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Horse Feathers

Ring a Ding Ding

Horse Feathers (1932)

     I made my second foray into the zany world of the Marx brothers last night with their fourth feature, Horse Feathers. Like Duck Soup the title in no way pertains to the story about a college’s attempt to create a winning football team. The plot of this flick, however, is merely meaningless as it simply provides a platform upon which the foursome can run amuck.

     Originally planned as a story that mixes the men up with mobsters, that line was dropped after the son of aviator Charles Lindbergh was kidnapped in March 1932. The mob thread weaves itself only minimally into the final product that features two hoods hired to masquerade as college football players on the team opposing our protagonists.

     In the end, Groucho would play the new dean of the college in question where he starts the film generally degrading the school faculty and singing a tune about how he is against any ideas a person might have. Zeppo plays the dean’s son, a student at the college who is carrying on with the “college widow,” the young, hot, blonde Connie, played by Thelma Todd. Thinking that the university should focus less on academics and more on football, the dean is told to recruit the hoodlums from the speakeasy, unaware they are already slated to play for the opposing team. When he arrives at the speakeasy, the dean confuses Chico and Harpo‘s characters for the football players. When the dean discovers that Chico’s character, Baravelli, an iceman and bootleg booze delivery man, and Harpo’s dog catcher are not the players he sought, he has them instead kidnap the actual athletes. That, of course, fails but the four non-students end up playing a ridiculous game of football at the film’s close that is dripping with Marx physical humor.

     At 68 minutes in length, Horse Feathers is a quick but pleasant trip through one joke after another. The film was not without its off-screen trouble, however. Groucho was feuding with writer S.J. Perelman and Chico was injured in a car accident that shattered his kneecap, required the use of an on-screen body double and showed up as a limp toward the movie’s end. Regardless, I truly loved some of the dialogue exchanges in Horse Feathers. Chico has quickly become my favorite of the brothers. I love a good Italian accent…or a bad one. Below is an example of some of the verbal nonsense that transpired among the brothers as they try to figure out the speakeasy password “swordfish” (which allegedly inspired the title of the movie Swordfish from 2001).

Wagstaff (Groucho): I got it! “Haddock”.
Baravelli (Chico): ‘At’s a-funny, I got a “haddock” too.
Wagstaff: What do you take for a “haddock”?
Baravelli: Sometimes I take an aspirin, sometimes I take a calomel.
Wagstaff: I’d walk a mile for a calomel.
Baravelli: You mean chocolate calomel? I like-a that too, but you no guess it.

     Given its brevity, Horse Feathers makes a great quickie laugh if you do not care too much about a decent plot. With the Marx brothers, however, one does not need a plot.

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