|A Day at the Races|
|Directed by||Sam Wood|
|Edited by||Frank E. Hull|
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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.
The film used Santa Anita Park as a filming location for some of the racetrack scenes.
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.
"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.
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."Variety declared, "Surefire film fun and up to the usual parity of the madcap Marxes." Harrison's Reports wrote, "Very good! The Marx Brothers are at their best and funniest here." 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." 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."
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.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
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.
Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx was an American comedian, actor, writer, stage, film, radio, and television star. He is generally considered to have been a master of quick wit and one of America's greatest comedians.
The Marx Brothers were an American family comedy act that was successful in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in motion pictures from 1905 to 1949. Five of the Marx Brothers' thirteen feature films were selected by the American Film Institute (AFI) as among the top 100 comedy films, with two of them, Duck Soup (1933) and A Night at the Opera (1935), in the top fifteen. They are widely considered by critics, scholars and fans to be among the greatest and most influential comedians of the 20th century. The brothers were included in AFI's 100 Years... 100 Stars list of the 25 greatest male stars of Classical Hollywood cinema, the only performers to be inducted collectively.
Animal Crackers is a 1930 American pre-Code Marx Brothers comedy film directed by Victor Heerman. The film stars the Marx Brothers, Groucho, Chico, Harpo, and Zeppo, with Lillian Roth and Margaret Dumont. It was based on their broadway musical of the same name, in which mayhem and zaniness ensue when a valuable painting goes missing during a party in honor of famed African explorer Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding. A critical and commercial success upon its initial release, it was filmed at Paramount's Astoria Studios in Astoria, Queens; it was the second of two films the Brothers would make in New York City.
Duck Soup is a 1933 pre-Code comedy film written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, with additional dialogue by Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin, directed by Leo McCarey. Released theatrically by Paramount Pictures on November 17, 1933, it starred the Marx Brothers and also featured Margaret Dumont, Louis Calhern, Raquel Torres and Edgar Kennedy. It was the last Marx Brothers film to feature Zeppo and the last of five Marx Brothers movies released by Paramount Pictures. Groucho plays the newly installed president of the mythical country of Freedonia, and Zeppo is his secretary, while Harpo and Chico are spies for the rival country of Sylvania. Relations between Groucho and the Sylvanian ambassador deteriorate during the film, and they go to war at the conclusion.
A Night at the Opera is a 1935 American comedy film starring the Marx Brothers, and featuring Kitty Carlisle, Allan Jones, Margaret Dumont, Sig Ruman, and Walter Woolf King. It was the first of five films the Marx Brothers made under contract for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer after their departure from Paramount Pictures, and the first after Zeppo left the act. The film was written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind from a story by James Kevin McGuinness, with additional uncredited dialogue by Al Boasberg. The film was directed by Sam Wood.
Arthur "Harpo" Marx was an American comedian, actor, mime artist, and musician, and the second-oldest of the Marx Brothers. In contrast to the mainly verbal comedy of his brothers Groucho Marx and Chico Marx, Harpo's comic style was visual, being an example of both clown and pantomime traditions. He wore a curly reddish blond wig and was silent in all his movie appearances, instead blowing a horn or whistling to communicate. Marx frequently employed props such as a horn cane constructed from a lead pipe, tape, and a bulbhorn.
Leonard Joseph "Chico" Marx was an American comedian, musician, and actor. He was a member of the Marx Brothers. His persona in the act was that of a charming, uneducated but crafty con artist, seemingly of rural Italian origin, who wore shabby clothes and sported a curly-haired wig and Tyrolean hat. On screen, Chico is often in alliance with Harpo, usually as partners in crime, and is also frequently seen trying to con or outfox Groucho. Leonard was the oldest of the Marx Brothers to live past early childhood. In addition to his work as a performer, he played an important role in the management and development of the act in its early years.
Herbert Manfred "Zeppo" Marx was an American actor, comedian, theatrical agent, and engineer. He was the youngest and last survivor of the five Marx Brothers. He appeared in the first five Marx Brothers feature films, from 1929 to 1933, but then left the act to start his second career as an engineer and theatrical agent.
Margaret Dumont was an American stage and film actress. She is best remembered as the comic foil to the Marx Brothers in seven of their films. Groucho Marx called her "practically the fifth Marx brother".
At the Circus is a 1939 comedy film starring the Marx Brothers released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in which they help save a circus from bankruptcy. The film contains Groucho Marx's classic rendition of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady". The supporting cast includes Florence Rice, Kenny Baker, Margaret Dumont, and Eve Arden. The songs, including "Lydia the Tattooed Lady", "Two Blind Loves", and "Step Up and Take a Bow", were written by the team of Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg.
Horse Feathers is a 1932 pre-Code comedy film starring the Marx Brothers. It stars the Marx Brothers, Thelma Todd and David Landau. It was written by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, S. J. Perelman, and Will B. Johnstone. Kalmar and Ruby also wrote the original songs for the film. Several of the film's gags were taken from the Marx Brothers' stage comedy from the 1900s, Fun in Hi Skule. The term "horse feathers" is an American euphemism for "horseshit," meaning "nonsense," originating in the late 1920s.
The Cocoanuts is a 1929 pre-Code musical comedy film starring the Marx Brothers. Produced for Paramount Pictures by Walter Wanger, who is not credited, the film also stars Mary Eaton, Oscar Shaw, Margaret Dumont and Kay Francis. It was the first sound film to credit more than one director, and was adapted to the screen by Morrie Ryskind from the George S. Kaufman Broadway musical play. Five of the film's tunes were composed by Irving Berlin, including "When My Dreams Come True", sung by Oscar Shaw and Mary Eaton.
Monkey Business is a 1931 American pre-Code comedy film. It is the third of the Marx Brothers' released movies, and the first with an original screenplay rather than an adaptation of one of their Broadway shows. The film also features Thelma Todd, Harry Woods and Ruth Hall. It is directed by Norman Z. McLeod with screenplay by S. J. Perelman and Will B. Johnstone. Much of the story takes place on an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
A Night in Casablanca is a 1946 film starring the Marx Brothers: Groucho, Chico, and Harpo. The picture was directed by Archie Mayo, and written by Joseph Fields and Roland Kibbee.
Love Happy is a 1949 American musical comedy film, released by United Artists, directed by David Miller and starring the Marx Brothers in their 13th and final feature film.
The Big Store is an American comedy film starring the Marx Brothers released in 1941, with Groucho, Chico and Harpo wreaking havoc in a large department store. Groucho appears as private detective Wolf J. Flywheel.
Humor Risk, also known as Humorisk, is a lost unreleased 1921 silent comedy short film that was the first film to star the Marx Brothers. The print may have been accidentally thrown away when left in the screening box overnight. Another version of the story says that Groucho Marx, unhappy with the film's quality, intentionally burned the negative after a particularly bad premiere screening.
I'll Say She Is (1924) is a musical comedy revue written by brothers Will B. Johnstone and Tom Johnstone (music). It was the Broadway debut of the Marx Brothers. A revival of I'll Say She Is, as "adapted and expanded" by the writer-performer Noah Diamond, was seen Off Broadway at the Connelly Theater in 2016.
The Cocoanuts is a musical with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and a book by George S. Kaufman, with additional text by Morrie Ryskind.
Giraffes on Horseback Salad, also called The Surrealist Woman, was a screenplay written in 1937 by Salvador Dalí for the Marx Brothers. It was to be a love story between a Spanish aristocrat named "Jimmy" and a "beautiful surrealist woman, whose face is never seen by the audience". Dalí considered that the central theme of the film would be "the continuous struggle between the imaginative life as depicted in the old myths and the practical and rational life of contemporary society" and hoped that the film score could be written by Cole Porter.
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