A Day at the Races (film)

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A Day at the Races
A Day at the Races poster 3.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Sam Wood
Written by
Screenplay by
Produced by
Cinematography Joseph Ruttenberg
Edited by Frank E. Hull
Music by
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • June 11, 1937 (1937-06-11)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States

A Day at the Races is a 1937 American comedy film, and the seventh film starring the Marx Brothers, with Allan Jones, Maureen O'Sullivan and Margaret Dumont. Like their previous Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer feature A Night at the Opera , this film was a major hit. [1]



The Standish Sanitarium, owned by Judy Standish, has fallen on hard times. Banker J.D. Morgan, who owns a nearby race track and nightclub, is attempting to purchase the Sanitarium to turn it into a casino. Judy's employee Tony, suggests asking financial help from the wealthy patient Mrs. Emily Upjohn. Mrs Upjohn threatens to leave the Sanitarium for treatment by Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush. Tony overhears her praise of Hackenbush, who is, unknown to her, a horse doctor. When Tony tells Mrs. Upjohn that Hackenbush has been hired to run the Sanitarium, she is elated and informs Judy she will consider helping her financially. When Hackenbush arrives he insults the Sanitarium's business manager Mr. Whitmore. Whitmore, being Morgan's stooge, is immediately suspicious of Hackenbush's medical background. Meanwhile, Judy's beau, singer Gil Stewart, who performs at Morgan's nightclub, has just spent his savings on a racehorse named Hi-Hat. He hopes the horse, which he purchased from Morgan, will win and the money will allow Judy to save the Sanitarium. Hi-Hat is so afraid of Morgan, that he rears in fright whenever he hears his voice. Gil now has no money to pay for Hi-Hat's feed, and he, Tony and Stuffy, Hi-Hat's jockey, have to resort to trickery to fend off the Sheriff who has come to collect money for the feed bill. Tony raises some money by scamming Hackenbush in the "Tutsi Fruitsy Ice Cream" scene, giving him a tip on a horse, but all in code, so he has to buy book after book to decipher it.

Whitmore attempts to contact the Florida Medical Board for information on the doctor. Hackenbush intercepts the call by assuming a southern accent, feigning a hurricane with an electric fan and repeatedly calling Whitmore to the dictagraph, enraging Whitmore until he gives up. That night, at a gala in which Gil performs along Vivien Fay and her ballet, Hackenbush invites a blonde floozie named Flo as well as Mrs. Upjohn to his room without the latter knowing of the other woman. Being persecuted, Tony and Stuffy blend with the musicians and perform the signature Chico/Harpo musical performances, plus a scene in which Stuffy tears a piano apart in anger. Whitmore attempts to get Hackenbush fired by having Mrs. Upjohn catch him with Flo, but Stuffy and Tony, posing as detectives and then as paperhangers, hide Flo stuffing her under the sofa cushions. The following day, just as Mrs. Upjohn is about to help Judy by signing an agreement, Whitmore brings in the eminent Dr. Leopold X. Steinberg from Vienna, whom he hopes will expose Hackenbush. After Mrs. Upjohn agrees to an examination by Steinberg, Hackenbush wants to flee for fear of being exposed; Gil, Tony and Stuffy remind him that Judy still needs his help and persuade him to stay.

Hackenbush, Tony, Stuffy and Gil hide out in Hi-Hat's stable, where Judy soon joins them. She is upset by the negative light of the situation; Gil tries to lift her spirits. Near the stable, Stuffy starts sympathizing with a community of poor folk who believe him to be Archangel Gabriel. As the number progresses, the police arrives and Hackenbush, Tony and Stuffy try to disguise themselves by painting their faces with grease in blackface. The attempt fails, everybody runs off and Whitmore finally exposes Hackenbush as a horse doctor with a letter he received from the Florida Medical Board. Hi-Hat hears Morgan's voice and bolts, jumping several obstacles in the way. Gil notices this and enters him into the upcoming steeplechase race. Morgan tries to prevent him from being entered in the race but fails. Knowing that Hi-Hat is afraid of Morgan, everyone works to make Hi-Hat aware of his presence before reaching the fence. [2] [3] [4] On the last lap, Hi-Hat and Morgan's horse wipe out; when they reach the finish line, it appears that Morgan's horse has won. Stuffy realizes that the mud-covered horses were switched after the accident, and Morgan's jockey was riding Hi-Hat in the finish, thus making Hi-Hat the winner. The black folk arrive at the race and start walking with Gil, Judy, Hackenbush, Tony and Stuffy through the racetrack, all singing the final number.


Darby Jones appears in an uncredited role as a trumpet player during the "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm" number. [6]


The Marx Brothers on the set with director Sam Wood Sam Wood and Marx Brothers A Day at the Races.jpg
The Marx Brothers on the set with director Sam Wood

The film went through numerous outlines, treatments, drafts, revisions and a total of eighteen different scripts before arriving at its final version. A major portion of the final screenplay was written by Al Boasberg who also contributed to A Night at the Opera, but due to a bitter disagreement with MGM, he chose not to be given any credit for his work. As they had with A Night at the Opera, the Brothers honed the comic material during a pre-production vaudeville tour.

Groucho's character was originally named "Quackenbush" but was changed to "Hackenbush" over threats of lawsuits by several real doctors named Quackenbush.[ citation needed ] In My Life with Groucho: A Son's Eye View, Arthur Marx relates that in his later years, Groucho increasingly referred to himself by the name Hackenbush. [7]

During production, Irving Thalberg, who had brought the Marx Brothers to MGM, died suddenly in September, 1936 of pneumonia at the age of 37. Thalberg's death left the Marxes without a champion at MGM, and the studio never gave the same level of care and attention to the team they had received under Thalberg. As a result, the Marx Brothers' three later MGM films are generally considered to be vastly inferior to their first two. [8]

The original release of A Day at the Races presented the water carnival sequence in light brown sepia and the ballet scene with a blue tint. [9]

The film used Santa Anita Park as a filming location for some of the racetrack scenes. [10]


The songs in the film, by Bronislaw Kaper, Walter Jurmann, and Gus Kahn, are "On Blue Venetian Waters", "Tomorrow Is Another Day", and "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm" (featuring Ivie Anderson from Duke Ellington's orchestra). Two other songs were slated for the film, but ultimately cut . One, "Dr. Hackenbush", sung by Groucho about "what a great doctor he is" ("No matter what I treat them for they die from something else") was performed on the pre-filming tour, but was apparently never shot; the other, "A Message From The Man In The Moon", sung by Allan Jones, was shot, but was cut at the last minute because the film was too long. The melody is heard during the opening titles, as some incidental music during the Water Carnival scene, and is "reprised" by Groucho during the final scene. The DVD release of the film includes a recently rediscovered audio recording for the film soundtrack of the song, performed by Allan Jones.

The film also features a lindy hop dance sequence set to the tune of "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm", and featuring Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, including Willamae Ricker, Snookie Beasley, Ella Gibson, George Greenidge, Dot Miller, Johnny Innis, Norma Miller and Leon James. [11]

"Cosi-Cosa", a song sung by Allan Jones in A Night at the Opera, makes an instrumental cameo at the opening of the climactic racetrack scene.

Musical numbers


Colorized publicity shot featuring Harpo and Chico. HarpoAndChicoCrop.jpg
Colorized publicity shot featuring Harpo and Chico.

Contemporary reviews from critics continued to be positive for the Marx Brothers through their seventh film. John T. McManus of The New York Times called it "comparatively bad Marx," although still deserving of "a much better than passing grade" because "any Marx brothers motion picture is an improvement upon almost any other sustained screen slapstick." [12] Variety declared, "Surefire film fun and up to the usual parity of the madcap Marxes." [13] Harrison's Reports wrote, "Very good! The Marx Brothers are at their best and funniest here." [14] John Mosher of The New Yorker was also positive, writing that "Groucho, Harpo, and Chico are in full blast again," and the film "reaches a fever pitch even beyond earlier records." [15] The Chicago Tribune called it a "ridiculous farce, plummed with unique gags, laugh provoking situations, fast action ... The finale sends audiences away grinning and happy." [16]

Writing for England's Night and Day , Graham Greene gave the film a generally good review, summarizing it as "easily the best film to be seen in London", but he criticized some elements of the film's portrayal. Greene noted that the film gave him "a nostalgia for the old cheap rickety sets" rather than the modern realistic sets, and although he praised Harpo's performance as "shin[ing] the brightest", he complained that the strong realism in O'Sullivan's acting set up a strong juxtaposition against the "silliness" of the Marx brothers' antics. [17]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

- Nominated [19]


The dance sequence for "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm" was nominated for the short-lived Academy Award for Best Dance Direction, only given from 1935 to 1937. [20]

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  1. Giddins, Gary (June 18, 2000). "There Ain't No Sanity Claus". The New York Times. Retrieved March 3, 2010.
  2. Tinee, Mae (July 3, 1937). "Marx Brothers Go Fast Pace in 'Day at Races'". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 9. Retrieved March 3, 2010.
  3. Schallert, Edwin (June 17, 1937). "Marx Brothers Run Riot In "A Day At The Races"". Los Angeles Times. p. A15. Retrieved March 3, 2010.
  4. "Full synopsis" at TCM.com
  5. Bill Crow From Birdland to Broadway: Scenes from a Jazz Life, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992 [1993], p. 24
  6. Nemerov, Alexander (2005). Icons of Grief: Val Lewton's Home Front Pictures. University of California Press. pp. 97–99. ISBN   978-0520241008.
  7. Marx, Arthur (June 1991). My Life with Groucho: A Son's Eye View. Robson Book Ltd. ISBN   978-0-86051-494-7.
  8. Thames, Stephanie. "The Big Store" on TCM.com
  9. "A Day at the Races". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 27, 2016.
  10. "A Day At The Races – 1937". movie-locations.com. Archived from the original on 7 April 2019. Retrieved 7 April 2019.
  11. Manning, Frankie and Millman, Cynthia. Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007
  12. The New York Times Film Reviews, Volume 2: 1932-1938. The New York Times & Arno Press. 1970. p. 1402.
  13. "Film Reviews". Variety . New York: Variety, Inc.: 12 June 23, 1937.
  14. "A Day at the Races". Harrison's Reports . New York: Harrison's Reports, Inc.: 103 June 26, 1937.
  15. Mosher, John (June 19, 1937). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker . New York: F-R Publishing Corp.: 79.
  16. "Marx Brothers Go Fast Pace in 'Day at the Races'". Chicago Daily Tribune . Chicago: Chicago Daily Tribune: 9. July 3, 1937.
  17. Greene, Graham (12 August 1937). "A Day at the Races/King Solomon's Mines". Night and Day . (reprinted in: Taylor, John Russell, ed. (1980). The Pleasure Dome. Oxford University Press. pp. 160–161. ISBN   0192812866.)
  18. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute . Retrieved 2016-08-08.
  19. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-08.
  20. A Day at the Races - Awards at IMDb

Further reading