|At the Circus|
|Directed by||Edward Buzzell|
|Written by|| Irving Brecher |
Buster Keaton (uncredited)
Laurence Stallings (uncredited)
|Produced by||Mervyn LeRoy|
|Starring|| Groucho Marx |
|Cinematography||Leonard M. Smith|
|Edited by||William H. Terhune|
|Music by||Franz Waxman|
|Distributed by||Loew's, Inc.|
At the Circus is a 1939 comedy film starring the Marx Brothers (Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx and Chico Marx) 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.
Goliath, the circus strongman and the midget, Little Professor Atom, both employed by Wilson's Wonder Circus, are accomplices of bad guy John Carter who is trying to take over the circus, owned by Jeff Wilson. Julie Randall, Jeff's girlfriend, performs a horse act in the circus. Jeff has hidden $10,000 in cash, which he owes to Carter, in the cage of Gibraltar the gorilla. When Jeff goes to retrieve the money to give to Carter from Gibraltar's cage on the circus train, Carter has Goliath and Atom knock out Jeff and steal the $10,000.
Jeff's friend and circus employee, Antonio 'Tony' Pirelli, summons attorney J. Cheever Loophole to investigate the situation. Loophole discovers Carter's moll, Peerless Pauline (whose circus act consists of walking upside-down with suction cups on her shoes), is hiding the money, but she outwits him and he fails to retrieve it. Later, Tony and Punchy search Goliath's stateroom on the circus train for the money, but are unsuccessful.
With Carter about to foreclose on the circus, Loophole discovers that Jeff's aunt is the wealthy Mrs. Susanna Dukesbury, and he tricks her into paying $10,000 for the Wilson Wonder Circus to entertain the Newport 400, instead of a performance by French conductor Jardinet, and his symphony orchestra. The audience is delighted with the circus; when the blustery Jardinet arrives, Loophole, who delayed the Frenchman's arrival on the SS Normandie by implicating him in a dope ring, disposes of the conductor and his orchestra by having Tony and Punchy cut the moorings on a floating bandstand as they play Wagner's prelude to act III of Lohengrin at the water's edge.
Meanwhile, Carter and his henchmen try to burn down the circus, but are thwarted by Tony and Punchy, along with the only witness to the robbery: Gibraltar the gorilla, who also retrieves Jeff's money from Carter after a big trapeze finale, which features Tony shooting Mrs. Dukesbury out of a cannon.
Comedy legend Buster Keaton's career had long been on the downside, and he was reduced to working for scale at MGM as a gag man. Keaton's complex and elaborate sight gags did not mesh well with the Marx Brothers' brand of humor, and was sometimes a source of friction between the comedian and the brothers.  When Groucho called Keaton on the incompatibility of his gags with the Marx Brothers, Keaton responded, "I'm only doing what Mr. Mayer asked me to do. You guys don't need help." 
Hundreds of girls applied for the film, with eighteen finally chosen after "rigid tests". They had to be expert ballet dancers, have good singing voices, and they had to be able to prove all this by doing a toe-dance on a cantering bareback horse, while singing in key. Four of the girls were former circus riders. Several of the other girls had ridden in rodeos, either professionally or as amateurs, and the rest had been riding most of their lives. 
The name of Groucho's character in this film, J. Cheever Loophole, recalls that of real-life financier J. Cheever Cowdin, who had ties to the film industry. In 1936, Cowdin led a group of investors who had loaned $750,000 to Carl Laemmle and his son Carl Laemmle, Jr., to finance the film Show Boat . Before the release of the film, the investors demanded repayment, but the Laemmles did not have the funds to pay it back. Because of this, Cowdin was able to take control of the Laemmle's Universal Pictures studio and served as the company's president until 1946. Show Boat proved to be a financial success and, had the loan not been called for repayment until after the film's release, the Laemmles would have been able to repay the loan and retain ownership of Universal.
Groucho was aged 48 during the filming of At the Circus, and his hairline had begun receding. As such, he took to wearing a toupee in the film and would do the same for the following Marx Brothers film, Go West.
At the Circus screenwriter Irving Brecher stood in for an ailing Groucho when publicity stills for the film were first taken. Brecher bore a marked resemblance to Groucho and is nearly unrecognizable in the photos, sporting Groucho's greasepaint mustache, eyebrows and glasses.
Groucho as J. Cheever Loophole was originally introduced in a key scene set in a courtroom which was filmed, but cut from the picture.
One of Groucho's oft-repeated stories about the filming At the Circus concerned the gorilla skin that an actor wore. On The Dick Cavett Show taped June 13, 1969, he said that the actor was too hot inside the skin under the bright lights, and during lunch he went to the studio commissary and poked several holes in the skin with an icepick. Upon discovering the holes, the manager of the gorilla skin became extremely angry and took the skin away. MGM scoured southern California for a replacement and finally located an orangutan skin in San Diego. An orangutan is much smaller than a gorilla, so a shorter actor was hired to fit inside it. Groucho said he received many inquiries about this, and some viewers he happened to meet would ask him why the gorilla was noticeably smaller in the second half of the picture.
Reviews from critics were generally not as positive as those for earlier Marx Brothers films. Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times wrote that "in all charity and with a very real twinge of regret, we must report that their new frolic is not exactly frolicsome; that it is, in cruel fact, a rather dispirited imitation of former Marx successes, a matter more of perspiration than inspiration and not at all up to the Marx standards (foot-high though they may be) of daffy comedy."  Variety called the film "broad, ribald fun in familiar pattern to early pictures of the Marx Bros."  Film Daily wrote, "The mad Marxmen have never been funnier, nor have they had a better story in which to cavort than 'At the Circus'."  Harrison's Reports called it "about the worst Marx picture seen in years ... Children should enjoy it, but hardly any adults."  John Mosher of The New Yorker wrote that the Marxes seemed to be trying harder in this picture than they were in Room Service , "but the achievement of novelty or surprise, the true Marx note, is never apparent."  The November 11, 1939 Ottawa Citizen described the film as "a veritable riot of hilarity" and "possibly the nuttiest of the films that Groucho, Chico and Harpo have perpetuated." 
Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx was an American comedian, actor, writer, stage, film, radio, singer, television star and vaudeville performer. 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 included collectively.
Duck Soup is a 1933 American pre-Code musical black 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 of five Marx Brothers movies released by Paramount Pictures. In the film, Groucho portrays the newly installed president of the mythical country of Freedonia. Zeppo is his secretary, while Chico and Harpo are spies for the neighboring country of Sylvania. Relations between Groucho and the Sylvanian ambassador deteriorate during the film, and they go to war at the conclusion.
Arthur "Harpo" Marx was an American comedian, actor, mime artist, and harpist, and the second-oldest of the Marx Brothers. In contrast to the mainly verbal comedy of his brothers Groucho and Chico, Harpo's comic style was visual, being an example of vaudeville, 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, actor and pianist. He was the oldest brother in the Marx Brothers comedy troupe, alongside his brothers Adolph ("Harpo"), Julius ("Groucho"), Milton ("Gummo") and Herbert ("Zeppo"). 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.
"Lydia, the Tattooed Lady" is a 1939 song written by Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen. It first appeared in the Marx Brothers movie At the Circus (1939) and became one of Groucho Marx's signature tunes. It subsequently appeared in the movie The Philadelphia Story (1940), sung by Virginia Weidler as Dinah Lord.
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.
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.
Minnie Marx was the mother and manager of the Marx Brothers, a family of vaudevillains, Broadway and film actors and was also the sister of comedian and vaudeville star Al Shean.
Horse Feathers is a 1932 pre-Code comedy film starring the Marx Brothers. It stars the Four 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. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term "horse feathers" is U.S. slang for "nonsense, rubbish, balderdash," attributed originally to Billy DeBeck.
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.
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, as well as a memorable walk-on by a relatively unknown Marilyn Monroe.
The Big Store is a 1941 American comedy film starring the Marx Brothers that takes place 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.
Go West is a 1940 American Western comedy film from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer starring the Marx Bros. In their tenth film, head to the American West and attempt to unite a couple by ensuring that a stolen property deed is retrieved. The film was directed by Edward Buzzell and written by Irving Brecher.
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 Mad, Mad, Mad Comedians is a 1970 American animated television special produced by Rankin/Bass Productions. After the Christmas special Frosty the Snowman (1969), it was Rankin/Bass' second hand-drawn animated work to be outsourced to Osamu Tezuka's Mushi Production in Tokyo, Japan. The show aired on ABC on April 7, 1970 before the airing of that year's Oscars. It was a tribute to early vaudeville, and featured animated reworkings of various famous comedians' acts.
John Cheever Cowdin was an American financier and polo champion who was a head of Universal Pictures, Standard Capital Corporation of New York City, and was chairman of Ideal Chemicals.
Deputy Seraph was an unfinished pilot for a television series in 1959 featuring the Marx Brothers: Groucho, Chico, and Harpo. The title was a pun on seraph and sheriff, reflecting the Western shows that were popular on TV at the time.