Well, we made it to another week! ANIMAL CRACKERS would be the second Marx Brothers film and also the second and final of the Paramount films to be based on one of their stage plays. Though only made one year after THE COCOANUTS, the sound quality and overall pacing just seems much better to me. Now I don't know how much of this has to do with the actual restorations of the films themselves, but in general, the quality of film was moving at a fast pace in these early talkie years, and watching the Marx Brothers Paramount films in order serves as a wonderful example of this. At this point we are still pretty stage bound camera wise, the Marx Brothers don't really go Hollywood until their next film both location and film wise, but ANIMAL CRACKERS nicely closes out what I consider to be the first phase of Marx films - the east coast stage phase.
The first fifteen minutes of this film are to this point the greatest fifteen minutes in all Marxdom. It's a perfectly conceived stage musical number that manages to introduce several of the main characters in a completely entertaining fashion. We get the classic "Hello, I Must Be Going" and "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" musical numbers to introduce Groucho. Truly an iconic Marx moment and all time Groucho signature. These kind of fun musical numbers will be appearing in the Paramount's from now on and will, with one exception, be completely missed in the MGM films. The classic fifteen minute opening manages to introduce Chico and Harpo as well. I love the way Harpo clears out the room in the end, shooting everything in sight and also starts the running gag where he chases the pretty blonde throughout the film. All those people begin, and in the end, Harpo is the final one standing.
Chico is great in this as usual. His piano solo is a lot of fun, and I think it's great the way they manage to throw in some comic interaction with his brother during the bit. I also love the scene towards the end of the film where Chico and Groucho are sitting at the table talking. It starts out with Chico being a detective, well, trying to be, and he goes off with Groucho on some crazy tangent, only to forget about the detective work they were talking about in the first place towards the end. Groucho's bewilderment is hysterical, it's as if Groucho is almost the straight man to Chico. A fantastic scene.
Harpo is wonderful as well. The previously mentioned running gag where he chases the blonde throughout the film is a favorite of mine, and I love the way this gets incorporated into the film's final gag. Also, for a mute comedian, Harpo does get to inject verbal humor regularly with Chico. Dig the scene where Chico is asking Harpo for the "flash." Through props, Harpo misinterprets Chico's thick accent and pulls out a fish, a flask, a royal flush of cards, and other items before getting it right. Love the harp solo as usual. He plays fantastic runs at parts, harmonizes chords beneath his whistling, and does some nice melodic playing with one hand and harmonizing with the other at various points. A great talent, and I've never understood the objection to either of the brothers soloing. It's usually not comedy, but I consider it a welcome part of their characters.
Groucho slays me in the in the scene when he's trying to convince the two ladies to BOTH marry him. "That's bigamy!" "Why, that's big of me too!" Classic. I also love the way Groucho breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience in this one. The part where he tells the audience they don't have to stay during Chico's solo has always been a favorite of mine.
As for Zeppo, at least he does a nice job as the straight man in the dictation scene. I've always been amazed the man was given so little to do and can understand his desire to leave the team. Margaret Dumont, who is as hammy and glorious here as she usually is, thank Gummo, usually has more to do than Zeppo. I think he will be used best in the next two films, which is as a Marxian (What do you want me to say, Marxist?), romantic lead, which is a Hell of a lot better than a standard one. The guy in this one looks to be all of fifteen, even though I know he was older, but my God some of these guys look juvenile. I wonder if this whole romantic couple thing is something I just don't get because of the age I am, but then again, I like most other things about these movies. Well, there's only one musical number not in keeping of the spirit of the comedy, and I guess it's pleasant enough for what it is.
Overall, a very entertaining movie. My four favorite Marx Brothers movies, though, are the next four, so hang on tight and enjoy the ride.