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HORSE FEATHERS (director: Norman Z. McLeod; screenwriters: Bert Kalmar/Harry Ruby/S.J. Perelman/Will B. Johnstone; cinematographer: Ray June; music: Bert Kalmar/Harry Ruby; cast: Groucho Marx (Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff), Harpo Marx (Pinky), Chico Marx (Baravelli), Zeppo Marx (Frank Wagstaff), Thelma Todd (Connie Bailey), David Landau (Jennings), Nat Pendleton (MacHardie, Darwin Player), James Pierce (Ed Mullen, Darwin Player), Reginald Barlow (retiring President); Runtime: 70; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Herman J. Mankiewicz; Paramount; 1932)
“An anarchic parody of college life.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Horse Feathers is the fourth comedy from the Marx Brothers (“The Cocoanuts”-1929/ “Animal Crackers”-1930/ “Monkey Business”-1931); it’s an anarchic parody of college life, and for that matter, prostitution and bootlegging; it throws caution and a sane plot line aside in its irreverent attack on authority and society that can be summed up by the fast-talking Groucho as he cries out in song “Whatever it is, I’m against it.” Filled with zany one-liners, insulting quips, vaudevillian antics, and chaotic high jinks, Groucho delivers a pun a minute as the newly installed president of Huxley College, Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff, dressed in professorial robes and wearing a mortarboard hat.

Frank (Zeppo Marx) is Wagstaf’s playboy college student son, who is still in Huxley after 12 years and is dating the sexy college widow Connie Bailey (Thelma Todd). Chico is an ice man/bootlegger, and Harpo a mute dogcatcher. Wagstaf is told that what’s wrong with the college is that it has a losing football team: it has “neglected football for education.” To remedy this, his son tells him that two great players hang out at the speakeasy and could be bought off to play for the team. But gambler Jennings (David Landau), who is also dating Connie, gets to the two ringers first and signs them up to play for rival Darwin. Jennings has bet heavy on Darwin to win the Big Game and has even employed Connie to steal Huxley’s football signals from Groucho. At the speakeasy Groucho mistakenly signs up misfits Baravelli (Chico Marx) and Pinky (Harpo Marx). When he finds out his error, he sends the misfits to kidnap the ringers but instead they are kidnapped and locked in a room. They are about to miss the game, but saw through the floor and arrive in the second half by taking a street-sweepers horse-drawn cart and using it to take them to the game Ben-Hur style in a horse-driven chariot. In a nutty anarchic slapstick football game played without any rules, Huxley overcomes its rival with Groucho coming out of the stands to give the opposing team a pep talk and then tackles them before they can score, while Chico and Harpo score touchdowns by dropping banana peels in front of their opponents.

The title alone should tell you that the film made no sense. S.J. Perelman was part of the four-man writer team that delivered this outrageous screenplay. Things seemed to work despite Perelman and Groucho not getting along over artistic disagreements. A sample of some of the inane banter went like this, Wagstaff to Zeppo: “You’re a disgrace to our family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”