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Author Topic: Animal Crackers (1930) The Marx Brothers  (Read 948 times)

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Offline metaldams

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Animal Crackers (1930) The Marx Brothers
« on: November 16, 2014, 08:37:14 PM »
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  • http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0020640/?ref_=nv_sr_2



          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.

    9/10
    « Last Edit: November 29, 2014, 10:27:24 PM by metaldams »

    Offline Larrys#1

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    Re: Animal Crackers (1930) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #1 on: November 17, 2014, 12:02:02 PM »
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  • This is a great Marx Bros. film; not as good as the next three, but still much better than THE COCOANUTS. The big musical beginning is fun to watch and I'm not one to enjoy musical numbers. The musical number here fits in with the comedy, so it feels right. The same goes for the musical numbers in DUCK SOUP, but I'll save my comments on that movie when we get to it. The only musical number I didn't care for was the "Why Am I So Romantic" bit. Again, this feels like an MGM musical number that feels out of place and more like a time filler, which this movie didn't need since it runs over 90 minutes.

    Many good parts here.... the "flash" part was hilarious and so was the part where Chico and Harpo play cards with Margaret Dumont and the other lady whose name I don't know. The part where Chico plays the piano and can't think of the finish was a very funny part. Like Metaldams, I really like the beginning where they introduced each character. The way Harpo enters and walks down the stairs is priceless. Just look at his goofy, facial expression.... what comedy this guy can produce without uttering a single word. While I may not care for his harp playing, I really think this guy is one hilarious fellow. Just to be clear on the harp thing.... I think he's an awesome harp player, but the reason I don't care to watch him play is because I don't really care for the harp instrument. I like the piano better, which is why I enjoy watching Chico more, despite him not being as great of a musician.

    Excellent movie, but the next one after this one is significantly better and I anxiously await until next week to review it....

    9/10

    Offline Seamus

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    Re: Animal Crackers (1930) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #2 on: November 18, 2014, 12:33:41 PM »
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  •       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.

          Overall, a very entertaining movie.  My four favorite Marx Brothers movies, though, are the next four, so hang on tight and enjoy the ride.

    I've always been strangely fascinated by Zeppo's presence in these movies.  A fourth Marx brother who looks and behaves like a normal human being would make sense if they'd given him a meaty role as the straight man to the other or as a romantic lead, but most of the time - especially in these first two films - he's barely visible and is lucky if he gets five lines of dialog.  He does get promoted to "Marxian" romantic lead in the next two movies, but even in MONKEY BUSINESS and HORSE FEATHERS he's given a lot less to do than the "standard" romantic lead in all their other movies, and he doesn't put a particularly Marxian spin on that character type.

    Anyway, big step up from COCOANUTS.  Although all their subsequent Paramount movies are arguably better than ANIMAL CRACKERS, this might be the most quintessential Marx Brothers movie since it contains all the elements we associate with their movies - the Brothers invading high society and running circles around Margaret Dumont, a perfunctory and mostly sidelined plot involving star-crossed lovers, Harpo and Chico as a pair of con men (who AREN'T interested in the plight of the young lovers), Groucho as an oddly revered weirdo who somehow charms Dumont despite his endless stream of insults.  ANIMAL CRACKERS feels like a blueprint, with all their subsequent movies exploring other variations on the basic format that AC established ("What if we set these guys loose on a college campus?  Or on a ship with gangsters?  Or put them in charge of the government?").

    Offline metaldams

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    Re: Animal Crackers (1930) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #3 on: November 18, 2014, 09:55:27 PM »
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  • I've always been strangely fascinated by Zeppo's presence in these movies.  A fourth Marx brother who looks and behaves like a normal human being would make sense if they'd given him a meaty role as the straight man to the other or as a romantic lead, but most of the time - especially in these first two films - he's barely visible and is lucky if he gets five lines of dialog.  He does get promoted to "Marxian" romantic lead in the next two movies, but even in MONKEY BUSINESS and HORSE FEATHERS he's given a lot less to do than the "standard" romantic lead in all their other movies, and he doesn't put a particularly Marxian spin on that character type.

    Anyway, big step up from COCOANUTS.  Although all their subsequent Paramount movies are arguably better than ANIMAL CRACKERS, this might be the most quintessential Marx Brothers movie since it contains all the elements we associate with their movies - the Brothers invading high society and running circles around Margaret Dumont, a perfunctory and mostly sidelined plot involving star-crossed lovers, Harpo and Chico as a pair of con men (who AREN'T interested in the plight of the young lovers), Groucho as an oddly revered weirdo who somehow charms Dumont despite his endless stream of insults.  ANIMAL CRACKERS feels like a blueprint, with all their subsequent movies exploring other variations on the basic format that AC established ("What if we set these guys loose on a college campus?  Or on a ship with gangsters?  Or put them in charge of the government?").

    Great observations about this being the "quintessential Marx Brothers movie," as you make some extremely valid points.  Throw in the solos of Harpo and Chico as well as comical musical numbers, and I might venture to say ANIMAL CRACKERS is the only Marx film that has all the elements one would consider in a prime Marx film.

    As far as Zeppo, he seems like a much different screen lover than the David Manners type, but we'll get to that in the next couple of films.  I have the same Zeppo fascination as you do.

    Offline Seamus

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    Re: Animal Crackers (1930) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #4 on: November 19, 2014, 06:56:18 AM »
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  • Great observations about this being the "quintessential Marx Brothers movie," as you make some extremely valid points.  Throw in the solos of Harpo and Chico as well as comical musical numbers, and I might venture to say ANIMAL CRACKERS is the only Marx film that has all the elements one would consider in a prime Marx film.

    Very true.  We lose Dumont in the next two movies (not necessarily a bad thing, but that's a discussion for later), and when she returns in DUCK SOUP we lose the harp and piano solos.  And the MGM movies tinker too much with the Brothers' basic characters and motivations to be considered "pure."   ANIMAL CRACKERS has it all. 

    As far as Zeppo, he seems like a much different screen lover than the David Manners type, but we'll get to that in the next couple of films.  I have the same Zeppo fascination as you do.

    He does sing less, so he earns points for that. 

    Offline Umbrella Sam

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    Re: Animal Crackers (1930) The Marx Brothers
    « Reply #5 on: September 05, 2017, 02:46:39 PM »
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  • ANIMAL CRACKERS is definitely an improvement over THE COCOANUTS, although still somewhat flawed. On the one hand, the focus is much more clearly on the Marx Brothers just interacting with each other and with others. Chico stands out more in this film as a result. The songs are also a lot better, with "Hello, I Must Be Going" and "Hooray For Captain Spaulding," being among the songs most associated with Groucho Marx ("Captain Spaulding," in many respects, became somewhat of a personal anthem for him).

    The downside, though, is that they still do try to force some type of story in there that just doesn't work very well. The whole painting plot gets way too overly complicated and confusing. Three different paintings are part of the plot and one is stolen more than once. While I can understand what the romantic leads' interest in replacing the painting is, the other guests' motivation seems kind of weak and Harpo's motivation is very unclear. He's constantly switching sides, which wouldn't be as big of a deal in a film like DUCK SOUP where the film is very much revolved around anarchy. However, here it is a problem because there is still a degree of seriousness to the film that leaves you constantly questioning everything he does. Why did he steal the paintings in the first place? If he realized the value of the first one, then why did he steal the others? Why did he steal the third one more than once only to return it? The only use he ever has for any of these paintings is briefly using one as a blanket. Even at the end, there's the question of why he knocked out Chico as well.

    It's very clear that they're trying to make the romantic leads more interesting in this film than in THE COCOANUTS. The female romantic lead, in particular, seems to be more assertive than the one in THE COCOANUTS, though they're still not very well developed and their song is easily the weakest one in the film.

    When it's not constantly reminding us of how confusing this plot is, though, it is very fun. The fast pace that Groucho, Chico, and Harpo are at throughout the film is simply breathtaking. Every time they're on screen, they're doing something of interest. Harpo and Chico playing cards; Groucho's speech about his exploits in Africa; Harpo and Chico bribing Mr. Chandler; Groucho and Chico talking about getting a house; even Zeppo gets a good laugh during the diction scene. They even make some good jokes with Chico's piano solo, such as how he has trouble finishing one song, only to return to it briefly later. Of course, massive credit also has to go to the supporting cast that serves as their foils, such as Margaret Dumont and Louis Sorin. I love the comedy in this and I can see why it is among the favorites of Marx Brothers fans.

    Unfortunately, the flaws in this are still pretty noticeable to me and while I think the comedy does make up for a lot of it, it doesn't make up for all of it. Thankfully, they seemed to learn from this experience afterwards, as most of their other films either focused specifically on the comedy, or blended the comedy and story much better. I still would not consider this the movie for first timers to the Marx Brothers to start with, but once they get into them, it definitely makes for an entertaining experience.

    8 out of 10