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The Marx Brothers - on the Screen
Born in New York City and the sons of Jewish immigrants, The Marx Brothers were - Chico, real name Leonard Marx (1887-1961), Harpo, real name Adolph Marx (1888-1964), Groucho, real name Julius Marx (1890-1977) and Zeppo, real name Herbert Marx (1901-1979).
Their vaudeville act led them to Broadway where they became popular in the 1920s in shows such as I'll Say She Is (1924-1925), The Cocoanuts (1925-1926) and Animal Crackers (1928-1929).
The last two were adapted into movies, starting off a string of comedy classics for Paramount and MGM that lasted into the 1940s. Their zany antics, verbal wit, risque one-liners and anarchistic disrespect for the establishment turned them into comedy legends.
The Cocoanuts (1929) Directed by Robert Florey & Joseph Santley. 96mins.
Groucho Marx - Mr. Hammer
Harpo Marx - Harpo
Chico Marx - Chico
Zeppo Marx - Jamison
Also starring Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Potter, Oscar Shaw, Mary Eaton and Kay Francis.
Adapted from the Marx Bros Broadway show which premiered in 1925.
Hammer: Three years ago I came to Florida without a nickel in my pocket. Now I've got a nickel in my pocket.
The Marx Bros first feature film was made when "the talkies" were still a new and exciting way of watching films, syncronised sound, how modern!
The brothers were starring on stage in Animal Crackers during filming of Cocoanuts.
This is the one where - Groucho plays Mr. Hammer, a Florida hotel manager, it's nice and peaceful until Harpo and Chico arrive at the hotel with empty suitcases, Groucho holds an auction and makes the mistake of hiring Chico to help.
Hammer: (giving Chico directions) Now, here is a little peninsula, and, eh, here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.
Chico: Why a duck?
Hammer: I'm alright, how are you? I say, here is a little peninsula, and here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.
Chico: Alright, why a duck?
Hammer: (pause) I'm not playing "Ask Me Another," I say that's a viaduct.
Chico: Alright! Why a duck? Why a no chicken?
Hammer: Well, I don't know why a no chicken; I'm a stranger here myself.
IMDB rating 7.0
Animal Crackers (1930) Directed by Victor Heerman. 97mins.
Groucho Marx - Captain Jeffrey Spaulding
Harpo Marx - The Professor
Chico Marx - Signor Emanuel Ravelli
Zeppo Marx - Horatio Jamison
Also starring Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Rittenhouse, Lillian Roth, Louis Sorin and Hal Thompson.
Guests: (singing) Hooray for Captain Spaulding, the African explorer!
Spaulding: Did someone call me schnorrer?
Guests: Hooray, hooray, hooray!
Jamison: He went into the jungle where all the monkeys throw nuts.
Spaulding: If I stay here, I'll go nuts.
Guests: Hooray, hooray, hooray!
The Marx Bros 2nd movie and based on their Broadway show which opened in 1928.
The aristocratic Margaret Dumont (1882-1965) was the perfect foil for Groucho Marx, she appeared in seven of their films. The legend goes that Dumont didn't understand the jokes and she would say to Groucho "Why are they laughing, Julie?" (Julius was Groucho's real name). But those who knew her well said she was putting on an act and had a healthy sense of humour.
This is the one where - Groucho plays Captain Spaulding, African explorer. Chico sings "I'm Daffy Over You". And the one with the theft of a valuable painting.
Capt. Spaulding: One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know.
Capt. Spaulding: Africa is God's country – and He can have it. We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren't developed. But we're going back again in a couple of weeks!
IMDB rating 7.6
Monkey Business (1931) Directed by Norman Z. McLeod. 77mins.
Groucho Marx - Groucho
Harpo Marx - Harpo
Chico Marx - Chico
Zeppo Marx - Zeppo
Also starring Rockliffe Fellowes, Harry Woods, Thelma Todd, Ruth Hall and Tom Kennedy.
The first Marx Bros film not based on one of their Broadway shows.
This is the one where - the brothers are stowaways on a ship. They impersonate Maurice Chevalier and Harpo has a frog in his hat.
Groucho: How about you and I passing out on the veranda; or would you rather pass out here?
Woman at Party: Sir, you have the advantage of me.
Groucho: Not yet I haven't, but wait till I get you outside.
Sexy Thelma Todd was the object of Groucho's affections in this and the next movie, giving Margaret Dumont a break. Sadly Thelma Todd was found dead in her car inside a friends garage in 1935, Todd had died from carbon monoxide poisoning, she was 29. Some believe she was murdered.
IMDB rating 7.6
Horse Feathers (1932) Directed by Norman Z. McLeod. 68mins.
Groucho Marx - Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff
Harpo Marx - Pinky
Chico Marx - Baravelli
Zeppo Marx - Frank Wagstaff
Also starring Thelma Todd, David Landau, Robert Greig and Reginald Barlow.
Professor Wagstaff: You're a disgrace to our family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible.
This is the one where - Groucho is a professor at Huxley College. Harpo and Chico sabotage a classroom. Groucho sings "Everyone says I love You". The password is - swordfish, and the brothers take part in a football game between Huxley and Darwin colleges.
Wagstaff: Young man, you'll find as you get older, you can't burn the candle at both ends.
[Harpo pulls out a candle from his coat which is burning at both ends]
Wagstaff: Well, I knew you couldn't burn something at both ends. I thought it was a candle. However, you must be punished. Just for that 'you' stay after school.
Young girl: But professor, I didn't do anything!
Wagstaff: I know, but there's no fun keeping 'him' after school!
IMDB rating 7.6
Duck Soup (1933) Directed by Leo McCarey. 68mins.
Groucho Marx - Rufus T. Firefly
Harpo Marx - Pinky
Chico Marx - Chicolini
Zeppo Marx - Bob Roland
Also starring Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Gloria Teasdale, Louis Calhern as Ambassador Trentino, Raquel Torres and Edgar Kennedy.
Rufus T. Firefly: (to Harpo) Come on let's go. I've got an appointment to insult Ambassador Trentino,. and I don't want to keep him waiting! Step on it!
Duck Soup wasn't a big hit on release but it's now regarded as a comedy masterpiece and along with A Night at the Opera, the greatest of the Marx Bros movies.
The last of five Marx Bros films produced by Paramount Studios.
Not only does Duck Soup send up war and war movies, it also contains an anti-war message, showing how men in power are willing to take their country to war at the drop of a hat, or in this film a slap is all it takes. At one point Groucho tells Chico, "Remember, while you're out there risking life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in here thinking what a sucker you are"
Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini banned the film in Italy.
This is the one where - Groucho is the President of Freedonia, Harpo has a peanut stand, Groucho insults Ambassador Trentino, Harpo mimics Groucho in the mirror scene and Freedonia goes to war with Sylvania.
Duck Soup ranked #5 on the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Comedy Films List, and #60 on the AFI's 100 Greatest American Movies List.
Selected for Preservation by the National Film Registry in 1990.
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. Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.
Mrs. Teasdale: He left me his entire fortune.
Rufus T. Firefly: Is that so? Can't you see see what I'm trying to tell you? I love you.
Rufus T. Firefly: Oh, uh, I suppose you'll think me a sentimental old fluff, but would you mind giving me a lock of your hair?
Mrs. Teasdale: [smiling] A lock of my hair? Why, I had no idea you ...
Rufus T. Firefly: I'm letting you off easy. I was gonna ask for the whole wig!
IMDB rating 8.0
A Night at the Opera (1935) Directed by Sam Wood. 96mins.
Groucho Marx - Otis B. Driftwood
Harpo Marx - Tomasso
Chico Marx - Fiorello
Also starring Kitty Carlisle, Allan Jones, Margaret Dumont as Mrs. Claypool, Sig Ruman as Herman Gottlieb, Walter Woolf King and Robert Emmett O'Connor.
Otis B. Driftwood: [to carriage driver] Hey you. I told you to slow that nag down. On account of you I almost heard the opera.
After Duck Soup failed to ignite at the box office and Paramount cancelled their contract the Marx Bros must have wondered if they were finished. Rescue came from Irving G. Thalberg at MGM, he had faith in the brothers, he reckoned that they came off as unsympathetic in their Paramount movies, thinking if he made them more human the films would succeed and to a point he was correct.
The MGM movies were more expensive and now contained romance between young couples and a stack of forgettable songs. The brothers were more sympathetic and the films were successful but the result was the team were beginning to lose their satirical bite and by the mid 40's it was all over.
The youngest Marx Brother, Zeppo, lost interest in movies, the four Marx brothers became three.
Otis B. Driftwood: You're willing to pay him a thousand dollars a night just for singing? Why, you can get a phonograph record of Minnie the Moocher for 75 cents. And for a buck and a quarter, you can get Minnie.
A Night at the Opera is probably their most well known and most famous film. It contains arguably their greatest gag sequence, the stateroom scene.
This is the one where - Groucho and Chico tear through the contract scene, Groucho's tiny stateroom on board ship fills up with people, the trio confuse the hell out of Inspector Henderson, they totally wreck a performance of Il Trovatore at the Opera.
Ranked #12 on the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Comedy Films List.
Selected for Preservation by the National Film Registry in 1993.
Otis B. Driftwood: You see that spaghetti? Now, behind that spaghetti is none other than Herman Gottlieb, director of the New York Opera Company. Do you follow me?
Mrs. Claypool: Yes.
Otis B. Driftwood: Well stop following me or I'll have you arrested!
Otis B. Driftwood: That woman? Do you know why I sat with her? Because she reminded me of you.
Mrs. Claypool: Really?
Otis B. Driftwood: Of course, that's why I'm sitting here with you. Because you remind me of you. Your eyes, your throat, your lips! Everything about you reminds me of you. Except you. How do you account for that? [talks to camera] If she figures that one out, she's good.
IMDB rating 8.0
A Day at the Races (1937) Directed by Sam Wood. 111mins.
Groucho Marx - Dr Hugo Z. Hackenbush
Chico Marx - Tony
Harpo Marx - Stuffy
Also starring Allan Jones, Maureen O'Sullivan, Margaret Dumont as Emily Upjohn, Douglass Dumbrille and Sig Ruman.
In September 1936 the brothers were mourning the death of their producer Irving Thalberg who died suddenly from pneumonia during production of A Day at the Races, he was 37.
With $4m in rentals in 1937 A Day at the Races was the Marx Bros highest grossing film, and their longest film at 111 mins.
Whitmore: Just a minute, Mrs Upjohn. That looks like a horse pill to me.
Dr. Hackenbush: Oh, you've taken them before.
Mrs. Upjohn: Are you sure, Doctor, you haven't made a mistake?
Dr. Hackenbush: You have nothing to worry about. The last patient I gave one of those to won the Kentucky Derby.
Whitmore: May I examine this, please? Do you actually give those to your patients? Isn't it awfully large for a pill?
Dr. Hackenbush: Say, you're awfully large for a pill yourself.
This is the one where - Groucho plays a vet posing as a doctor at a sanitarium, Chico scams Groucho into buying a pushcart full of racing tip books, the brothers conduct a medical examination on Margaret Dumont, the villains send a blonde to try to seduce Groucho, Harpo is a jockey in the horse race finale.
Ranked #59 on the AFI's 100 Greatest Comedies List.
Tony: Have you got a woman in here?
Dr. Hackenbush: If I haven't, I've wasted 30 minutes of valuable time.
Tony: She's in with Whitmore. She's trying to frame you.
Flo: Why, I've never been so insulted in my life!
[Hackenbush checks his watch]
Dr. Hackenbush: Well, it's early yet.
IMDB rating 7.5
Room Service (1938) Directed by William A. Seiter. 78mins.
Groucho Marx - Gordon Miller
Harpo Marx - Faker Englund
Chico Marx - Harry Binelli
Also starring Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Frank Albertson, Cliff Dunstan and Donald MacBride.
Room Service is the odd one out in the Marx Bros filmography, the film was based on a 1937 stage play which starred a young Eddie Albert, the play was revived in the 50's and starred Jack Lemmon.
Harry Binelli: I still think it's a terrible play, but it makes a wonderful rehearsal.
Not written for or by the Marx Bros it was the least funniest of the dozen classic films they made starting with The Cocoanuts and ending with A Night in Casablanca. But still is a fascinating oddity for the fan.
Future MGM musicals star Ann Miller was only 15 years old when she appeared in the film, she lied about her age saying she was 18 and got away with it.
This is the one where - the setting is all in one building, the brothers try to get a stage play produced while the landlord tries to get them to pay the rent and fails. Harpo chases after a flying turkey with a baseball bat.
Leo Davis: You've been in jail?
Harry Binelli: Sure, it's'a not so bad. You behave and they make you a trustee.
IMDB rating 6.6
At the Circus (1939) Directed by Edward Buzzell. 87mins.
Groucho Marx - J. Cheever Loophole
Harpo Marx - Punchy
Chico Marx - Antonio Pirelli
Also starring Kenny Baker, Florence Rice, Margaret Dumont as Susanna Dukesbury, James Burke and Eve Arden.
This is the one where - the brothers help a circus owner get his stolen money back, Groucho sings Lydia, the Tattooed Lady, a midget threatens the guys and Gibraltar the Gorilla goes on the rampage.
Groucho was now almost 50 and wearing a toupee in this one. His Animal Crackers character Captain Spaulding gets a mention when he sings Lydia, the Tattooed Lady,
Harpo sneezes in the midgets trailer, the only time in any of the movies we hear a sound coming from his mouth.
J. Cheever Loophole: I don't know what I'm doing here, when I could be at home in bed with a hot toddy... That's a drink!
Lana Turner was considered for the Florence Rice role.
The Great Stone Face, Buster Keaton, worked as a "gag consultant" on the film.
"Oh Lydia oh Lydia, say have you met Lydia,
Oh Lydia the Tattooed Lady
When her muscles start relaxin',
Up the hill comes Andrew Jackson
Lydia oh Lydia, that encyclopidia,
oh Lydia the queen of them all!
For two bits she will do a mazurka in jazz,
With a view of Niagara that nobody has.
And on a clear day you can see Alcatraz.
You can learn a lot from Lydia."
IMDB rating 6.8
Go West (1940) Directed by Edward Buzzell. 80mins.
Groucho Marx - S. Quentin Quayle
Chico Marx - Joseph Panello
Harpo Marx - Rusty Panello
Also starring John Carroll, Diana Lewis, Walter Woolf King, Robert Barrat and June MacCloy.
S. Quentin Quale: What? Telephone? This is 1870. Don Ameche hasn't invented the telephone yet!
This is the one where - the brothers help a young couple fend off scheming villains, everyone's after the deed to Dead Man's Gulch, it all ends on a frantic train chase through the old west.
The title comes from a famous quote written by newspaper editor Horace Greeley in 1865, "Go west young man, go west, and grow up with the country"
MGM wanted to cut the hilarious train chase finale from the script because it was too expensive, but luckily they relented and left it in.
S. Quentin Quale: I was going to thrash them within an inch of their lives, but I didn't have a tape measure.
IMDB rating 6.8
The Big Store (1941) Directed by Charles Reisner. 83mins.
Groucho Marx - Wolf J. Flywheel
Chico Marx - Ravelli
Harpo Marx - Wacky
Also starring Tony Martin, Virginia Grey, Margaret Dumont as Martha Phelps, Douglass Dumbrille and Virginia O'Brien.
The Big Store was advertised as the Marx Bros last movie, but they were back in 1946 with a new film.
Margaret Dumont's final film with the brothers.
This is the one where - Groucho is hired as the floorwalker and bodyguard to a store owner, an Italian family whith 12 children get lost in the bed department, the brothers outwit the villains in a wild chase on rollerskates through the entire store.
Martha Phelps: Tell me, Wolfie dear, will we have a beautiful home?
Wolf J. Flywheel: Of course. You're not planning on moving, are you?
Martha Phelps: No, but I'm afraid after we're married awhile, a beautiful young girl will come along, and you'll forget all about me.
Wolf J. Flywheel: Don't be silly. I'll write to you twice a week.
IMDB rating 6.5
A Night in Casablanca (1946) Directed by Archie Mayo. 85mins.
Groucho Marx - Ronald Kornblow
Harpo Marx - Rusty
Chico Marx - Corbaccio
Also starring Sig Ruman, Charles Drake, Lois Collier, Lisette Verea and Lewis L. Russell.
Corbaccio: What you need is a good bodyguard.
Kornblow: What I need is a good body. The one I've got isn't worth guarding.
The last of the 12 classic Marx Bros comedies which began with The Cocoanuts in 1929.
They would return again in Love Happy in 1949 but with Groucho only appearing briefly in a couple of scenes.
Abbott and Costello were the top Hollywood comedy team of the 1940s, The brothers were getting old, Chico was nearly 60.
A Night in Casablanca originally began as a spoof on the WB classic Casablanca (1942) but an original storyline was written instead,
This is the one where - Groucho is the newest manager at the Hotel Casablanca, he finds out that three previous managers were murdered, the brothers discover hidden Nazi treasure in the hotel, it climaxes at an airport and the villains plane crashing into a police station.
Beatrice Rheiner: Will you join me?
Kornblow: Why? Are you coming apart?
IMDB rating 7.0
Copacabana (1947) Directed by Alfred E. Green. 92mins.
Groucho Marx - Lionel Q. Deveraux
Also starring Carmen Miranda, Steve Cochran, Andy Russell, Gloria Jean and Abel Green.
A comedy musical with Groucho starring without his brothers.
Carmen Miranda sings "Tico-Tico" and Groucho sings "Go West, Young Man".
Groucho grew a real moustache in this film rather than the greasepaint one he sported in the previous films.
More scenes of Carmen Miranda were added for the Brazilian edition of the film.
Carmen Novarro: I don't think you want to marry me.
Lionel Q. Deveraux: How can you say that? We've been engaged for almost ten years!
IMDB rating 6.0
Love Happy (1949) Directed by David Miller. 85mins.
Harpo Marx - Harpo
Chico Marx - Faustino the Great
Groucho Marx - Detective Sam Grunion
Also starring Ilona Massey, Vera-Ellen, Marion Hutton, Raymond Burr, Melville Cooper and Marilyn Monroe.
Harpo was the star of this comedy, he also wrote the story. Groucho appears briefly at the start and at the end. The three brothers don't have a scene together in the film.
Groucho hated Love Happy and in his autobiography he says A Night in Casablanca was the last real Marx Brothers film.
The movie gained more interest over the years because of an early appearance from screen goddess Marilyn Monroe.
Sam Grunion: [threatened with a straight razor] This'll never do. I've got a hide like an elephant. By the way, did you ever try to hide an elephant?
Ivan the killer: You will be dead in five minutes
Sam Grunion: Huh! For your information, my doctor gave me three years to live, and I don't intend to make a fool out of HIM.
IMDB rating 5.8