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Three classic films from the Brother Marks. 'Animal Crackers', their second film, is an adaptation of their Broadway hit. Mrs Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) is throwing a high society party, at which African explorer Jeffrey T. Spaulding (Groucho) is the guest of honour. When a valuable painting is stolen from the house, Spaulding teams up with Italian musician Emanual Ravelli (Chico) and the eccentric Professor (Harpo) to track down the thieves - in between trading insults with their fellow guests and generally creating mayhem. 'Horse Feathers', their fourth film, sees them creating havoc on campus in a high school college comedy. The new president of Huxley college, Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho) soon sets about attending to important school business; namely, winning the school their first football game since 1888. On the advice of his son (Zeppo), he enters a local speakeasy, intending to bribe a couple of professional players to make the college team. What he ends up with instead are inept dog catcher Harpo and ice delivery man Chico. However, the duo prove invaluable when Wagstaff becomes romantically involved with the scheming Connie Bailey (Thelma Todd), a college widow who is secretly in league with Huxley's chief rivals, Darwin. 'Duck Soup' is a zany political satire, which so offended Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini that the film was banned in Italy. Appointed president of Freedonia under the patronage of the wealthy Mrs Teasdale (Dumont), Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) sets about starting a war with neighbouring Sylvania. To this end he trades insults with Sylvanian ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern), unaware that Trentino's spies Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo) are already working to bring down Freedonia from within! This was the Marxes' fifth film (and final one for Paramount Studios), includes the classic mirror sequence and was also the last to feature Zeppo, who - dissatisfied with his role as straight man to his three siblings - subsequently embarked on a successful career as an agent.
Animal Crackers, the second Marx Brothers classic, has Groucho playing Captain Spaulding (an inside joke pertaining to a renowned Hollywood drug pusher), whose song "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" became his signature anthem. Despite its staginess, it has some hilarious gags as the boys try to solve the mystery of a stolen painting among the high-society crowd. Some of the highlights include Groucho's African lecture about shooting an elephant in his pyjamas, and a wacky card game between Harpo, Chico and the always-gullible Margaret Dumont. The musical interludes here don't seem as awkward as in later films. It's really quite charming watching Chico and Harpo show off their graceful talents. --Bill Desowitz
In Duck Soup Groucho plays Rufus T Firefly, the dictator of the small nation Freedonia. The country is a disaster, in financial disrepair, and the wealthy Mrs Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) is its benefactor and the object of Firefly's shrewd affection. When the leader of the neighbouring Sylvania decides he's in love with Mrs Teasdale, Firefly declares war. The movie, from 1933, is tremendously satirical, a play on politics and war. Full of witty lines, great sight gags and even some snazzy song numbers, this is surely among the best--if not the best--the Marx Brothers have to offer. --Jenny Brown
Imagine Groucho as the president of a college and Harpo and Chico as football players. It doesn't get much wackier than this. Horse Feathers, indeed. Groucho is hilarious to watch as a hip professor. He's at his most rebellious singing "Whatever it is, I'm against it". Thelma Todd does some of her best vamping to help fix the big football game, which Harpo and Chico are supposed to throw. Naturally, the brothers have other ideas. For sheer laughter, this has to rate almost as high as Duck Soup, with the memorable speakeasy sequence, and the funniest football finale of all time, complete with banana peels and a chariot. --Bill Desowitz