A Day at the Races



How much is too much? I tend to get my Marx Bros fill at the tail end/beginning of each year. It’s part of my New Years celebration you might say. With a Marx Bros picture you really can’t go wrong. Everybody has there favorites. For some reason, “Room Service” has always been one of mine.

At 111 minutes, “A Day at the Races,” is among the Marx Bros longest pictures (for anyone counting, “Room Service is only about 77 I believe). “A Day at the Races” is one of the more celebrated of The Three Marx Bros era (they were originally four, then Zeppo left making them three) and was even nominated for an Oscar (Dance number). But it is a bloated work. I always enjoyed the Marx Bros shtick, but would often sigh when I saw Harpo’s harp, or a piano was magically found in a room. I enjoyed these interludes, and you can count on them, but at times they dragged.

With the extended running time, they can not only drag, but multiply. This film throws everything at the wall, and that includes musical numbers. That’s not to say they are all bad. The Oscar nominated “All God’s Children Got Soul” is a magical feat of cinematography (something the Marx Bros films aren’t all that much known for) as well as a marvelous dance number, that, for its time, was noteworthy for its use of talented African American singers and dancers. In a way, it is a grandiose celebration of everything Marx, It is all in here. Even more than you might be ready for.

The story concerns Dr. Hackenbush, a horse doctor who sometimes moonlights as just the regular kind. Groucho plays the good Doc and his regular sparring partner Margret Dumond stars here as his sometimes patient, and always rich Emily Upjohn. She is staying at a sanitarium that is in dire financial straits and she might just be willing to help them out, should they get Dr. Hackenbush to come reside here.

But, do you really need to know the story? No you don’t. The gags are good. Chico conning Groucho at the races is a classic number, and Harpo, as Stuffy, can seem to do no wrong when you get him away from his harp.

The film itself arrived in 1937 on the coat tails of the monumental success of the (superior) “A Night at The Opera.” Irving Thalberg, who was partially responsible for that success, died during the production of this one. I read somewhere that Groucho claims to have lost interest in motion pictures after Irving’s death. Maybe the inflation is due to Thalberg’s eye not being on the project to bring it to the great heights of other Marx pictures.

And what’s left is anarchy. And that’s what the boys are known for. Pure chaotic anarchy. One can almost assume Heath Ledger’s Joker idolized these boys.  And bloated or not, I get back to this title every once in a while. Because the bros are always good. And when they shine, they shine! And no matter how bloated, there is always room for tootsie frootsie ice cream!


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