Best Buy (now, why did I think Best Buy would be interested in selling old black + white comedies?) I found the same Silver Screen Collection that Amazon sells for $13 at Barnes & Noble, for the low low price of...$60?  That's $12 per film, for films that are 85 years old, and possibly out of copyright!  How the hell do these brick-and-mortar stores stay in business, overcharging people like that?  Don't they realize that Amazon is dramatically under-cutting them?  

Fourth attempt: iTunes.  Same problem with Amazon Prime, they've got "Duck Soup" for sale there, but not the other two films I want to see, like "Monkey Business".  I'm willing to pay a fair price to watch movies, but in order to do that, they need to be available.  I don't support illegal downloading, either, but I've found today's film posted on-line, where I can view it for free.  It's already there, so I don't feel guilty - after all, it's the responsibility of the film's distributor to make sure it's not online for free if it's not supposed to be, a service I carry out for my employer.  Yes, I'm a YouTube hatchet-man.

Sure, I could have just moved on from the Marx Brothers to the next set of films, but that would leave some films unwatched, and again, I don't want to have to circle back this way with more follow-ups.  And then I'd need to find another big film for Movie #2,000 - easily done, since the next topic is Laurence Olivier, and his version of "Hamlet" would qualify, but I'd still rather finish one chain before moving on to the next.

THE PLOT:  On a transatlantic crossing, the Marx Brothers get up to their usual antics and manage to annoy just about everyone on board the ship. 

AFTER:  This is the second film with the Marx Brothers stowing away on an ocean liner, though "A Night at the Opera" came after this one, so this is really their first use of that plot point. Apparently it's very easy to stow away aboard a ship, but our mixed-up bunch then faces a more difficult problem - how do they get OFF the boat, without having passports or being on the passenger roll?  By this point, they've caused enough trouble on board that the crew members all know them by sight, so they've got to get creative.  

Before that, however, two of the brothers get hired as muscle for a gangster, and the other two brothers get hired to defend the gangster that the first gangster wants to bump off.  Geez, I didn't realize so many gangsters took fancy cruises.  This puts the brothers at odds with each other, but Groucho's character has an easy solution - instead of hiring four guys, one gangster should just pay his own bodyguards to beat himself up, thus saving money.  

I'm finally starting to see how influential the Marx Brothers were - Harpo takes every opportunity during this film to chase women around, especially maids and nurses.  This reminded me of all of those chase scenes on the "Benny Hill" show where he'd be chasing women in short skirts or maid outfits, before they'd lose said outfit with the help of a wayward tree branch or something.  I can also see how many of their routines were lifted for Looney Tunes or Tom & Jerry cartoons - especially ones where Bugs Bunny or Tom played the piano.  Of course, I never made the connection to Chico Marx when I was a kid.  Come to think of it, nearly all of Bugs Bunny's mannerisms, including his accent, now seem like they came straight from Groucho - he just held a carrot instead of a cigar. 

I have to say I'm disappointed there weren't any monkeys in the film - after all, there was an opera in "A Night at the Opera", and races in "A Day at the Races", and there was even a horse at the end of "Horse Feathers".  So, where were all the monkeys?  Couldn't they have had the climactic end fight scene in a zoo, instead of in a barn?  Some writers just have no imagination.

Also starring Harry Woods (last seen in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"), Thelma Todd (also carrying over from "Horse Feathers"), Rockliffe Fellowes, Ruth Hall (last seen in "How to Marry a Millionaire"), Tom Kennedy (last seen in "She Done Him Wrong"), Ben Taggart (also last seen in "Horse Feathers"), Cecil Cunningham (last seen in "The Awful Truth").

RATING: 3 out of 10 pickle barrels

Horse Feathers

Year 7, Day 98 - 4/8/15 - Movie #1,997

BEFORE:  It's funny how you go on vacation sometimes, and then after a few days, you can't wait to get home.  That's sort of how I feel about the Marx Brothers, I'm glad I'm finally getting around to watching their films, but after 6 films, now I can't wait for this part of the chain to be over.  I have a way to get back to more modern films in time to link to "The Avengers: Age of Ultron", but for now I have to be patient and finish off these old-timey comedies.

THE PLOT:  Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the new president of Huxley University, hires bumblers Baravelli and Pinky to help his school win the big football game against rival Darwin University. 

AFTER: This is my first exposure to Zeppo Marx, it was his next-to-last film with the group, and he played Wagstaff's son, though obviously in real life he was Groucho's brother, and I'm guessing therefore he was sort of too old for the part.   I still can't quite figure out Harpo, though - in some films he's the smartest one who just doesn't talk, and in films like this one he acts more like an idiot who's oblivious to what he's doing wrong. 

A lot of the gags here sort of riff off visual puns, like Harpo "cutting" the deck of cards for real with a hatchet, or asking for a "seal" to stamp a document, only to be given a seal in animal form instead.  Other times they just go with the mishearing or mispronunciation of words like "cirrhosis" or "corpuscle" while in anatomy class.  But either way this film is a collection of quick gags that sort of almost adds up to a larger narrative.  

You obviously can't win a football game by dropping banana peels on the field so other players will trip, or by tying a string to the ball so a pass snaps back, but it's fun to see people cheat so blatantly.  It's also strange that way back in 1932 there was debate over the importance of academics vs. sports, and college staff afraid of getting caught recruiting experienced players as ringers.  Over 80 years later, we're still having similar debates, since it came to light that college basketball players were taking B.S. courses on speaking Swahili, and we all assume that universities are bending over backwards to get the best players. 

I had to look up the term "college widow", it apparently refers to a woman who hangs around a college or graduated previously herself, who takes on a new boyfriend each year, in hopes of gaining a husband.  Different times, to be sure.  All of the four brothers attempt to romance her at various times, each singing (or playing on the harp) the song "Everyone Says I Love You".  It's amazing that the ending didn't get censored, because the woman appears to be marrying all four main characters - I'm pretty sure that was frowned upon back in the 1930's.   

Also starring Thelma Todd, David Landau (last seen in "She Done Him Wrong"), James Pierce, Nat Pendleton (last seen in "At the Circus")

RATING: 4 out of 10 called plays

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Night at the Opera

Year 7, Day 97 - 4/7/15 - Movie #1,996

BEFORE: I'm back from 2 days in Atlantic City, and ready to carry on with the Marx Brothers films.  I had very little luck with the slot machines, and better luck with the buffets, even though that meant going off my diet, undoing about a week's worth of progress (I'm guessing).  But hey, stuff you eat on vacation doesn't count, or at least it shouldn't.

This is the second of two Marx Brothers films that somehow stole titles from a couple of rock albums by Queen that were released in the 1970's.  (Wait a second, that can't be right...)

THE PLOT: A sly business manager and two wacky friends of two opera singers help them achieve success while humiliating their stuffy and snobbish enemies.

AFTER: This was the first film made under the Marx Brothers contract at MGM, after they left Paramount and Zeppo quit to become a talent agent.  When famed producer Irving Thalberg learned that the new contract covered three brothers instead of four, he reportedly asked if this would save him money, and Groucho allegedly quipped, "Are you kidding? Without Zeppo, we're worth twice as much!"  That seems like something one of his shyster lawyer characters would say.

The best humor here pokes fun at agents, the kind that sign opera singers (not comedians, but I'm sure the same rules apply) and keep 10% for themselves, of course.  Watching Groucho's agent character, Otis P. Driftwood, negotiate with Chico's manager character, tearing the contract to shreds every time there's a clause they can't agree on is a routine I've seen before, but it still holds up.  I'd rather watch that  kind of humor than see another extended chase scene, this time through the area behind the opera stage.  Harpo swinging from ropes, causing random bits of scenery to raise and lower while the opera is going on - well, that got a little tiresome.  To me, a long chase scene at the end of a film implies that the screenwriter just gave up at some point.  

The other great visual humor here, though, comes when Driftwood books passage on a ship to New York, and opens his giant steamer trunk to reveal some stowaways (you didn't think one character would go on a trip without the others, did you?).  This leads to the classic bit where the four leads are joined in a tiny cabin by a couple of maids, some cabin stewards, an engineer, a woman looking for her aunt, forcing Groucho to pick up the phone and say, "Hello, room service? Send up a larger room..."

When the stowaways are caught and thrown in the brig, they escape and disguise themselves as three famous European bearded aviators, and then are forced to speak at a reception in New York, and I found this somewhat less funny.  (By that point, wouldn't the real aviators have been found on the ship and untied?)   Same with trying to fool the police sergeant by moving beds from room to room - it's comical, sure, but since it's tangential to the plot, it feels sort of non-essential, really just like a time-killer.

Things picked up a bit when the three leads set out to sabotage the big opera performance, but there's just a little too much of hitting singers on the heads with mallets - a time-tested way of knocking people out in movies, but it starts to feel unrealistic after a while.  And it's nice to think that you can make an orchestra play "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" just by inserting a sheet of music, but I'm assuming that a group of professional musicians would notice the switch.

But I did like some of the wordplay, which seemed to be largely absent in some of their later films - the best here are lines like: "Could he sail tomorrow?" "You pay him enough money, he could sail yesterday."  And when Groucho yells at his carriage driver: "I told you to slow that nag down.  On account of you, I almost heard the opera." 

Also starring Kitty Carlisle, Allan Jones (last seen in "A Day at the Races"), Margaret Dumont (ditto), Sig Ruman (ditto), Walter Woolf King (last seen in "Go West").

RATING: 4 out of 10 hard-boiled eggs

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Day at the Races

Year 7, Day 95 - 4/5/15 - Movie #1,995

BEFORE: I don't have an Easter film cued up - you'd think that some enterprising cable channel would fast-track a film like "Exodus: God & Kings" to coincide with the holiday, but I've found that movie programmers don't necessarily make sensible decisions that coincide with the calendar.  The world of film distribution remains quite alien to me.  At least I've got this one which concerns horse racing, and that's a form of gambling, and we're heading to Atlantic City later today - so it's an Easter tie-in for me, if not for anyone else.  

I did finally manage to find a path that weaves its way through the remaining 170 films on my list, except for a select few, and there's always the chance that by adding more films I can connect those last 15-20 movies by actor linking.  The problem is not a lack of links between films - if anything, it's the opposite.  For example, coming up on the schedule is the new Avengers film, which I can follow with finally watching "Guardians of the Galaxy" - but after that, which path do I take?  Do I follow that with "The Lego Movie", also starring Chris Pratt?  Or perhaps "Riddick", also starring Vin Diesel?  Or "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug", also starring Lee Pace?  Which would make me happiest?  Which path leads to the best chances of linking everything together down the road? 

It's impossible to know, without taking a look at every cast list for every film, and cross-referencing them all - a huge task with little chance of succeeding.  Trial and error won't work, because multiply 3 or 4 possible tracks by 170 films, and you'll see what I'm up against.  Plus that won't account for any new films to be added later.  So, I've got a rough plan for what remains, but in a month the entire landscape's going to look different anyway - so even though I'm satisfied with the plan, I also hate it and I can't wait to tear it apart in a month and rebuild it.  It's probably best for now just to build little blocks of 10 or so films, and to be aware that those blocks can be taken apart and re-assembled to make many different larger shapes. 

THE PLOT:  A veterinarian posing as a doctor, a race-horse owner and his friends struggle to help keep a sanitarium open with the help of a misfit race-horse.

AFTER: This one started out OK, but after a while it became hard for me to follow the plot.  Either I'm already tiring of the Marx Brothers and their form of comedy chaos, or else my brain is too focused on organizing my list - either way, taking a day off tomorrow is probably a grand idea.  I haven't taken a day off from the routine so far this year, and I'm over three months into the year.  

There are quite a few contrivances that move the plot forward, most notably that Groucho's veterinarian, Hugo Z. Hackenbush, has been treating a rich woman, pretending to be a human doctor.  When she goes to a sanitarium, she practically demands that Hackenbush be put on staff, and Chico's character puts on a deception that he's already been hired, so that she (and her money) will stay there. They then wire for Hackenbush to join the facility as chief of staff - and apparently no one takes the time to check his credentials first.  

The woman who owns the sanitarium has a boyfriend, and he's bought himself a horse, creating roles for Harpo as a jockey and Chico to double as the horse's trainer, in addition to working at the sanitarium.  By this point, the connections between people and jobs are already stretched about as thin as they can be, but there are more.  There's a banker trying to gain control of the sanitarium, and he's got the facility's business manager working for him, and also hires a doctor to discredit Hackenbush, and a loose woman to try to seduce him, so he'll fall out of favor with his rich patient, who also seems to be his girlfriend. 

It always seems to be a class struggle with these guys - I guess they represent the common man.  I've been reading about the genesis of the brothers' different characters, and originally they represented the different nationalities of immigrants in New York - Chico the Italian one, Harpo the Irish one (his wig was red at first, then I guess became blond, which looked better on film) and Groucho was the German one, but the German accent wasn't popular due to wartime resentment, so he altered it.  

ASIDE: I always thought the actor's name was pronounced "Chee-ko", but Ben Mankiewicz on TCM pronounces it "Chick-o", so I guess I'm wrong.  That guy knows his Hollywood trivia...

So here the Marx Brothers, representing the working class, have to fight the banker and his hired doctors, representing the upper class - of course you know who most of the audience will be rooting for.  They have to find the missing race horse, get him to the start of the steeplechase race, and also pull a lot of racetrack shenanigans to buy themselves more time.  And it's only another contrivance that gives their horse a fighting chance.  

The best bit in the film, however, comes earlier on when Chico's character is selling Hackenbush betting tips, but each tip never really tells him anything, and it forces him to buy more and more books on codes, breeding, etc.  This sort of extended con game was then repeated, slightly differently, later in the train station scene in "Go West".   And in a fashion similar to what was seen in "At the Circus", Chico and Groucho start out as opposing con-men, but then later work toward a common goal.  

The second-best bit was probably Groucho intercepting the business manager's call, and pretending to be an operator, secretary and records-keeper by using different voices.

The musical numbers here seemed really out of place, though - not Harpo & Chico playing together, that was fine - but the whole "water carnival" bit with the dancers, and Allan Jones singing.  It just brought the film to a dead stop, and since this was the Marx Brothers film with the longest running time, I think it could easily have been cut.  And the song where Harpo plays pipes and dances through the shantytown, called "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm" - it also seemed out of place.  Again, it was made during a different time, but this seemed very questionably racist by today's standards.  

I think it's a question of geography - where do you find a sanitarium, a racetrack and a shantytown in the same neighborhood?  Only in the movies, I guess.

There's definitely a formula with these guys, I just have to keep cracking it - but I'll pick this up on Tuesday, I just really need a day off.

Also starring Allan Jones, Maureen O'Sullivan, Margaret Dumont (last seen in "At the Circus"), Douglass Dumbrille (last seen in "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town"), Leonard Ceeley, Sig Ruman (last seen in "Only Angels Have Wings").

RATING: 4 out of 10 rolls of wallpaper.