Tuesday, January 3, 2012

LAGuy on Horse Feathers and Animal Crackers

Our pal LAGuy, who blogs over at Pajama Guy, PajamaGuys and the vaguely superfluous Pajama-Guy got to go and see a double-bill of Horse Feathers and Animal Crackers over the Christmas break, while the rest of us were stuck indoors.
He has kindly sent us this report

For several years now the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica has shown a Marx Brothers double feature on New Year's Day.
Last year it was A Day At The Races and A Night At The Opera, which I discussed on this blog in the comments section of the Opera annotation. This year they showed Horse Feathers and Animal Crackers. (Do they ever show any films after the first seven?)
Bill Marx, son of Harpo (who was signing his book Son Of Harpo Speaks in the lobby) introduced the film. Last year it was Andy Marx. Bill said there's nothing like seeing a Marx Brothers film in a packed theatre (and the Aero was packed). The Paramounts are his favorites.
Anyway, I won't go over the countless comic delights of the two films, since I'm sure readers are aware of them. (If not, see the movies, don't bother to learn them from me.) So I just have a few comments about other things I noticed.

I love almost everything about Horse Feathers, even the little moments, like Groucho skipping away as he reprises "I'm Against It."
I know it's silly to worry about a plot in their Parmount films, but boy do they drop the whole bootlegger thing fast.
I wasn't looking closely, but as far as I could tell, the street where Harpo causes a traffic jam has a cafe, a sweet shop and two cigar stores.
I think British people know this, but just in case, when Groucho says of his son that he's only a shell of his former self "which nobody can deny," he's quoting the last line of the American version of "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow."
The radio says Huxley is taking a lacing, so I'm always surprised when Chico and Harpo get there that the team is only losing 12-0. I'm also disappointed when Chico announces they're going through the middle and instead they sweep left--up till this point, Chico has been quite accurate.

As for Animal Crackers, I wonder how many people would have guessed in 1930 that Groucho's parody of Strange Interlude would become far better known than Strange Interlude itself? (Maybe the Theatre Guild wasn't so lucky after all.)
It's interesting how Lillian Roth exclaims "isn't it romantic" in introducing her song. You almost expect her to sing "Isn't It Romantic?" except that song hadn't been written yet - it would be in two years for another Paramount production.
Why is Harpo's picture of a horse torn in the corner? Couldn't the Paramount prop department get him another?
I was watching Lillian Roth to see how she reacts to Groucho's "Then it's murder" line, since this is the one she kept cracking up on. She smiles and shakes her head. I wonder how many takes were necessary.
Mrs. Rittenhouse owns some pretty modernistic chairs in the scene where Chico and Groucho plan to build a house.
Someone had to scratch a bunch of frames so when Harpo is loading his sprayer you can't see the brand name (which I'm guessing is Flit)? [Sure is! See Annotated Guide - MC]
Harpo dropping silverware is a classic routine, of course, but it must have been far more effective on stage where the audience knew it was happening right before their eyes with no trickery. [And without those destructive cuts creating the false impression that they are stopping to refill his sleeve between shots! - MC]

Watching the two movies one after another couldn't help but remind you of certain similarities:

--Groucho does the leg swinging dance move in both

--both have the tune "Collegiate" (the Professor's theme and Chico's solo)

--Groucho jokes about firing some employee if he does something he doesn't want

--Chico notes a picture doesn't look like someone

--Groucho asks someone to repeat something and when they do notes they already said that

--Robert Greig

--I think Chico says the same Italian line to Lillian Roth and Thelma Todd

--Harpo pulls out and quickly unfurls a large picture more than once

--Groucho talks about brushing up on a Greek and waxing a Roth

--Harpo carries a bag loaded with fancy equipment so he and Chico can commit a crime

--when Harpo's coat is removed, there's not much underneath


Gazzoo said...

As much as I love "Horse Feathers", I find it difficult to enjoy as I dread the upcoming damage in the print. I imagine that scene (in Connie Bailey's apartment) disappoints an audience as well...

Gazzoo said...

Also there's one quick shot in the "Animal Crackers" finale where Chico has his hat on backwards and over his eyes...it must be from a totally different take, or is possibly not even Chico at all!

Matthew Coniam said...

The Connie Bailey scene has improved very slightly in my lifetime (the line about hanging around in case something goes wrong with her pipes was incomplete in the first versions I saw on television) so there is still hope that one day this film will be entirely restored. Then we'll feel historically privilleged to have ever seen the old jumpy one, they way I feel privilleged to have seen Frankenstein before they found the bit where Karloff throws the kid in the water.
Must look out for the Chico shot: I am shamelessly intrigued by such things.

LAGuy said...

Thanks for putting this up. Looking it over, when I write that Bill Marx was "signing his book SON OF HARPO SPEAKS in the lobby" it sounds like a less funny version of "'Somewhere My Love Lies Sleeping' with a male chorus."

As to the Connie Bailey scene, there are those annoying cuts, but they don't last that long and the rest of the scene is one of the best ever that features the four brothers, so I don't think the audience is disappointed. (And any slight disappointment is long gone by the time we get to Groucho and Thelma Todd in the boat. Which reminds me of another similarity between the two movies, though it's a bit of a stretch--Groucho's line about the how developed the native girls were and the line about the girl at the boathouse and the flat bottom. I might add that thanks to this blog I really noticed for the first time just how wet Groucho is at the end of this scene. I also noticed how his guitar changed before he threw it overboard.)

Ed Watz said...

Here's another similarity between the two films: Chico plays "I'm Daffy Over You" (the song he wrote with Sol Violinsky) on the piano in "Animal Crackers" and the tune is also used in "Horse Feathers" to introduce Chico in the credits and when we first see him in the speakeasy. "I'm Daffy Over You" of course is also the main theme under the titles in "Monkey Business." Later Chico asks Harpo to play it on the harp in "MB" ("Magnifico!" he says, kissing his fingers into the air). Joe Adamson gets the tune wrong (thinks its "Sugartime") but Cinemabilia in NYC used to sell reprints of the sheet music...I thought every Marx fan had a copy of that back in the 70's.

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