(director/writer: Victor Heerman; screenwriters: Bert Kalmar/Harry Ruby/Morrie Ryskind/from the play by Morrie Ryskind and George S. Kaufman; cinematographer: George Folsey; music: Bert Kalmar/Harry Rubycast: Groucho Marx (Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding), Harpo Marx (The Professor), Chico Marx (Signor Emanuel Ravelli), Zeppo Marx (Horatio Jamison), Lillian Roth (Arabella Rittenhouse), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Rittenhouse), Louis Sorin (Roscoe W. Chandler), Hal Thompson (John Parker), Margaret Irving (Mrs. Whitehead), Kathryn Reece (Grace Carpenter), Robert Greig (Hives, the Butler), Edward Metcalf (Inspector Hennessy); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: ; Paramount; 1930)
“The Marx Brothers second film was a box office smash that wowed the Depression audience with their zany brand of humor.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The Marx Brothers second film was a box office smash that wowed the Depression audience with their zany brand of humor, as they cause chaos at a weekend society party where they mock high society. It’s based on their hit Broadway musical/comedy. It suffers at times because it’s dated (those Eugene O’Neill gags about his Strange Interlude play do not connect with a modern audience probably unaware that in the play the actors talked separately to the audience explaining plot points), stagebound and there are too many long dull pauses for musical interludes. But it’s energetic, loony, nonsensical and filled with absurd one-liners, the usual diet for a Marx Brothers romp. Female star Lillian Roth is quoted as saying: “[Working with the Marx Brothers was] one step removed from a circus.”
Fearless hunter Captain Spaulding (Groucho Marx) returns from a long expedition in Africa to be the honored guest in the Long Island home of wealthy society maven Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont), and makes a grand entrance singing his “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” song. That number became his theme song for the rest of his career. In Groucho’s lecture on his safari he says: “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.” Also being honored is art expert and collector Roscoe W. Chandler, who will later be exposed as Abey the Peddler, on hand to unveil for the first time in America the great Bogart oil-painting worth $100,000. Hired as musicians are zanies Signor Emanuel Ravelli (Chico Marx) and the Professor (Harpo Marx). Chico charges more for rehearsing and not playing than he does for playing, while Harpo is a mute harp playing girl-chaser. The fourth Marx Brother is Spaulding’s earnest straight man secretary Horatio Jamison (Zeppo Marx).
The absurd plot involves stealing the valuable painting and replacing it with an imitation. The idea comes to jealous guest Mrs. Whitehead, who gets her amateur artist sister Grace Carpenter to replace the original with her badly copied imitation–the idea being to embarrass the haughty host. The same idea of replacing the original comes to Mrs. Rittenhouse’s daughter Arabella (Lillian Roth), who is engaged to struggling artist John Parker and sees this as an opportunity to show off his talent to get commissions so he can earn enough scratch for them to tie the knot. Into the mix comes Harpo, who ends up stealing the original and all the house silverware for no reason at all.
Things get resolved in the usual insane Marx Brothers way, as the plot just turns out as an excuse for all the one-liners. My favorite is Groucho ruminating: “What this country needs is a seven cent nickel.”
REVIEWED ON 4/11/2005 GRADE: B