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Monday, October 5, 2015


The Marx Brothers, kings of anarchic ‘30s comedy, went out not with a bang, but with a whimper on this cobbled together feature. Or so they say. Yet the film, more Marx Bros. addendum than stand alone project, generates nearly as many laughs as their last three @ M-G-M (AT THE CIRCUS/’39; GO WEST/’40; THE (perfectly dreadful) BIG STORE/’41). The original idea was for just Harpo, but Chico owed the usual gambling debts, so he came on board, and loyal brother Groucho showed up as Special Guest star. Half the film is taken over by a struggling musical comedy troupe Harpo looks out for; the other half involves a missing diamond necklace lost in a can of sardines. At least Harpo & Chico get better than average specialty numbers for piano & harp while Groucho gets to introduce Marilyn Monroe to the screen. The backstage stuff is no more than padding to bump the running time up to feature-length, but Harpo does get to work in some neat meta-physical gags with a distinctive Dadaist twist. (In one, Harpo ‘mimes’ a message to Chico . . . over the phone!) Some of the wilder jokes are possibly the doing of co-scripter Frank Tashlin, still making Loony Tunes @ Warners. Too bad they didn’t have a fantasist like René Clair to direct instead of dependable, earthbound David Miller. Even so, you can figure out the gags that don’t work in your head while enjoying the ones that do. Along the way, look close for Raymond Burr as one of the heavies, trying not to break up as he forces Harpo to smoke a huge rope pipe.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: At one point, Chico has to play a little bit of actual Chopin (the ‘Military’ Polonaise) to keep the plot moving. Wondering if he can play it supplies the only tension in the pic.

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