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A DAY AT THE RACES (director: Sam Wood; screenwriters: George Oppenheimer/Robert Pirosh/George Seaton; cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: Frank E. Hull; music: George Bassman/Roger Edens; cast: Groucho Marx (Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush), Chico Marx (Tony), Harpo Marx (Stuffy), Allan Jones (Gil Stewart), Maureen O’Sullivan (Judy Standish), Margaret Dumont (Emily Upjohn), Leonard Ceeley (Whitmore), Douglass Dumbrille (Morgan), Esther Muir (Flo Marlowe), Sig Rumann (Dr. Leopold X. Steinberg), Robert Middlemass (Sheriff), Vivian Fay (Dancer); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Sam Wood/Irving Thalberg/Lawrence Weingarten; MGM; 1937)

“A winner at the box office.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the Marx Brothers’ second MGM movie; it gains in better production values but loses the zaniness it had at Paramount. Producer Irving Thalberg, a champion of the Brothers, died during filming and it seems the film also died a little because of that. It follows the Marx Brothers typical formula, and as usual wastes too much time with atrocious musical numbers (here they seem like longer interludes and more draining to the comedy). But A Day at the Races was a winner at the box office and has a few classic slapstick routines to still make it a worthy though arguably a lesser Brothers’ vehicle, such as the frantic medical examination scene, the “Tootsie-Frootsie” Ice Cream/tipster Code Book scene between Chico and Groucho, and the madcap Big Race scene where the Brothers try various slapstick ruses to delay the race until their horse is found.

The story revolves around Judy Standish (Maureen O’Sullivan), the sweet young owner of the struggling Standish Sanitarium. Judy faces bankruptcy and loss of ownership unless she can pay her bills in time. Waiting to buy the place for five grand is shady race track owner Morgan (Douglass Dumbrille), who wants to convert it into a gambling casino for his nearby racetrack customers. Helping Morgan bring Judy to ruin is her shifty business manager Whitmore (Leonard Ceeley). Judy’s nightclub crooner boyfriend Gil Stewart (Allan Jones) buys a race horse called Hi-Hat with the last cent he had, and hopes to win the big race in time to save her place. But Judy relies on her wealthy socialite patient Emily Upjohn (Margaret Dumont) to help with the finances, after she hires the quack Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush (Groucho Marx) to be the chief of staff upon learning he’s the only doctor Mrs. Upjohn trusts. What Judy doesn’t know, is that he’s a horse doctor. Also around to help the lady in distress is racetrack tipster Tony (Chico Marx) and jockey Stuffy (Harpo), fired by Morgan for failing to dump a race.

Gil is forced to hide Hi-Hat from the sheriff when he can’t pay the feed bills. He also tells Judy the horse is not training well. Things get hectic when Flo Marlowe is working for the Morgan-Whimore team to seduce Hackenbush in order to make Upjohn lose trust in him. But Harpo and Chico get wind of the femme fatale’s scheme and in a lunatic way rescue Groucho. But Groucho is soon forced by the suspicious Whitmore to conduct a “medical examination” of Dumont while a real doctor, Steinberg, observes. But the exam turns into a farce as all three Marxes have a go at the good lady, and now the only thing that can save Judy’s place from Morgan is if Hi-Hat wins the big race. Things take a turn for the better when it’s accidentally discovered the horse is a jumper and not a regular flat racer.

The film’s snappiest line has Hackenbush saying to Tony “Don’t drink that poison, it’s $4 an ounce.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”