Personally, I’ve always found that one of the best places to find a group of clowns would be At The Circus, and what better group of clowns to do it than the three Marx brothers, Groucho, Chico and Harpo?
Circus owner Jeff Wilson (Kenny Baker) is finally able to pay back his debt to John Carter (James Burke). However, Mr. Carter wants the circus itself, and so gets some of his allies to rob Jeff. Jeff’s buddy Antonio (Chico Marx) figured on trouble and brought in lawyer J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho Marx). Along with Antonio’s buddy Punchy (Harpo Marx), they try to find the money. When they fail, Loophole goes to Newport to find Jeff’s aunt, Mrs. Dukesbury (Margaret Dumont), and, behind her back, arranges for Jeff to bring the circus to her big society party.
Personally, I do think that the Marx brothers’ best movies were behind them at this stage. It doesn’t help that the studio they were under contract to, MGM, didn’t really know how to handle them (or really care), as their main benefactor in coming over to MGM was Irving Thalberg, and he had passed away partway through filming A Day At The Races. Without him, the Marx brothers were being poorly handled, which apparently was a problem the studio had with comedians (case in point, silent film comedian Buster Keaton had been reduced to coming up with gags for different movies, including being assigned to this one, although his ideas didn’t make it into the movie, since the Marx brothers had a different style of comedy). I do think this movie was better than some of the later Marx brothers movies, with the main exception of Go West (but I’ll get into that one for another time). The music here isn’t particularly memorable, outside of Groucho’s rendition of “Lydia The Tattooed Lady” (and the less than politically correct song “Swingali” doesn’t help matters, either). Not to mention some of the various circus stunts seem obviously faked when some of the leads are supposed to be doing them.
As I said, though, this movie does have some bright spots. Personally, I think most of them belong to Groucho and some of his exchanges with Chico. Whether it be when he tries to get on the circus train but Chico won’t let him without a badge (even though he sent for him) or when Groucho is trying to interrogate some of the circus performers and Chico bluntly accuses them. I think Chico and Harpo have a few good moments together, mostly with the two of them trying to “re-destruct” the crime or Harpo trying to point out a clue that Chico was obviously missing. Like I said before, I do think this was one of the weaker Marx brothers movies, but I don’t think that it had quite fallen far enough for me to not recommend it. So, if you are in the mood for a decent circus movie, give this one a try!
This movie is available as part of a Marx Brothers double-feature with Room Service on DVD from Warner Home Video.
Film Length: 1 hour, 27 minutes
My Rating: 6/10
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