Friday, March 29, 2013

#956. Animal Crackers (1930)

Directed By: Victor Heerman

Starring: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx

Tag line: "The maddest comics of them all!"

Trivia: During a rehearsal a test was made for a color movie process called Multicolor (a predecessor of Cinecolor) and the result was the first known footage of the Marx Brothers in color. The clip is silent and lasts only 15 seconds

Like their debut film, The Cocoanuts, The Marx Brothers’ second feature, 1930’s Animal Crackers, was based on one of their long-running vaudeville shows, and, to be sure, there are times when the movie feels a little too stage-bound. Luckily, this format also gave the brothers plenty of room to work their comedic magic, leading to a handful of hilarious bits.

The world-famous African explorer, Capt. Geoffrey T. Spaulding (Groucho Marx), who’s just returned from his latest adventure, attends a soiree thrown in his honor by the elegant Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont). Also in attendance is noted art dealer Roscoe W. Chandler (Louis Sorin), who plans to impress Mrs. Rittenhouse’s guests by unveiling a valuable painting at her party. But the picture is stolen before he has a chance to do so, and it falls to Capt. Spaulding, as well as a pair of bumbling musicians named Signor Ravelli (Chico Marx) and The Professor (Harpo Marx), to locate its whereabouts.

Aside from its general staginess, Animal Crackers spends far too much time on an insipid love story between Mrs. Rittenhouse’s daughter, Arabella (Lillian Roth) and her fiancé, John Parker (Hal Thompson). At one point, the two even perform a drowsy duet, which brings the movie to a dead stop. Fortunately, the brothers themselves are in top form. Groucho rattles off one-liners at an incredible clip, including his now-famous quip, uttered while Spaulding is discussing his recent jungle adventure: “One morning, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know”. Along with the jokes, Groucho belts out a couple of songs that bring the house down (the funniest being Hello, I Must Be Going). As for Chico and Harpo, they team up to unleash their own brand of chaos, like when they cheat (rather blatantly) during a card game with Mrs. Rittenhouse and her high-society acquaintance, Mrs. Whitehead (Margaret Irving). Chico and Groucho have a few memorable moments of their own, one of which sees Signor Ravelli trying to explain to Spaulding and Mrs. Rittenhouse why he charges more for practicing than he does for actually performing. As for Zeppo, the "forgotten" Marx Brother, he appears breifly as Horatio Jamison,  Capt. Spaulding's secretary, and is given next to nothing to do.

As far as their cinematic output is concerned, Animal Crackers definitely ranks behind such beloved Marx Brothers classics as Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera, and their 1932 film, Horse Feathers. But don’t let that stop you from checking it out, because even a flawed Marx Brothers movie is funnier than most of the comedies out there.


Robert M. Lindsey said...

I agree. I just watched A Night in Casablanca and Love Happy and though they are both low on the Marx Bros. scale, they were still funnier than most modern comedies.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Robert: I haven't seen A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA in years, but I remember not being very impressed (of course, I saw it immediately AFTER watching DUCK SOUP).

That said, I'm sure it's much better than a good many so-called "comedies"!

Thanks for the comment, sir! They're always appreciated