US Release Date: 08-28-1930
Directed by: Victor Heerman
- Groucho Marx, as
- Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding
- Harpo Marx, as
- The Professor
- Chico Marx, as
- Signor Emanuel Ravelli
- Zeppo Marx, as
- Horatio Jamison
- Lillian Roth, as
- Arabella Rittenhouse
- Margaret Dumont, as
- Mrs. Rittenhouse
- Louis Sorin, as
- Roscoe Chandler
- Hal Thompson, as
- John Parker
- Margaret Irving, as
- Mrs. Whitehead
- Kathryn Reece, as
- Grace Carpenter
- Robert Greig, as
- Edward Metcalf as
Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont.
Animal Crackers was the second Marx Brother’s movie. It was based on their stage hit and like all their movies has just a hint of plot but plenty of zaniness. Groucho plays famed explorer Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding having just returned from darkest Africa to attend a soirée in his honor thrown by the wealthy Mrs. Rittenhouse (the always unflappable Margaret Dumont) at her mansion.
Among those in attendance are Harpo as The Professor, Chico as Signor Emanuel Ravelli and Zeppo as Horatio Jamison. As usual the brothers create a constant stream of madcap mayhem. All that really happens in the way of a story is the theft of a valuable painting.
This is the movie where Groucho famously wears a pith helmet. Upon making his entrance he sings “Hello, I Must Be Going” and then delivers his most famous one-liner of them all. "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know." He then adds, "As I say, we tried to remove the tusks. But they were embedded so firmly we couldn't budge them. Of course, in Alabama the Tuscaloosa, but that is entirely ir-elephant to what I was talking about."
Chico and Harpo have one hilarious bit where they keep putting their leg in the hand of unaware strangers and Harpo does his usual chasing of women. They also each play the piano and Harpo plays the harp of course. Zeppo just looks handsome.
As usual Groucho steals the show. Whether insulting Margaret Dumont, "Why, you've got beauty, charm, money! You have got money, haven't you? Because if you haven't, we can quit right now." Or simply spouting nonsense, "And east is east and west is west, and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce, they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does." He was the king of the zinger and a master of the non-sequitur. "Tell me, what do you think of the traffic problem? What do you think of the marriage problem? What do you think of at night when you go to bed, you beast?"
If you want to find fault you could say the sound quality is not so great and the camera work is pretty static but neither of these flaws keeps the movie from being funny. Very few comedies cause me to convulse with laughter. Animal Crackers does. This is the Marx Brothers at the zenith of their absurdist lunacy. Do yourself a favor and watch it soon.
Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont in Animal Crackers.
While I've always found the Marx Brothers, particularly Groucho, to be quite funny, sometimes their movies can be uneven. Animal Crackers though, is consistently hilarious from start to finish. It is the brothers at their madcap best.
As Patrick mentioned, the only flaw in this comic gem is no fault of the brothers. The static camera work, mise en scene, and some of the supporting performances make the stage origins quite obvious. It's a little jarring at first, but once Groucho makes his appearance you won't be paying attention to much else.
Although Chico and Harpo were funny in their own rights, Groucho was always the funniest of the brothers and he's definitely the star here. Harpo, whose silent antics would often run on for too long in later films, has his screen time somewhat limited here and it works to the film's benefit. The biggest laughs come from Groucho's one-liners and his interactions with Chico and the long suffering Margaret Dumont. Zeppo is as superfluous as always. Even the brother's musical numbers are kept briefer than they would be in later films. Chico and Harpo were both very talented musicians, but I always found these musical numbers to be real comedy killers.
Patrick quoted a few of the film's most famous lines, but nearly every word that shoots rapid fire out of Groucho's mouth is worth a laugh. Many of them come at the expense of Margaret Dumont, such as "Why, you're one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen, and that's not saying much for you." and "Why, you've got beauty, charm, money! You *have* got money, haven't you? Because if you haven't, we can quit right now."
He's at his very surreal best during a scene where he proposes marriage to Dumont and Margaret Irving at the same time, "I'm sick of these conventional marriages. One woman and one man was good enough for your grandmother, but who wants to marry your grandmother? Nobody, not even your grandfather." He even pauses to spoof Eugene O'Neil's Strange Interlude during this scene when he steps aside to perform a mock dramatic soliloquy to camera.
This would be the final film the Marx Brothers would make in New York City before heading to Hollywood. Their later work would be more polished and more cinematic, but laugh for laugh this just might be their funniest film.
Zeppo, Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx.
My brothers quoted several of Groucho Marx’s hilarious lines. How amazing is it that eighty years have passed yet the jokes still have the power to make people laugh. I could mention more of them but the fun of this film is hearing and watching Groucho do his shtick.
In fact, this movie is more of a standup comedy routine than an actual movie. As Patrick wrote, the only resemblance to a plot is the theft of a painting. It would register, at best, as a side plot in any other film but here it constitutes a makeshift story line.
Although Animal Crackers is all about Groucho, his brothers are around for support. Chico and Harpo add their trademark silent routine and fake Italian accent. Patrick stated that Zeppo looks handsome. He could only be considered handsome in comparison to the rest of the Marx brothers. It is like calling Moe Howard the smart one of the Three Stooges.
Like Scott, I have sometimes found Chico’s and Harpo’s musical interludes to be a pace killer. With this film, I realized that they are actually necessary to the films. As their movies had such little plot, the musical moments were a break in the stand up.
I also agree with Scott that it is all too obvious that this movie was filmed as if it were still on a stage. Look at the very first scene. The editor should have cut the first few seconds from the movie. It opens with a butler starting to walk down stage as if the director just called, “Action.” Thankfully this was their final film in New York. Do not get me wrong. I found plenty to laugh at and enjoy here but I prefer their later Hollywood films that had a bit more plot and better direction.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (1930)