Before calling time on this main batch of posts on Animal Crackers, just a few final words of context.
Though it generally enjoys a higher reputation than The Cocoanuts, the film is usually placed on a lower pedestal than the three other Paramounts that follow it. This is because, like its predecessor, it is still essentially stage-bound, with long, talky scenes and few set-ups, played out on single sets from which the actors enter and exit while the camera sits there looking at them.
In the next film, Monkey Business, we instantly see the change: Paramount has discovered editing; and the new writers oblige with a series of staccato sequences that match the pace of the material itself.
I say this in order to prove that I am not oblivious to the difference in style and rhythm that distinguishes Crackers and Business. And I say that the better to emphasise that Animal Crackers is still, all things considered, my favourite Marx Brothers film.
And it is my favourite film not in spite of these distinguishing characteristics but because of them..
I like the Brothers on stage. One of my greatest regrets (along with March 17th, 2004) is the fact that I am not of an age to have seen them on Broadway. Next to that experience, I feel, none of these films would hold much more than a sputtering and stubby candle.
There is a relentlessness to the Brothers' humour when it's going at full sledgehammer force that is dissipated by slickness, by energy in the direction. It bludgeons you more when you're just trapped there, watching it spill out before you, with nothing else to distract you and nowhere else to go.
If you're honest, you'll admit this is true. What's your favourite bit in A Night at the Opera? It's the contract scene or the crowded stateroom, am I right? Yes, the climax is great too - but if you had to choose? Or A Day at the Races? Chico's ice cream scam. What's the only good bit in Go West? The opening scene.
All theatrical style sketches. All Broadway Marx Brothers. Movie Marx Brothers get chased round ocean liners and that's hilarious too, but it's not of the essence. The essence is a very particular kind of aggressively illogical and self-defeating wordplay of the sort that Animal Crackers sprouts in Biblical profusion. It's New York v. Hollywood, a contest with only one possible winner. Their first two films are plays with the smell of Broadway, of curtain calls and high-kicks from the chorus line, of Woollcott and Benchley guffawing from the audience. Animal Crackers, for me, combines this theatrical quality with some of the best material the boys ever had:
. Tell me, Mr Chandler, where are you planning on putting your new opera house?
I thought I should like to put it somewhere near Central Park.
I see. Why don't you put it right in Central Park?
Could we do that?
Sure, do it at night when no one is looking.
Now to find the painting, all you've got to do is go to everybody in the house and ask them if they took it.
You know, I could rent you out as a decoy for duck hunters. You say you're going to go to everybody in the house and ask them if they took the painting? Suppose nobody in the house took the painting?
Go to the house next door.
That's great. Suppose there isn't a house next door?
Well then of course we gotta build one.
Well now you're talking! What kind of a house do you think we ought to put up?
Your honour, I rest my case.