Friday, September 25, 2009

Animal Crackers (Victor Heerman) ***

Director: Victor Heerman

Cast: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, Lillian Roth, Margaret Dumont, Louis Sorin

Background: Animal Crackers is the second Marx Brothers film after the success of The Cocoanuts and was also adapted from their Broadway show.

Story: Famous explorer Captain Spaulding (Marx) attends a party in his honor at the home of Mrs. Rittenhouse and helps investigate the theft of a valuable painting during the party.

Thoughts: The Marx Brothers are hilarious here, mixing clever wordplay and oddball shenanigans to great comic effect. That is when they are actually on screen. The curious thing about Animal Crackers is how often that is not the case. The movie pauses frequently so the supporting characters can explain the plot, and none of the supporting characters are funny or interesting at all, even the wonderful Lillian Roth who was so great in Lubitsch's The Love Parade. It often ruins the comic momentum of the movie and prevents Animal Crackers from being as good as it really should be. Some of these problems also existed in The Cocoanuts, but that one hit some higher points, with the hilarious two room screwball sequence that is funnier than anything here. Still, there is plenty of funny material here to make this one a worthwhile effort.

Postscript: Animal Crackers is one of the Marx Brothers most well know films, and was very successful upon commercial release. Groucho himself would later say that this was the best of their movies.

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