Groucho Marx, Douglass Dumbrille, Margaret Dumont, Virginia Grey, Tony Martin, Chico Marx, and Harpo Marx in The Big Store (1941)


(director: Charles Reisner; screenwriters: story by Nat Perrin/Sid Kuller/Hal Fimberg/Ray Golden; cinematographer: Charles Lawton; editor: Conrad A. Nervig; music: Hal Borne; cast: Groucho Marx (Wolf J. Flywheel), Chico Marx (Ravelli), Harpo Marx (Wacky), Tony Martin (Tommy Rogers), Virginia Grey (Joan Sutton), Margaret Dumont (Martha Phelps), Douglass Dumbrille (Mr. Grover), William Tannen (Fred Sutton), Marion Martin (Peggy Arden), Henry Armetta (Giuseppe); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Louis K. Sidney; MGM; 1941)

“Too many dead spots.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Marx Brothers last film for MGM is a bummer. It’s also Groucho’s last teaming up with regular foil Margaret Dumont, who was unfortunately misused here. The Big Store has too many dead spots, too little lunacy and enough exposure for mediocre singer Tony Martin to make one wonder if this really isn’t a musical disguised as a comedy. It’s the Brothers at their worst, wasting too much time on a ridiculous caper plot and an even more ridiculous love story while throwing together too many sluggish and low-grade routines. But they managed two enjoyable spoofs: an Italian immigrant with 12 children loses half of them as Chico shows him around the bed department and the madcap finale with the Marxes on roller skates flying through the store trying to elude and then catch the villain.

Singer Tommy Rogers (Tony Martin) inherits half of Phelps Department Store, with the other half going to the dowager Martha Phelps (Margaret Dumont). Tommy, Martha’s nephew, plans to sell his half to the Hasting Brothers and marry Joan Sutton (Virginia Grey), who is the music department salesclerk. With this huge sum of money, Tommy plans to give something back to the slum community he rose out of by building a modern music conservatory for the underprivileged children. But meanie Grover (Douglass Dumbrille), the crooked store manager, has other plans, as he schemes to take over the store by marrying Martha and rubbing Tommy out. Grover plans to later rub out Martha and marry his criminal consort Peggy. Smelling danger afoot, Martha hires down-and-out private eye Wolf J. Flywheel (Groucho Marx) to be Tommy’s bodyguard. The shifty Flywheel brings along his assistant Wacky (Harpo Marx), who is the brother of Tommy’s self-appointed bodyguard Ravelli (Chico Marx). Together the Marx Brothers save the day, but no one can spare us from the dreadful Tony Martin tune ‘Tenement Symphony.’