Day at the Races

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A Day at the Races (1937)

Apr 18, 2000
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:slapstick, cast, direction

Cons:musical numbers, book selling skit

"A Day at the Races" was the Marx Brothers seventh film, and the follow-up to their most commercially successful movie, "A Night at the Opera". Much of the cast from "Opera" returns. The formula of mixing comedy skits with a few musical numbers and a romance is repeated.

Margaret Dumont again plays a wealthy woman cynically romanced by Groucho. Dumont is the star patient at a struggling hospital. Groucho Marx is a horse doctor who has conned his way into being chief of staff. The hospital is owned by lovely Maureen O'Sullivan (of "The Thin Man" and 'Tarzan' fame). She is romanced by tenor Allan Jones, who owns a racing horse named Hi Hat. Harpo Marx is the horse's jockey.

Sig Ruman, the comic foil from "Opera", shows up as a pompous doctor. He is the subject of one of Groucho's best one-liners: "Don't point that beard at me, it might go off!"

The skits are inconsistent in quality. In the longest one, Groucho is conned into buying a stack of books from Chico. It isn't that funny. But when Groucho fakes a long distance phone call from blustering Leonard Ceeley to Florida, it is funny. When the Marx Brothers turn a medical examination into chaos, it is very funny.

As in "Opera", there are some unnecessary musical numbers. Jones may be a fine tenor, but his songs are empty. The big production number featuring dancer Vivien Fay is out of place. Chico and Harpo take turns on a piano, with Chico showing greater skill. Harpo plays the harp, but it isn't funny and never will be.

One musical sequence is highly unusual for the 1930s, a decade in which black performers had difficulty finding work in mainstream films. Harpo plays Pied Piper to about fifty blacks, who dance and sing with much greater energy than their white counterparts. Ivy Anderson, a jazz singer who was working with Duke Ellington at the time, has the lead on "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm". (65/100)



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