1:40 - "This way to the sanitarium! Free bus to the sanitarium!"
Chico's desperate efforts to tempt the new arrivals to come to Judy's health resort are harshly rebuffed in every instance, and back at the van, a wistful Judy predicts the business's collapse. But despite its unpopularity and financial precariousness, a look at the large hoarding welcoming visitors to Sparkling Springs Lake will reveal that the Standish Sanitarium is considered one of the four primary attractions in the town, and is even included on the advertised sightseeing tour.
2:17 - Miss Judy
Irish O'Sullivan, the mother of Mia Farrow, was an MGM contract player familiar from supporting roles, the occasional second feature lead, and most of all as Jane in the Tarzan pictures (whose costume, before the Hays Code insisted on replacing it with a one piece, is one of the supreme eyefuls of early talking cinema).
She's perky and likeable, and apparently made an especial impression on Groucho, who spoke wistfully of the two of them running off together in the breaks between shooting. O'Sullivan batted away such advances sympathetically, citing the fact that both were married. In later life, however, she did hint delicately that there may have been a degree of reciprocation.
8:20 - Mr Morgan
Over the years he shifted and schemed in the background behind Abbott and Costello, Bing and Bob, The Bowery Boys, Charlie Chan, Mr Moto, the Lone Wolf and Michael Shayne, and appeared in over 150 films.
He returned to the Marxes as the even nastier Mr Grover in The Big Store, still scheming to take the hero's business away, but this time happy to resort even to murder to get what he wants.
Dumbrille made the headlines when in 1960, two years after the death of his first wife and at the age of seventy, he married 28 year old Patricia Mowbray. The marriage lasted happily until his death fourteen years later, thus justifying the spirit of the statement he issued at the time of their engagement: "Age doesn't mean a blasted thing... We don't give a continental damn what other people think."
9:31 - Dr Hackenbush arrives
It would have been an eye-opening moment: the only time a Marx Brother had burst into song at MGM without ambient justification. Later numbers like 'Lydia' or 'Riding the Range' are being performed as songs by the characters, with visible instruments, and even 'Sing While You Sell', which comes closest to the effect that 'Dr Hackenbush' would have had, is partially rooted in reality in so far as it is about the virtues of singing and dancing while at work. But for a Groucho character to simply start singing in the middle of a scene would have been to assume a liberty afforded only the romantic leads at MGM, and though I've no evidence to support me, I can't help wondering if this, rather than merely time constraints and a lamentable sense of priorities, was a contributory factor in the song's excision. Too much like movie magic for Thalberg, perhaps?
That said, I don't mourn its absence as much as many fans do. Unquestionably it would have been preferable to just about any three minutes of just about any later scene. But it still doesn't strike me as a lost classic, and Groucho's fondness for the number has always intrigued me. I was genuinely surprised when I first heard it, given its reputation and the fact that Kalmar and Ruby wrote it.
Like most everything else in this film it is painfully derivative, though not, this time, of A Night at the Opera. Here, the obvious influence is 'Hooray For Captain Spaulding / Hello, I Must Be Going' from Animal Crackers, but compared to those of its inspiration, the lyrics are graceless and clunky:
So this is Dr Hackenbush, the famous medico.
You're welcome, Dr Hackenbush...
If that's the case I'll go.
Oh no you mustn't go!
Who said I mustn't go?
The only reason that I came is so that I can go.
Despite the relative artlessness of the song, however, it would certainly have given the film a lift. Over at his Comedy Palace, Noah Diamond has done an amazing job of recreating what this scene might have been like had the number been retained. And here it is.
9:54 - "This is Dr Hugo Z. Hackenbush..."
Indeed it is, and I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that it very nearly wasn't.
Until a very late stage, Groucho's character was given the more overtly comical (and fitting) surname of 'Quackenbush', until complaints were registered from at least one genuine Dr Quackenbush, whereupon the switch was made.
I was always surprised that so plainly jokey a name could have existed in reality, but in fact Quackenbushes are legion in America. Lovely Monogram starlet Wanda McKay, for instance, was in reality Miss Dorothy Quackenbush, and a Google search on the name will bring up a whole bunch more, as well as the gun company whose advert is reproduced above.
All the same, I don't get why having the same name as a Groucho character is grounds to make the studio change it. Presumably there were hotel managers, perhaps even Florida hotel managers, called Mr Hammer, and I doubt it did their business any harm when Cocoanuts came out. It's not like seriously ill people in the vicinity are going to suddenly stop going to the doctor from fear that he might really be an interloping horse doctor with painted eyebrows.
Intriguing, too, to consider how any two-bit Dr Quackenbush learned of Groucho's character name in a forthcoming film in the first place. Ordinarily the film would be on release before he'd have heard about it, and I doubt he'd have had much luck getting them to change it then. (Overdub it every time?) Presumably it was the pre-production live tour that gave him the tip-off.
Incidentally, the photograph below, taken from the tour, is interesting in that it shows how even as late as 1937, Harpo was still wearing his original dark red wig for stage appearances, reserving the strawberry blonde one only for the movies, where it photographed less harshly.
Despite this surely excessive care for the feelings of the world's Quackenbushes, the word 'Hackenbush' is also not without precedent.
Or is it? According to Wikipedia, 'Hackenbush' is the name of a two-player mathematical game played on any configuration of coloured line segments connected to one another by their endpoints and to the ground. Of course, when I say 'ground' in this context, and 'connected to' in relation to it, what I'm really saying, as I'm sure you knew without my having to say, is that there is a horizontal line at the bottom of the page/playing space and several line segments such that each line segment is connected to this ground point, as it were, either directly, at an endpoint, or indirectly via a chain of segments connected by endpoints. Of course, any number of segments may meet at an end point, and thus there may be multiple paths to ground, but then, that's all part of the fun of Hackenbush. Sadly, constraints of space forbid me from more than mentioning that the game can be made even more fun via the application of graph theory, by considering the board as a collection of vertices and edges and examining the paths to each vertex that lies on the ground (which needless to say should be considered as a distinguished vertex - woe betide the Hackenbush player that examines the path to each vertex that lies on the ground without considering it as a distinguished vertex). According to many experts, the game is also enhanced when played drunk. It is also regarded as the ideal 'first date' game.
You want more? Then get stuck in to this. Now you know how mathematicians pass the time when they're not calculating the odds at horse races.
Whether the game derives its name from the Doc, I don't know. But it appears to date from the early 1980s.
10:07 - "Just a moment while I calm these paralytics."
The three doctors and their excessive bowing represent social conformity in traditional Marx Brothers fashion, as indicated by their identical dress and behaviour. Think also of the interchangeable detectives in the Paramount films, always called something like 'Hennesey', the identical Professors in Horse Feathers, and the identical aviators in A Night at the Opera. Groucho's description of the doctors as paralytics carries therefore a certain degree of satirical venom. The nodding and bowing, of course, recalls the repeated introductions of Mrs Claypool to Mr Gottlieb in Opera.
10:24 - "I knew your mother very well..."
"But that's my father!"
It's a typically over-cautious MGM touch that the painting referred to could be taken as a person of either gender by anybody, and so Groucho's mistake is not an unreasonable (or funny) one. The Paramount Groucho would have made the same comment regardless of any actual ambiguity in the portrait.
10:42 - "Dodge Brothers, late '29"
Whether there is any specific significance to the addition of "late '29", other than as an arbitrary mimicking of the doctors announcing their graduating years, I don't know. LA Guy has convincingly suggested that it is simply suggesting the age of Groucho's car, in that he hasn't been able to afford a new model since the Great Depression.
It is of some slight interest to record that following the merger with Chrysler, the Dodge vehicles became part of the same production line that made the Plymouth and DeSoto, the most famous sponsors of You Bet Your Life.
12:32 - "Ixnay on the illpay!"
Groucho's admonition to Mrs Upjohn is spoken in 'pig latin', a schoolyard code hugely popular in the thirties that even today will probably need no explanation for American readers, though it is less familiar here.
The technique is simply to move the first letter of each word to the end and follow it with 'ay', but the result, especially if delivered with sufficient pace, will sound truly baffling to those not in on the secret.
It crops up in countless Hollywood movies, two of my favourites being the Stooges short Tassels in the Air, in which Moe and Larry attempt to explain the rudiments of the code to an uncomprehending Curly, and the fabulous section of Gold Diggers of 1933 where a gorgeous Ginger Rogers sings an entire verse of 'We're In The Money' in pig latin translation:
17:00 - Tootsie Fruitsie Ice Cream
The sudden appearance of this full-fledged comedy skit, which can and often has been excised in its entirety to create a free-standing sequence that makes exactly as much sense out of context as in, shows all too clearly how the film has been conceived: as a series of chunks (plot, song, comedy sketch, etc) each with their own allotted span and order, like a variety bill.
This is the first of the half dozen comedy scenes, and because it has been written in isolation from the rest of the film it never quite takes flight in the way that earlier Groucho and Chico scenes did. It is very highly regarded, and for many the highlight of the movie. I find it mildly amusing.
25:07: "I want to turn this place into a gambling casino before the season ends!"
If he does, Morgan will have to fight off the rivalry of the one that already exists, and is advertised alongside the sanitarium and his race track and hotel on the huge hoarding at the railway station. Odd that he has gone to so much effort to snatch the sanitarium from Judy's hands, only to expensively turn it into something that already exists in the town. Why not just try to take over the one that's already there? Or turn the sanitarium into something else?
26:04 - "Look, Miss Standish, suppose I were to tell you I'm not the doctor you think I am..."
An especially nonsensical and disastrous example of how Groucho's comic persona has been tinkered with, this is perhaps the most cringeworthy Groucho moment until those two immortal pinnacles of horror: the bit where he says, "and yours truly who could certainly use the money for Jeff" in At The Circus, and the bit in The Big Store where he coquettishly fishes for compliments from Tommy Rogers as if one or the other of them were a girl. Even by those standards, the spectacle of a coy, sheepish and guilt-panged Groucho here is a demeaning one for all concerned.
30:35 - Dr Hackenbush in his consulting room
This scene reminds me of the bit in Wagstaff's office in Horse Feathers; the doctors are like the professors, the nurses like Wagstaff's secretary. Harpo and Chico arrive, looking to be accepted as patients rather than students.
32:19 - "Goodbye forever, goodbye forever..."
The song of which Groucho sings just that snatch is 'Good-bye!' by the Italian composer Paolo Tosti, with lyrics by Scottish novelist-poet George Whyte-Melville. The song was written in 1908 and became a popular standard.
Here's Deanna Durbin giving voice to it in a strange sequence from the 1946 film Because Of Him:
35:30 - "I think he's a Ubangi"
Chico is here referring to the popular name for African women wearing lip plates, widely exhibited in sideshows and circuses in the early twentieth and late nineteenth centuries.
The name is in fact something of a misnomer, according to Mr Wikipedia: "Around 1930, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey promoted them as members of the Ubangi tribe, but the Ringling press agent admitted he picked that name from a map for its exotic sound."
Chico speculates that Harpo might be a Ubangi because of his habit of producing and inflating a balloon from his mouth whenever Hackenbush presses his stomach. Easy mistake to make. And I must say I do rather like Groucho's follow-up line: "I'll get a hammer and ubangi that right off."
35:57 - "I can't do anything for him: that's a case for Frank Buck!"
Buck (1884-1950) was a flamboyant American big game hunter and collector of wild animals for zoos and circuses. The title of his life story, Bring 'em Back Alive, passed into the language.
In later life he traded on his reputation by appearing as a featured attraction at Ringling Brothers circus shows, and in a series of movie roles, sometimes recreating his exploits straight and sometimes gently spoofing his popular image (as in Abbott and Costello's Africa Screams in 1949).
39:04 - The Water Carnival
The result is that it plays almost like a separate mini-movie, an effect heightened by the opening which shows a close up of the programme being perused, showing the performers named therein (one of whom,Vivien Fay, is of course appearing under her real name), so that it looks as thought the scene has its own individual credit sequence.
Needless to say, this is the object of much derision from the kind of fans who think the presence of guest singers in a Marx movie is a calculated affront to their cynical cool. In reality, Allan Jones puts in another sterling performance, singing in an enormous banana sundae dish floating in a lake in front of a massive ornamental fountain while a selection of cuties from the MGM casting couch smile fixedly at the camera, and at Jones, but never at each other, while pretending to play ukuleles.
Vivien Fay, next up, is even better, and audiences who haven't by this time snorted themselves into an uncomprehending contemptuous stupor generally find their derision brought up short by the magnificent image of Fay twirling on her axis at terrifying length and speed, ending on a perfectly composed freeze and smile, when all she must have wanted to do in reality was fall to the floor groaning, while the world around her ebbed and flowed like she'd just swallowed a bottle of gin in one gulp. A superb performance.
Races was the second of only six film appearances made by Fay, the last an uncredited bit in Bud and Lou's debut movie One Night in the Tropics in 1940. Born in 1916 she is, if the IMDB be believed, still with us at the time of writing.
45:43 - "Change your partners!"
Broadway dancer, friend of Edward and Mrs Simpson and one-time wife of Busby Berkeley, Muir is very funny in this film and also appeared with the Brothers in their pre-production live tour, getting covered in talcum powder and wallpaper paste and having her derriere slapped with a wallpaper brush every night and twice on Saturdays.
She also worked with Wheeler and Wolsey in So This Is Africa (below), and the film she made directly before Races was, intriguingly enough, called High Hat.
She made her last film appearance in 1941, moved successfully into real estate development, and died in 1995 at the age of 92.
There is a degree of mystery about Flo. She has been hired by Whitmore and Morgan, but to somewhat ambiguous ends. The idea is to discredit Hackenbush in the eyes of Mrs Upjohn by having her walk in on them mind-tryst, but it seems a bizarrely elaborate scheme when Hackenbush has already given abundant evidence of his incompetence and lack of credentials. Her exit line - "I'll get even! You dirty, low-down, double-crossing snake!" - hints at a return appearance that never comes, but might perhaps have been intended in one or other of the original drafts.
52:00 - Chico's piano solo
As in Opera, Chico's speciality spot has been cut insultingly short - rushed through in less than two minutes - so as to allow Harpo to hog some piano time on top of his harp solo. He plays a bit of Rachmaninov and then smashes the piano to bits. Hilarious, I'm sure.
The only amusing part is watching the orchestra in the background, who have obviously been told to react in comic fear to Harpo's antics, and who thus appear to flee, return and flee again, and again, every time he does something destructive. Look out for the lovely shot of the sheriff and two other men at 53:32: they resemble a non-existent comedy team.
66:55 - "It's the old, old story. Boy meets girl! Romeo and Juliet! Minneapolis and St Paul!"
Minneapolis-St Paul is the most populous urban area in the state of Minnesota, United States and is composed of 186 cities and townships built around the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers. The area is also nicknamed the Twin Cities for its two largest cities, Minneapolis, with the highest population, and St Paul, the state capital.
Wikipedia couldn't have put it better.
67:20 - Sig Rumann returns
But it's always good to see Rumann on the bill, and his third appearance in A Night In Casablanca makes him a fully-fledged member of the Marx screen family.
He has less to do here than in his other two appearances, however. He is a specialist brought in by Whitmore to expose the inadequacy of Hackenbush's diagnosis of Mrs Upjohn.
Coincidentally, but most bizarrely, he was to perform the same function in the same year's Nothing Sacred, and again in Living It Up, 1954's remake of Nothing Sacred, and then again in 1966 in Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie, thus making him the only actor to have played an eminent doctor called in to expose a medical fraud on four separate occasions, smashing Bjorn Borg's previous record of three.
69:04 - Hackenbush attempts to flee
No, I'm not going to labour the point yet again that this sort of thing is grotesquely out of character for Groucho. My interest is in the reflection in the mirror when he is at his dressing table. What is it? It looks like a street exterior. I can't see anything else on the set to correspond with it. It doesn't seem to be the reflection of the supposed view through an opposite window, or of a picture on an opposite wall. And what is that flash of white that appears on the right hand edge of it at 69:05? It looks like a human figure, but relative to the size of the reflected building, not someone in the room like Groucho.
71:35 - "I told you guys to stay down in that room with those pigeons!"
One of the film's great mystery moments! It would be lovely to think that this line is pure nonsense, put in for no reason at all other than because it is intrinsically funny, and to (just as meaninglessly) set up the appearance of the two pigeons that come in with the horse at the end.
But that's not the MGM way, is it? Consensus concludes that the pigeon line refers to an excised earlier moment, the exact nature of which we can now only guess at, that was probably cut to make room for an extra thirty seconds of Allan Jones brushing his tuxedo.
73:02 - "Down by the old mill stream, where I first met you..."
The song the boys sing when washing their hands was one of the most widely sung songs of the first half of the twentieth century, and an especial favourite of barbershop quartets.
It was written by Tell Taylor in 1908, published in 1910 and first performed by vaudeville quartet The Orpheus Comedy Four. The Marxes would doubtless have been familiar with it from their own touring days on the vaudeville circuit.
The chorus runs:
Down by the old mill stream where I first met you,
With your eyes of blue, dressed in gingham too,
It was there I knew that you loved me true,
You were sixteen, my village queen, by the old mill stream.
73:47 - "No, we're not mad. We're just terribly hurt, that's all."
A lovely, baffling line.
74:08 - "This is absolutely insane!"
"That's what they said about Pasteur!"
A reference to Louis Pasteur (1822-95), the French microbiologist, pioneer in immunisation and the germ theory of disease, and inventor of pasteurisation and the rabies and anthrax vaccines.
Groucho is therefore likening his efforts to convince a wealthy widow that she has high blood pressure on one side and low blood pressure on the other, and that the correct procedure for establishing this is to get her to wave her arms in the air until she flies away, to Pasteur's discoveries, on the grounds that both met with scepticism from reactionary authority.
A nice touch of absurd arrogance - something he could have done with a bit more of in the film's first half.
77:22 - "Hee hoo! Where did that come from?"
This moment always makes me laugh a lot. It's hard to explain what's funny about it: Groucho, enjoined to laugh, does so half-heartedly but producing a sound that is unexpectedly bizarre, and comments on it.
It feels very modern somehow, almost like a line from Friends or something. (I appreciate Friends won't seem all that modern any more to our younger readers, but you get the point.)
80:01 - Harpo charms the ghetto
What is there left to be said of this scene?
Next to nothing, I'd say, save to reiterate that it doesn't have a derogatory or mean-spirited bone in its body, and its purity of motive, or lack of motive rather, is far too transparent to be anything but cynically denied.
None of which is to make it a worthy or delightful sequence in its own right, and it certainly doesn't do much for me. But its crimes begin and end at taking the status quo as a given - and is that really such a faux pas in this context - especially when it showcases so much excellent talent in the process, not least the superb Whitey's Lindy Hoppers?
I cannot pretend to be troubled by Groucho in black face. I am personally horrified by the race course finale, with its shots of horses crashing to their likely doom, and look forward to the time when this reaction will be widely shared.
But I hope it will always be obvious that the horse falls in this film are not included to deliberately offend, or on the assumption that their cruelty is entertaining. All it is is thoughtless, because it happens to date from a time when such considerations were not foremost in consensus consciousness.
The same goes for the Harpo Gabriel sequence. Not only are the Brothers not trying to give offence, they would have been horrified to learn that they had.
90:48 - "Ride 'em, cowboy, or we're heading for the last lock-up!"
Groucho speculates on the likelihood of imprisonment by adapting the title of Billy Hill's country standard 'I'm Heading for the Last Round-up', a somewhat maudlin piece about a dying cowboy.
Groucho also sings a snatch of this number straight in one of the films, though I can't off-hand remember which. I'm thinking probably Room Service. Anybody?
94:29 - Ouch!
Groucho's double takes a nasty tumble in this long shot, as he attempts to walk tightrope-style along the perimeter fence, loses his footing and lands heavily on his portfolio of investments. Like an anonymous trouper he scrambles on to an adjacent car and carries on, without a camera cut. The shot at 94:39 appears to be the exact same one shown from a different camera and the opposite angle, but it can't be, because in the first he steps onto the bonnet of another car but in the second he slides down over it. Which means he took that nasty tumble at least twice, and we don't even know his name.
103:20 - The finale and fade-out
I like this climax. It's cute as hell, but it works really nicely, as virtually the whole cast bar the nasties walk triumphantly towards a moving camera and reprise snatches of the songs. Groucho still gets to do a line from the lovely 'I Got a Message From the Man in the Moon', a number that was cut from the film itself, probably to make room for a few extra shots of the horses breaking their necks.
Chico, who of course does not sing in the film proper, makes a half-hearted stab at 'Blue Venetian Waters' before mysteriously saying "Heidi, Heidi, Hi Hat" and rounding it off by yelling "Get-a your Tootsie Fruitsie ice cream!"
A Night at the Opera had ended rather abruptly: here, at last, the film improves upon its prototype. But getting here has been a long, far from unpleasant, but all too often mildly frustrating journey.