(director: Norman Z. McLeod; screenwriters: S.J. Perelman/Will B. Johnstone/Arthur Sheekman/Roland Pertwee; cinematographer: Arthur Todd; cast: Groucho Marx (Groucho), Harpo Marx (Harpo), Chico Marx (Chico), Zeppo Marx (Zeppo), Rockliffe Fellowes (J.J. ‘Big Joe’ Helton), Harry Woods (Alky Briggs), Thelma Todd (Lucille Briggs), Ruth Hall (Mary Helton), Ben Taggart (Captain), Tom Kennedy (First Mate Gibson); Runtime: 77; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Herman Mankiewicz; Paramount; 1931)
“The Brothers offer lunacy, anarchy, and unbound nonsense for their Depression audience as they mock the foolish ways the rich behave aboard the luxury liner.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The Marx Brothers first film made in Hollywood. Their third film was also the first to be written for the silver screen (The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers had been plays). It’s directed by the dependable Norman Z. McLeod, who lost control of the manic, energetic foursome as they ad-libbed their way through the film (much to the dismay of writer S.J. Perelman).
They are four stowaways hiding in kippered herring barrels for the last two days on a luxury ocean liner bound for New York. They spend their time on the cruise trying various ways to avoid the captain and the crew. While causing mayhem they get mixed up with rival gangsters Alky Briggs (Groucho and Zeppo are given guns to act as his enforcers) and Joe Helton (Chico and Harpo are hired as his bodyguards). Upstart Alky wants to eliminate retired millionaire racketeer Helton and take control of the mob. The Brothers disperse aboard the liner trying to avoid the dullish first mate. While on the run Groucho tries to make love with Alky’s sexy but bored wife Lucille (Thelma Todd), Zeppo goes for romantic strolls with Helton’s sweet daughter Mary, Chico becomes a barber, and Harpo joins a “Punch and Judy” puppet show.
Once they’ve arrived in New York, the Marx Brothers all try to pass customs as Maurice Chevalier (each trying to do an impersonation as proof). They then head to Helton’s Long Island mansion to crash his society party. When Helton’s daughter is kidnapped and placed in a nearby barn by Alky’s gang, the boys come to the rescue and save the day.
The Brothers offer lunacy, anarchy, and unbound nonsense for their Depression audience as they mock the foolish ways the rich behave aboard the luxury liner. It’s filled with absurd one-liners, insulting quips, and puns. It’s not their top stuff, that comes later with Duck Soup, but it’s a good indication of what’s in store for their future films.
REVIEWED ON 4/11/2005 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/