Groucho Marx, Lucille Ball, Frank Albertson, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, and Ann Miller in Room Service (1938)


(director: William Seiter; screenwriters: from the play by Allen Boretz & John Murray/Morrie Ryskind; cinematographer: Roy Hunt; editor: George Crone; music: Roy Webb; cast: Groucho Marx (Gordon Miller), Chico Marx (Harry Binelli), Harpo Marx (Faker Englund), Lucille Ball (Christine Marlowe), Ann Miller (Hilda), Frank Albertson (Leo Davis), Clifford Dunstan (Joseph Gribble), Donald MacBride (Gregory Wagner), Philip Loeb (Timothy Hogarth), Philip Wood (Simon Jenkins), Alexander Asro (Sasha Smirnoff), Charles Halton (Dr. Glass); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pandro S. Berman; RKO; 1938)

“Still enough zaniness to make it a Marx Brother vehicle, but the craziness is diluted.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Marx Brothers transfer to RKO to appear in this popular but lame Broadway play that was not written for them, as it unfortunately kept them too much under constraint. Only Harpo is as loose as a turkey. There’s still enough zaniness to make it a Marx Brother vehicle, but the craziness is diluted. Morrie Ryskind adapts the play by Allen Boretz and John Murray. The one thing it did right was get rid of those boring musical musical interludes, which is enough of a reason for me to still find it worth seeing. It was remade as a musical with Sinatra, Step Lively (1944), and fared much better.

Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx) is a destitute theater producer living on the cuff in the Hotel Great White Way for months, with a troupe of 22, as he waits for a backer of his newest play Hail and Farewell. Miller’s brother-in-law Joe Gribble (Clifford Dunstan) is the hotel manager, who is under fire when his grouchy boss, Mr. Wagner (Donald MacBride), audits the books and discovers that Miller owes $1200. Wagner demands that all of Miller’s party be kicked out immediately. Groucho is aided by the play’s director Binelli (Chico Marx) and the business manager Faker (Harpo Marx), in trying to outsmart the hotel. They at first plan to skip out without paying by wearing all their clothes, and then decide to stay and stall to avoid eviction when their leading actress Christine Marlowe (Lucille Ball) tells them she’s sending over a backer. Showing up by surprise is the young naive hick author Leo Davis (Frank Albertson), who is confused by the chaos around him and is helpless as the penniless Marx Brothers pawn his typewriter, take his last sixty-seven cents, and put iodine dots over his face to indicate he has the measles as a ploy so that the hotel can’t kick out a sick man. Davis is consoled by Groucho’s pretty young secretary Hilda (Ann Miller), whose only request is that middle-aged hotel waiter Sasha, an actor from Russia, be given a part. When the backer Simon Jenkins (Philip Wood) offers $15,000 to invest in the play, he also informs them that the real donor wants to remain anonymous and there must be a small part set aside for an actress he’s recommending. But before the deal could be finalized Wagner goes on the warpath and Jenkins is scared off by the lunacy. But just to escape from this booby hatch, Jenkins signs a check that Groucho learns will be cancelled when he leaves the premises. Groucho doesn’t tell Wagner this and deposits the money in the hotel, and has Wagner unwittingly back the play that opens in five days (just enough time before Wagner learns that the check bounced).

There were a few nutty scenes worth recalling such as the starving theater people gobbling down a meal as savages, Harpo chasing a turkey around the room, and the fake suicides of Harpo and the author. The film was almost completely cleansed of those famous Groucho one-liners, and I expect should be considered as only a treat for diehard Marx Brother fans.