Monday, June 10, 2013

#1,029. Horse Feathers (1932)

Directed By: Norman Z. McLeod

Starring: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx

Tag line: "The Maddest Comics of the Screen!"

Trivia: In the last half of the movie Chico Marx is limping. During the making of the movie, Chico was in a car accident and his kneecap was shattered

While not as well-known as either Duck Soup or A Night at the Opera, The Marx Brothers' 1932 film, Horse Feathers, is every bit as funny as those two classics.

Professor Wagstaff (Groucho) is the new President of Huxley College, the very school that his son, Frank (Zeppo), attends. Frank convinces his father that what Huxley needs is a decent football team, so Professor Wagstaff sets out to recruit a couple of professional players. Unfortunately, he instead signs up Baravelli (Chico), a bootlegger, and Pinky (Harpo), a part-time dogcatcher, both of whom enroll at the school. To add to Huxley's problems, a gambler named Jennings (David Landau) has bet against the school in their upcoming game against Darwin University. To ensure that Huxley loses, Jennings tells Connie Bailey (Thelma Todd), the resident "college widow", to seduce Professor Wagstaff and steal the team's playbook. Needless to say, chaos ensues, which only intensifies when all four Marx Brothers take the field for the big game.

Horse Feathers features some of the brothers' finest routines. When Wagstaff visits the local speakeasy to recruit star football players Mullen (James Pierce) and McHardie (Nat Pendleton), he finds the door guarded by Baravelli, who tells Wagstaff he can't come in unless he knows the password (kicking off a hilarious give-and-take between the two). Later on, after Baravelli and Pinky have enrolled at Huxley, they attend an anatomy class being taught by none other than Professor Wagstaff (when he asks the class what a corpuscle is, Baravelli replies "That's easy! First is a Captain, then a Lieutenant, then is a corpuscle"). This all leads up to the film's best sequence: the big game against Darwin, during which the brothers break every rule in the book. At one point, they even use a horse-drawn chariot to score a touchdown!

Altogether, The Marx Brothers made a dozen movies over a twenty year period, starting with The Cocoanuts in 1929 (a filmed version of one of their early plays) and ending with 1949's Love Happy, which co-starred a young blonde bombshell named Marilyn Monroe. Sadly, not all of their films are classics (their last consistently funny movie was 1937's A Day at the Races), yet, even in their lesser pictures, the brothers sometimes achieved greatness (At the Circus features my favorite Marx Brothers musical number, Groucho's toe-tappin "Lydia the Tattooed Lady"). And even though the siblings' Hollywood output was limited, some of the comedies they left behind, Horse Feathers included, are pure gold.

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