Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Animal Crackers (1930)

Leave it to the Marx brothers to get into monkey business with Animal Crackers.

There's fine comedy here, but prepare for several musical interludes and some scenes that just don't work.

Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) hosts a big bash at her swanky home for African explorer Capt. Jeffrey Spaulding (Groucho Marx). Spaulding brings along his posse of mostly troublemakers - The Professor (Harpo Marx), Signor Emanuel Ravelli (Chico Marx) and Horatio Jamison (Zeppo Marx). Does Zeppo ever get as much screen time, and laughs, as his brother?

Just like their film debut, there's a subplot involving theft. Here, though, the laughs aren't as generous. Roscoe Chandler (Louis Sorin) brings along a painting, After the Hunt, to show off at the party? Two pairs of party-goers want to slip away with the prized work, including Rittenhouse's daughter, Arabella (Lillian Roth), who suggests her boyfriend John Parker (Hal Thompson) substitute his version of the painting to showoff his talent with a deep-pocketed audience.

The biggest laughs come in the film's first half before the music and not-so-funny scenes take over.

Grocho and Chico have a fine exchange soon after Spaulding makes a grand entrance at the party.

GM: "How much would you want to run into an open manhole?"

CM: "Just the cover charge."

GM: "Well, drop in some time."

Harpo earned my biggest laugh of the film at about the 14-minute mark. His clearing the room with gunfire isn't so funny, but watch out when he takes aim at a statue. Something unexpected, and very funny, results.

For fine physical comedy, Harpo and Chico square off, and clean out, Chandler. Witty wordplay follows when Chico needs a flashlight to replace After the Hunt during a power outage. It seems Chico has just about everything else that sounds like a flashlight in his possession.

Watching Harvey Korman and Tim Conway crack up on television's Carol Burnett show was always great fun. Here, Dumont cracks a grin numerous times - mostly at Groucho's musings.

The music is fine - Roth and Thompson hold each other and coo Why Am I So Romantic?, but all this singing and playing - Chico tickles the ivories and Harpo has a go at the harp at about the same point in the film - take away from the comedy. But, Animal Crackers is based on a musical. Maybe this was just the package for movie-goers in 1930.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Robert Greig appears as butler Hives. He also appears in the very fine The Lady Eve and Trouble in Paradise.

Animal Crackers marks the only film appearance of The Music Masters. Appearing as the Six Footmen, they join Greig to sing, You Must Do Your Best Tonight.

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