Wednesday, February 05, 2014

A Day at the Races (1937)

The general consensus among comedy fans seems to be that when the Marx Bros. signed with MGM in 1935, their films were robbed of the pure anarchic spirit that marked their earlier films for Paramount. While it's true that producer Irving Thalberg softened their characters (and added an emphasis on the supporting romantic couple and lavish musical numbers) in order to broaden their audience appeal, the first two films the team made for MGM under Thalberg's supervision remain two of the finest films that they appeared in.

A DAY AT THE RACES does contain excessive padding, especially in the "Water Carnival" sequence, but there are also several excellent comedy sequences that rank among the Marxes' finest: the "Tootsie Fruitsie" ice cream routine, the examination scene, and especially Groucho's tour-de-force phone call bit where he poses as the blustering and befuddled Col. Hawkins. The brothers are supported by expert foils including the incomparable Margaret Dumont and Sig Rumann. It's a handsomely-produced and highly entertaining combination of comedy and music, even if it does go on a little too long.

Directed by Sam Wood; written by Robert Pirosh, George Seaton and George Oppenheimer from a story by Pirosh and Seaton, with uncredited material by Al Boasberg, Leon Gordon and George S. Kaufman. Also featuring Maureen O'Sullivan, Allan Jones, Douglas Dumbrille, Leonard Ceeley, Esther Muir, and others.

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