A couple of witty lines in a sea of lame, vaudevillian gags.
American Film Institutes Ranking: #85/100
Groucho Marx is ubiquitous with anyone instantly recognizing the dark-rimmed glasses, painted mustache, and requisite cigar. One of the earliest film stars to transition from stage to film, how does the material hold up?
A wealthy financer of a small country insists they put her preferred person in as president — Groucho Marx’s character. A neighboring country wants to take over, and hires the rest of the Marx brothers (Chico and Harpo) to be spies. Hilarity is supposed to ensue, as the Marx brothers do a series of switcharoos, gags, and dummy acts. The antics make the tempers boil over for both countries, and they head to war. The neighboring country eventually surrenders and they pelt the wealthy financer with fruit.
Okay. There a couple fun turns of phrases, and this is the best part of the movie:
Rufus T. Firefly: Not that I care, but where is your husband?
Mrs. Teasdale: Why, he’s dead.
Rufus T. Firefly: I bet he’s just using that as an excuse.
Mrs. Teasdale: I was with him to the very end.
Rufus T. Firefly: No wonder he passed away.
Mrs. Teasdale: I held him in my arms and kissed him.
Rufus T. Firefly: Oh, I see, then it was murder.
What surrounds the fun dialogue is your typical vaudevillian affair. Something as simple as putting on your hat can’t be trusted around the Marx Bros. as they will easily make a mockery of all things, big and small. These jokes are TIRESOME. They are ENDLESS. They go on TOO LONG.
Every two years, my small hometown (Ashland, VA) puts on its own variety show with the usually acts that you see in this movie. I imagine in a world where there were no entertainment options, the idea that you would be treated to a few hours of unfettered fun where all the acts were novel would be a scream.
Now, the format has been relegated to only being worthwhile when it’s your extended family and friends. This movie has no over arcing continuity; it is only meant to be a collection of gags and acts. The lack of cohesive story really hurts it, making it seem as dated as the black and white film that it is printed on.
I can appreciate the fact that the Marx brothers were the best at their art form. Unfortunately, that art form doesn’t mean a whole lot anymore. Outside of some jibber jabber, there isn’t much to see.
Other People’s Take:
- WadsWords: “…the gags offered by that paper-thin plot were so good and the dialogue was still so rapid-fire witty, and even if a couple of the jokes landed badly, the cast was already on to the next quip by the time you were blinking and thinking ‘….hang on.’ “
- PowerPop: “If you want a great comedy watch this movie…you may even find out the answer to the burning question of “what is it that has four pair of pants, lives in Philadelphia, and it never rains but it pours?”…. well maybe you won’t…but watch it anyway.”