Horse Feathers (1932) Review

Horse Feathers (1932) Director: Norman Z. McLeod

“I don’t know what they have to say.
It makes no difference anyway.
Whatever it is, I’m against it!”

★★★★☆

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’ve got the brain of a four-year-old boy, and I bet he was glad to get rid of it.”
  • “I’m the plumber. I’m just hanging around in case something goes wrong with her pipes. [Aside] That’s the first time I’ve used that joke in 20 years.”
  • “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.

M (1931) Review

M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder  Director: Fritz Lang (1931)

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★★★★★

M – “A City looks for a Murderer” is a marvelous work of cinematic genius, cementing Fritz Lang as the “master of darkness.” It was his first sound film and the screenplay was written by Mr. Lang along with his wife. Throughout his life, Mr. Lang believed M to be his masterpiece. Indeed M is a masterpiece loaded with experimental sound, and expert editing leading to a heightened experience of drama. It also leaves the audience stunned and horrified, while displaying no graphic scenes of children being murdered. As in a Greek tragedy, all the true horror occurs offstage and in the imagination of the audience.

Before shooting the film, Lang announced its controversial subject matter in a newspaper advertisement causing a heated uproar. He eventually made the film through Nero Studios, rather than UFA due to suspicions of Nazi involvement. In order to research the subject matter of M, Lang spent eight days in a mental institution and spoke with several convicted child killers -he eventually included criminals as extras on the set.

The film tells the story of a German town plagued by child killer. The police and the citizens rapidly grow desperate as six young children disappear. They begin to accuse anyone who associates with children of being the killer. It is a tale of paranoia The police decide to increase their presence in the city, forcing the crime bosses to go underground. Frustrated, they devise a plan to catch the child murderer so they may return to practicing their illicit businesses.

One man spots the killer, played by the great Peter Lorre in his first major role, with a young girl -his next victim. The man bumps into the killer and deliberately leaves a chalky imprint of the letter “M” on his jacket, for murderer. However, the audience is already well familiar with the killer by his unusual, strange shadows cast, and ominous whistling of “In the Hall of the King” from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite no. 1 (actually whistled by Lang’s wife rather than Lorre who actually could not whistle).

The gang then tails him into the train station and infiltrates by taking over the entire station. They catch the murderer, and bring him back to the abandoned warehouse, where they pose a fascinating trial in which a discussion of criminality versus mental health ensues. Just as the crowds close in on the killer, the police arrive, tipped off by a lone straggler at the train station, and bring him to trial by common law. The film closes with weeping mothers lamenting the fact that the outcome of the trial will not revive their children. The closing lines are: “One has to keep closer watch over the children,” and as the screen goes black, she says, “All of you.”

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