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Animal Crackers


Animal Crackers (1930)

     I am sure glad I did not start my trek into the world of the Marx Bros. chronologically because Animal Crackers sure disappointed me. I have appreciated the movies the men made that borrowed material from their stage shows, but this second of their motion pictures apparently took too much as it is a filmed version of their stage musical. Possibly the greatest downfall of Animal Crackers is that it looks like what it is: stage performers addressing a camera rather than an audience.

     The musical numbers that drag on for the beginning segment of the picture are difficult to understand because the lyrics are muffled by great crowds of singers, so although the lines are probably rather witty, I couldn’t hear them. The actors, including Marx Bros. regular Margaret Dumont deliver their dialogue with their faces turned slightly toward the “audience” rather than naturally carrying conversations with the person in front of them.

     The story is of Dumont’s Mrs. Rittenhouse hosting a party in honor of Groucho as an African explorer. She is also simultaneously revealing her purchase of a painting worth $100,000. Attending the party are Chico as a musician meant to provide the accompaniment for the party and his partner Harpo as “The Professor”. Zeppo also appears rarely as a secretary for Groucho.

     During the soiree three groups of people separately conspire to replace the famous painting with a replica of their own merely as an attempt to get their work recognized. Because of this, no one really knows where the original ended up and the various hidden versions have disappeared as well.

     The dialogue is crammed full of the Marx brand of puns, but much of what Groucho delivered seemed to me better suited for Chico, whose Italian accent makes it easier to confuse one word for another (see my favorite scene from Horse Feathers). For instance, as Chico asks Harpo for a “flash” –meaning flashlight– the silent partner tugs on the flesh of his face, offers a fish, plays a “flutes”, etc. When Groucho and Chico do finally verbally spar, we get the best of the movie boiled down into a few minutes.

     The boys made their first movie, The Cocoanuts the year prior to Animal Crackers and would ratchet up the quality of their shenanigans the next year with Monkey Business. The quality of the film TCM aired for Animal Crackers was low but so too were the unnecessary and excessive musical numbers that left me totally bored. One of those songs, however, “Horray for Capt. Spaulding” became Groucho’s theme song for much of his career.

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