Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

A Day at the Races


This was the second movie the Marx Brothers made at MGM. For me, it falls somewhere in the midrange of their films, though it was one of Groucho’s favorites. My own favorite is Duck Soup. I guess it’s a matter of taste. What I like most about the Marxes is what’s called “anarchic comedy.” They existed in a world of their own, and anyone and anything was a target of their jibes. When they went to MGM, Irving Thalberg insisted the films have more of a plot. A plot! Horrors! This is not to say that this film and A Night at the Opera, the other film they made for Thalberg, are not comic masterpieces. It’s just that there’s something missing. I mean, here Groucho gets brought into a scheme by Chico and Harpo to save a sanitarium from the clutches of a nasty man,. It just doesn’t feel right. Groucho should be out for himself, first, last, and always. Thalberg also wanted more non-comic songs. So we get a totally irrelevant, huge Busby Berkeley-type production number with enough water to drown Esther Williams, and a sappy song by Zeppo-lookalike Allen Jones. Frankly, the parts of these movies that work the least well these days are the “juvenile” lead and the girl he is pursuing. It’s old-fashioned, it’s hokey, and the songs are not very good. Those are the parts I snooze through, waiting for the next brilliant set piece that has nothing to do with the plot. I’m waiting to see how Chico mangles the language, what nasty one-liner Groucho comes out with, and what comes out of Harpo’s pockets.