Horse Feathers (1932) Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Horse Feathers is one of the greatest Marx Brothers films. It was their fourth film, following Animal Crackers, The House That Shadows Built, and Monkey Business. It was also a film released before the censorship codes were introduced in Hollywood in 1934.
The plot of the film follows two colleges, Darwin and Huxley -perhaps a play on Charles Darwin and his “bulldog” Thomas Henry Huxley. Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho Marx) has been appointed the new President of Huxley college. At his ceremony, he can be seen shaving and smoking onstage while proclaiming that his reason for coming to the college was to get his son out of it, implying that his son (Zeppo) flirts with too many women. He breaks into a famous Marx Brothers number entitled, “I’m Against It” -the film has numerous classic musical numbers such as “Everyone Says I Love You” later adopted as the title of a Woody Allen film. The audience learns that the college has had a different President every year since 1888, and this was the last time the college football team won. Wagstaff refocuses the college on football, rather than education, and begins acquiring football players at the speakeasy. In the end Huxley wins 31-12 by bending the rules -introducing multiple balls into the game and carriages to carry the ball into the end-zone. At the close, three different men marry the same woman pronouncing “We do.”
Notable Groucho Marx Quotations:
- “I’d horsewhip you if I had a horse.”
- “I don’t know what they have to say.
It makes no difference anyway.
Whatever it is, I’m against it.”
- “You’re a disgrace to our family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible. What’s all this talk I hear about you fooling around with the college widow? No wonder you can’t get out of college. Twelve years in one college! I went to three colleges in twelve years and fooled around with three college widows! When I was your age, I went to bed right after supper. Sometimes I went to bed before supper. Sometimes I went without my supper and didn’t go to bed at all! A college widow stood for something in those days. In fact, she stood for plenty.”
Horse Feathers is a memorable comedy that should not be missed by any lovers of great films. It is rife with sharp wit and classic Groucho Marx one-liners that are easy to miss on first viewing.