|Directed by||Victor Heerman|
|Written by|| Bert Kalmar |
George S. Kaufman
|Starring|| Groucho Marx |
|Music by|| Bert Kalmar |
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$1,050,000 (rentals)|
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.
It was adapted from the successful 1928 Broadway musical of the same title by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, also starring the Marx Brothers and Margaret Dumont. The part of Hives the butler was played by Robert Greig who later appeared with the Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers (1932).
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed.(June 2020)
A newspaper headline explains that society matron Mrs. Rittenhouse is holding a lavish party at her home on Long Island. The party will host renowned explorer Captain Geoffrey (or Jeffrey) T. Spaulding, just returned from Africa, as the guest of honor. Also, as a special treat for the guests and Capt. Spaulding, revered art collector Roscoe W. Chandler will unveil his recently acquired painting, After The Hunt, by a famous fictional artist named Beaugard.
Hives instructs his six footmen on preparations for the party ("He's One of Those Men"). Chandler arrives with the Beaugard and proceeds to flirt with Mrs. Rittenhouse; her daughter Arabella appears and interrupts them. Capt. Spaulding's secretary, Horatio Jameson announces the Captain's arrival ("I Represent The Captain") ("Hooray for Captain Spaulding, Part I"). Capt. Spaulding makes a grand entrance and announces that he cannot stay and must leave immediately ("Hello, I Must Be Going"). Mrs. Rittenhouse begs him to stay and the guests declare their admiration for the Captain and he decides to stay ("Hooray for Captain Spaulding, Part II"). Soon after, Signor Emanuel Ravelli, hired to provide music for the party, arrives followed a few moments later by his "partner" the Professor, hired to provide music for the weekend event. After an elaborate introduction, The Professor scares the guests away with a pistol he grabs from Capt. Spaulding's gun rack. The Professor soon takes off chasing after an attractive blonde party-goer.
Arabella Rittenhouse is attending the party with her fiancé John Parker, who is a struggling painter. John feels discouraged because he hasn't been able to make a living with his art in order to support himself and Arabella. Arabella suggests John paint a portrait for Chandler, suggesting he would receive an impressive commission. John laughs at the idea, not believing Chandler to have a genuine appreciation for art. After examining the Beaugard, Arabella devises a scheme to win Chandler's interest in John's work: they'll replace the Beaugard with an almost perfect copy of it John painted in art school, since they can find no obvious differences. After the painting is unveiled at the party, they will surprise everyone and hopefully convince Chandler to hire John. Arabella asks Ravelli to switch the paintings. Meanwhile, another weekend party guest, Grace Carpenter thinks up the same idea with her friend Mrs. Whitehead, as a means of humiliating Mrs. Rittenhouse. They grab Grace's poorly made copy that she painted in art school and ask Hives to replace the Beaugard, unaware that they are removing John's copy.
Ravelli catches the Professor chasing after the blonde girl and scolds him. Soon, Mrs. Rittenhouse and Mrs. Whitehead arrive and after the Professor is finished brutally assaulting Mrs. Rittenhouse, the four proceed to play an absurd variation of Bridge. Ravelli and the Professor run into Chandler and recognize him as Abie the fish peddler from Czechoslovakia. Chandler tries to bribe the two in order to keep them quiet, but they end up taking his money, tie and garters as well as, miraculously, Chandler's birthmark which is transferred to the Professor's arm. After a series of strange interludes while speaking with Mrs. Rittenhouse and Mrs. Whitehead, Capt. Spaulding has a debate on art and the economy with Chandler after his encounter with Ravelli and the Professor.
Later that night a thunderstorm has put out the lights and Ravelli and the Professor attempt to replace the Beaugard. In the middle of the job, Capt. Spaulding and Mrs. Rittenhouse wander in. The Captain finds the Professor's lost fish in the sofa. Ravelli and the Professor succeed in replacing the painting.
During the party, Mrs. Rittenhouse invites Capt. Spaulding to speak about his travels in Africa. He proceeds to tell a ridiculous and absurd account of his travels before Mrs. Rittenhouse cuts him off. Signor Ravelli is invited to play some selection on the piano ("I'm Daffy Over You", "Silver Threads Among the Gold", "Gypsy Chorus"). After several quips and interruptions, Chandler invites the guests into the parlor so he can unveil the Beaugard. Once the painting is revealed, Chandler notices the poor quality and realizes someone has stolen his painting and replaced it with a cheap imitation. John feels discouraged, thinking the painting is still his copy. Suddenly the lights go out again, and when restored, the imitation Beaugard is missing as well. The guests, now in an uproar, scatter and attempt to find the stolen painting, led by Capt. Spaulding. John and Arabella discuss the excitement of the situation and their love for each other ("Why Am I So Romantic?").
The next day, a police squad arrives to secure the house and search for the missing painting. Realizing that they may have gone too far, Mrs. Whitehead and Grace ask Hives for the Beaugard he took back, but he can't find it anywhere. Mrs. Whitehead deduces the Professor must have stolen it. After confronting him she gets Grace's copy back. Later, John finds Grace's copy of the Beaugard and reveals to Arabella that someone else must have had the same idea to switch paintings. Realizing that Chandler never actually saw John's copy, they become more hopeful. Soon after, John realizes the copy he found is now missing. Captain Spaulding, Jameson, and Ravelli discuss how they might go about finding the missing painting. After getting the painting back from the Professor, who is now in disguise, John and Arabella bring it to Capt. Spaulding. They figure out that the Professor must be the one who stole the paintings, and enlist the police to help find him.
After a brief altercation, Spaulding, Ravelli, and Jameson enter with the Professor ("My Old Kentucky Home"). The Professor is apprehended and the three paintings are returned. Chandler momentarily mistakes John's copy for the genuine Beaugard. Realizing his talent, Chandler hires John to do a series a portraits for him. After momentarily letting the Professor go free, the police sergeant tries to apprehend him. To escape arrest, the Professor sprays the guests with a knockout substance from a Flit can. After everyone is laid out on the floor and fully subdued, the film concludes with the Professor knocking himself out next to the pretty blonde he has been chasing throughout the entire film.
Four of Groucho's best-known quips:
Other quotes from Groucho:
The film also contains the well-known Chico–Harpo scene in which Chico keeps asking Harpo for "a flash" (meaning a flashlight), and Harpo – not understanding – produces from his bottomless trenchcoat and baggy pants a fish, a flask, a flute, a "flit", a "flush", etc.
Zeppo figures in a well-known scene in which Groucho dictates a letter to his lawyers in rambling pseudo-legalese. Zeppo gets to one-up Groucho: When asked to read the letter back, Zeppo informs him, "You said a lot of things I didn't think were very important, so I just omitted them!" whereupon a minor skirmish ensues: what he's omitted is the body of the letter. (Joe Adamson, in Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Sometimes Zeppo, observed that this scene disproved the common notion that Zeppo was the least of the Marx Brothers: "It takes a Marx Brother to pull something like that on a Marx Brother and get away with it.")
One more complex running joke has Groucho turning the dialogue into a scene out of the Eugene O'Neill play, Strange Interlude , in which the characters continually spoke asides that convey their thoughts. Groucho's voice becomes deep and droning as he steps apart from the other characters to comment on the scene
Living with your folks. Living with your folks. The beginning of the end. Drab dead yesterdays shutting out beautiful tomorrows. Hideous, stumbling footsteps creaking along the misty corridors of time. And in those corridors I see figures, strange figures, weird figures: Steel 186, Anaconda 74, American Can 138 ...
The comedy, thus, is in the unpredictable shifting of the scene's meaning, from two socialite ladies and a world-famous explorer mingling at a party, to a parody of O'Neill's work, to a mimicking of a man reading out stock prices. Incidentally, Groucho had heavy investments in Anaconda Copper and after having lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929 experienced a bout of depression as well as insomnia.
In the final scene, Harpo uses a Flit gun to pacify an entire crowd, finally spraying Groucho, who falls unconscious to the ground. The current prints of the film have the "Flit" name blotted out, since Paramount Pictures didn't get permission to use the trademarked name.
Groucho's songs, "Hello, I Must Be Going" and "Hooray for Captain Spaulding", both written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, became recurring themes for Groucho through the years. The latter song became the theme of Groucho's radio and TV game show You Bet Your Life . It referred to a real Captain Spaulding, an army officer arrested a few years earlier for selling cocaine to Hollywood residents. The original full version of "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" was edited in compliance to the Hays Code when it was re-released in 1936: the sexually suggestive line "I think I'll try to make her" was removed – it came after Mrs. Rittenhouse's line: "He was the only white man to cover every acre." It was long believed that this footage had been lost forever, until a pre-Hays Code print was discovered in the archives of the British Film Institute.This forms the basis of Universal's Blu-ray restoration, released in October 2016.
Ironically, Groucho used an even more risqué line in introducing Chico's piano sequence: "Signor Ravelli's first selection will be, 'Somewhere My Love Lies Sleeping', with a male chorus." Chico's own piano composition "I'm Daffy over You" would be played again in their next feature film, Monkey Business, in the film's score and by Harpo on the harp.
The original 1930 film release ran 99 minutes. In 1936, the film was reissued with several small cuts to accommodate the Production Code. This version ran about 98 minutes.
In December 1973, UCLA student and Marx Brothers fan Steve Stoliar drove to Anaheim, California, to view a rare screening of Animal Crackers at the Old Town Music Hall theater. The print shown there was old and of poor quality, probably because the film had not been distributed for theatrical release since the early 1950s. Paramount Pictures had allowed its licenses to expire, and rights had reverted to the authors of the Broadway stage play: the playwrights George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, the composer Harry Ruby, and the lyricist Bert Kalmar. Although MCA/Universal had acquired most of Paramount's pre-1950 sound feature film library in 1958, Animal Crackers evidently was regarded as a legal mess best left untouched. Stoliar impulsively contacted Groucho Marx to enlist Groucho's support for an unlikely campaign to attempt to persuade – or pressure – Universal to re-release the film. Groucho agreed to appear at the UCLA campus for a publicity event.
On February 7, 1974, Groucho and his assistant, Erin Fleming, visited UCLA under the aegis of Stoliar's newly formed "Committee for the Re-release of Animal Crackers" (CRAC). The event drew around 200 students, over 2,000 signatures on re-release petitions, and several reporters.Universal scrambled to appear responsive: a spokesman told a UCLA Daily Bruin reporter that the studio was "delighted" by the interest, and that "we have negotiated with the heirs of the writers (Morrie Ryskind and George S. Kaufman), but they were asking much more than we wanted to spend. Just recently we reached an agreement, and we're waiting to sign the contracts." (Not quite: Ryskind was still in the pre-heir stage – he lived until 1985. The songwriter Harry Ruby was also alive, though he died only two weeks later, aged 79.) The spokesman added that he expected the film would soon be released. As the Daily Bruin put it, "The rest of the day belonged to Groucho, as he showed surprising flashes of his old brilliance." Asked to name his favorite comedian, he said: "Me." He also said that "Animal Crackers is the best of our movies."
Groucho's UCLA appearance generated national press coverage. An appearance on the nationally syndicated Merv Griffin Show soon followed. In April 1974, Groucho and Stoliar "received an answer from Universal. According to Vice President Arnold Shane, they were 'delighted with the response of the students.'" On May 23, 1974, attempting to gauge public interest, Universal screened a sharp new print of the film at the UA Theater in Westwood, just south of the UCLA campus. Groucho made a personal appearance and walked unescorted into the theatre on the left aisle. People in the audience stood up and started applauding and soon the entire theater joined in. Encouraged by the response there – the lines stretched around the block for months – on June 23 the studio screened the film at the Sutton Theater in New York.Groucho attended the New York premiere. A near-riot broke out and a police escort was summoned. From there Animal Crackers went into national release.
Because of these rights issues, Animal Crackers had never been seen on television until July 21, 1979, when CBS broadcast a special showing of the film.
The complete, uncut Animal Crackers, which had only been available for decades in a version cut for the 1936 reissue, was restored from a 35mm duplicate negative held by the British Film Institute and released by Universal Pictures in 2016 in DCP format for theatrical distribution and Blu-ray for home video as part of The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection. The restored edition features an optional commentary track by film historian Jeffrey Vance.
In the 1990s, a 15-second clip filmed in Multicolor during the rehearsal of a scene in Animal Crackers was found and aired as a part of the AMC documentary Glorious Technicolor (1998). The clip is significant because it is the earliest known color footage of the Marx Brothers, and also for an appearance by Harpo without his usual costume and wig.
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.
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."
Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding is a fictional character in the Broadway musical Animal Crackers and the film of the same name. He was originally played by actor Groucho Marx, one of the Marx Brothers, in both productions. Despite his middle name being Edgar, he is known as Jeffrey T. Spaulding; his first name is also spelled as "Geoffrey" in parts of the film.
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.
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.
Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel is a situation comedy radio show starring two of the Marx Brothers, Groucho and Chico, and written primarily by Nat Perrin and Arthur Sheekman. The series was originally broadcast in the United States on the National Broadcasting Company's Blue Network beginning November 28, 1932, and ended May 22, 1933. Sponsored by the Standard Oil Companies of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Louisiana and the Colonial Beacon Oil Company, it was the Monday night installment of the Five-Star Theater, an old-time radio variety series that offered a different program each weeknight. Episodes were broadcast live from NBC's WJZ station in New York City and later from a sound stage at RKO Pictures in Los Angeles, California, before returning to WJZ for the final episodes.
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.
"Hello, I Must Be Going" is a song from the Marx Brothers' 1930 film Animal Crackers, written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. It was sung by Groucho, along with Margaret Dumont, just before the dialogue that preceded the song "Hooray for Captain Spaulding". It did not feature in the earlier stage production of Animal Crackers which opened on Broadway in 1928.
Animal Crackers is a musical with music and lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby and a book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. The musical starred the Marx Brothers.
"Hooray for Captain Spaulding" is a song, composed by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby originally from the 1928 Marx Brothers Broadway musical Animal Crackers and the 1930 film version. It later became well known as the theme song for the Groucho Marx television show You Bet Your Life (1950–1961), and became Groucho's signature tune and was usually played when he was introduced on various talk shows and the like.
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.
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