The Cocoanuts (1929) Review

The Cocoanuts (1929) Director: Robert Florey and Joseph Santley

“Jail is no place for a young fellow. There’s no advancement!”

★★★★☆

As the first feature-length Marx Brothers film, The Cocoanuts is a wonderful comedy filled with classic Groucho Marx zingers and absurdist mockery of status quo aristocratic culture. Amidst the 1920s land boom, Groucho plays a character named Mr. Hammer who runs a hotel in Florida called the “Hotel de Cocoanut.” His preference is to sleep on the job until Harpo and Chico arrive with empty suitcases, ready to rob unsuspecting clientele. Mrs. Potter, an aristocrat with concerns about her daughter’s impending marriage, is played by Molly Dumont (she was featured in seven of the Marx Brothers’ films). Her daughter is in love with a struggling architect who is blamed for stealing Mrs. Potter’s diamond. Naturally, with this cohort of people united together in one hotel, chaos ensues.

As with other Marx Brothers films, the plot, location, and character names have little to do with the film –they are merely one-dimensional caricatures which allow for the Marx Brothers to shine. The scenery exists merely to set the stage for a string of chaotic and anarchic gags. This adds a kind of timeless quality to their films.

Best Quotations from the Film (mainly courtesy of Groucho Marx):

“Folks, you are now in Cocoanut Manor, one of the finest cities in Florida. Of course, we still need a few finishing touches, but who doesn’t?” – Groucho (a.k.a. Hammer)

“Right now I’d do anything for money. I’d kill somebody for money. I’d kill you for money. Ha ha ha. Ah, no. You’re my friend. I’d kill you for nothing” -Chico

“- Hammer: Now here is a little peninsula and here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.
– Chico: Why a duck?”

“Jail is no place for a young fellow. There’s no advancement” -Groucho (a.k.a. Hammer)

“Groucho: What would you like? Would you like a suite on the third floor?
Chico: No. I’ll take a Pollack in the basement”

A Night At The Opera (1935) Review

A Night At The Opera (1935) Director: Sam Wood

★★★★☆

The Marx Brothers deliver another classic of comedic cinema with A Night At The Opera. It is a wonderful film filled with many memorable lines from Groucho and crazy hijinks from the brothers as they continue to lampoon bourgeois society.

‘A Night At The Opera’ is the first Marx Brothers film with MGM, after their departure from Paramount. Following a long string of screenwriters and much back room editing, the film was completed and became a success. This was Groucho’s favorite Marx brothers film.

Otis B. Driftwood is the business manager for a wealthy dowager who is dissatisfied with his work. He proposes that she become a patron of the opera. Meanwhile a lead opera singer falls for a charming young man who is also singer, but not for the opera. A love triangle ensues when the lead male singer at the opera also falls for the same woman, and they travel to New York to be a part of the opera. Driftwood comes along aboard the ship while he finds that the remaining Marx brothers and the lead singer’s lover have become stowaways in his luggage. The group winds up ruining the opera in a hilarious series of satirical skits.

Director, Sam Wood, reportedly a prude, once tried to get Groucho to read the lines the way preferred and when he finally did, Wood said “I guess you can’t just make an actor out of clay.” Instantly Groucho responded, “Nor a director out of wood.” During the film, Wood had developed an ulcer so he had a glass of milk each morning, and Groucho arranged for it to be delivered in a baby bottle, a joke Wood never got. Wood also instilled a $50 fine for being late to the set, Groucho was the first to receive it as the other brothers nailed his garage closed. It became a game for the brothers, so Wood abandoned the idea.

Producer Irving Thalberg used to frequently be late to his meetings with the brothers. One time, he left them waiting in his secretary’s office for several hours so they pushed cabinets together boxing him in his office. He never missed appointments with them again, but he frequently would step out for phone calls. In one such instant, Thalberg returned to his office to find the three brothers totally naked roasting potatoes in his office.

Funny lines from Groucho in A Night at the Opera:

  • “I saw Mrs. Claypool first. Of course, her mother really saw her first but there’s no point in bringing the Civil War into this.”
  • “Ladies and Gentlemen. I guess that takes in most of you. This is the opening of a new opera season, a season made possible by the generous checks of Mrs. Claypool. [Applause] I am sure the familiar strains of Verdi’s music will come back to you tonight, and Mrs. Claypool’s checks will probably come back in the morning. Tonight marks the American debut of Rodolfo Lassparri. [Applause] Senor Lassparri comes from a very famous family. His mother was a well known bass singer. And his father was the first man to stuff spaghetti with bicarbonate of soda, thus causing and curing indigestion at the same time. And now on with the opera. Let joy be unconfined. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons and necking in the parlor.”
  • “When I invite a woman to dinner, I expect her to look at my face. That’s the price she has to pay.”
  • Lassparri: “Never in my life have I received such treatment. They threw an apple at me.”
    Driftwood: “Well. Watermelons are out of season.”

Duck Soup (1933) Review

Duck Soup (1933) Director: Leo McCarey

“I could dance with you until the cows come home. On second thought, I’d rather dance with the cows until you come home.”

★★★★★

The Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup is a film of enduring delights. Whereas Horse Feathers is a parody of the elite nepotism in higher education, Duck Soup is a parody of the fascistic dictatorships of the 1930s. Lamentably, the film was considered a commercial and critical failure in its day, effectively ending the Marx Brothers five film contract with Paramount and fueling a new partnership with MGM, however Duck Soup is simply brilliant. Publicly, in the 1930s the film was considered offensive for its cavalier treatment of war and fascism. In fact, Mussolini was so distraught upon viewing the film that he banned it across Italy. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the film gained favorable opinion, especially among college students.

Duck Soup was originally slated to be directed by Ernst Lubitsch -imagine that! The title was taken from Leo McCarey’s earlier Laurel and Hardy film of the same name. There has been much speculation about the origins of the title of the film, but Groucho once said: “Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, mix them together. After one taste, you’ll duck soup the rest of your life.” The film is the last to feature all four Marx Brothers together on screen.

Summarizing the plot of Duck Soup is impossible, as each Marx Brothers film is a series of chaotic vignettes and absurdist scenes. However, I will try to give a brief synopsis. It tells the story of “Freedonia,” a struggling, mismanaged country (Balkan state) on the verge of revolution. Gloria Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) offers $20 million to finance the government under the condition of new leadership: Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx), but he offends everyone, establishes a series of ridiculous ordinances, and leads the country into war against Sylvania, led by Ambassador Trentino (Luis Calhern). Firefly and his fellow Marx Brothers who play spies for Sylvania encounter many scenes of hilarious hijinks, including the famous mirror scene with Firefly and Chicolini miming each other. The film ends when Trentino tries to storm Firefly’s military base but he gets stuck in the door and surrenders as Firefly throws old fruit at him and Teasdale shouts: “Victory is ours!”

Some memorable lines from Groucho Marx include:

  • “I danced before Napoleon. No Napoleon danced before me. In fact, he danced 200 years before me.”
  • “…could you lend me $12 until payday? Don’t be scared. You’ll get it back. I’ll give you my personal note for 90 days. If it isn’t paid by then you can keep the note.”
  • “Clear? Huh! Why a four-year-old child could understand this report. [aside] Run out and find me a four-year-old child. I can’t make head or tail out of it.”
  • “General Smith reports a gas attack. He wants to know what to do.”
    Rufus T. Firefly: “Tell him to take a teaspoonful of bicarbonate baking soda and a half a glass of water.”
  • “The eyes of the world are upon you. Notables from every country are gathered here in your honor. This is a gala day for you.”
    Rufus T. Firefly: “A gal a day is enough for me.”
  • “I could dance with you until the cows come home. On second thought, I’d rather dance with the cows until you come home.”
  • “You do suggest something. To me you suggest a baboon. I’m sorry I said that. It isn’t fair to the rest of the baboons.”
  • “Will you marry me? Did he leave you any money? Answer the second question first.”
  • “You’re fighting for this woman’s honor – which is probably more than she ever did.”
  • “I was with him to the very end.”
    Rufus T. Firefly: “No wonder he passed away.”
  • “Message from the front, sir.”
    Rufus T. Firefly: “Oh, I’m sick of messages from the front. Don’t we ever get a message from the side?”
  • “I’ll see my lawyer about this as soon as he graduates from law school!”
  • “We’re in a mess. Rush to Freedonia! Three men and one woman are trapped in a building! Send help at once! If you can’t send help, send two more women!”
  • “You ask me to forget? A Firefly never forgets.”
  • “All I can offer you is a Rufus over your head” – in a proposal for marriage to Teasdale.

In his autobiography Harpo Speaks, Harpo tells of traveling to the USSR to perform several days after the release of the film. He was stopped and questioned by the police and ordered to play his harp to prove it was not a weapon.

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.