I’m long overdue for some Marx brothers zaniness, so today, we’re here for their 1946 comedy A Night In Casablanca! But first, we’ve got a theatrical short to start things off with!
Coming Up Shorts! with… The Cat That Hated People (1948)
(Available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 2 from Warner Archive Collection)
(Length: 7 minutes, 1 second)
A black cat expresses his dislike for humans for the way he has been treated, and takes a rocket to the moon. This was another very fun cartoon. Seeing what the cat goes through, it’s easy to understand why he hates people. Yet, as they say, “Be careful what you wish for!” What he finds on the moon is more than he bargained for, and the sheer lunacy is a lot of fun! I enjoyed it, from the cat himself (voiced by Paul Frees, doing an imitation of Jimmy Durante, if I’m correct), to all of the various gags throughout, and I know it’s one I want to revisit now and again!
And Now For The Main Feature…
Three managers of the Hotel Casablanca have been murdered recently, and Governor Galloux (Lewis Russell) and his prefect of police, Captain Brizzard (Dan Seymour) have no idea why! They refuse to listen to Lieutenant Pierre Delbar (Charles Drake), who claims that, during the war, he had been forced by the Germans to fly Nazi loot out of France, but he crashed his plane intentionally in Casablanca (although all the treasure disappeared while he was detained). He believes that a group of Nazis are trying to take over the hotel, to get the treasure out of there, but nobody is listening to him, except his girlfriend Annette (Lois Collier). The Governor hopes to offer the position of manager to Count Max Pfferman (Sig Ruman), but he is detained when his toupee disappears. You see, he is a Nazi, by the name of Heinrich Stubel, famous for a scar on his head (but which is hidden by the toupee). Since he doesn’t show up to accept the position (like he had wanted to), the governor decides to offer the position to Ronald Kornblow (Groucho Marx), the manager of a hotel in the desert (where, supposedly, he may not have heard about the spate of murdered Hotel Casablanca managers). Max tries to find ways to kill Kornblow, including getting his nightclub singer girlfriend Beatrice Reiner (Lisette Verea) to flirt with Kornblow, but his attempts fail, especially with his valet Rusty (Harpo Marx) and Yellow Camel Company owner Corbaccio (Chico Marx) trying to help Kornblow. Max finally gets his chance when Rusty and Corbaccio break the bank playing roulette at the hotel, and accuses Kornblow of working with them to do so. Max is given the manager’s job, and Kornblow, Rusty, Corbaccio and Annette are arrested. When they learn that Rusty had discovered the treasure, they break out of jail, and help Pierre (who had been arrested for deportation) to go after the former Nazis. But, can they stop them before the Nazis escape to South America?
In the early 1940s, the Marx brothers announced their retirement, to go into effect after their 1941 film The Big Store. At the time, they had grown tired of making movies, which was not helped by losing producer Irving Thalberg during production of A Day At The Races, and being stuck with producers who didn’t know (or care) what to do with the Marxes. However, after being retired a few years, they came back to do A Night In Casablanca as an independent film (at least partly because of Chico’s troubles with compulsive gambling). The film was originally intended as more of a parody of the classic Casablanca. Warner Brothers apparently heard about it, and started looking into it from a legal standpoint (whether anything more than that happened on their end seems to be up for debate, depending on your sources). What is known is that Groucho famously wrote a public series of letters to them, humorously picking on them for use of “Brothers” in their studio name, since the Marxes had been doing so on stage as “Brothers” for a longer period of time (or something to that effect). Nothing further happened from Warner Brothers, and the movie ended up changing the story to be more of a spoof of wartime melodramas.
Like most of the Marx brothers movies, I’ve been watching this one for a number of years. I personally think this one is more middle of the road for them, not as good as their earliest films, but definitely better than the rest of their post-A Day At The Races output. Their comedy isn’t necessarily anything new at this point (with them essentially recycling a few comedy bits, including Harpo and Chico’s “Charades” routine used previously in A Day At The Races), but their comic timing is still there, and allows for the jokes to come off well. Groucho still has his one-liners, Chico still plays his “filthy piano,” and Harpo plays his harp. I know I still laugh at Groucho as he tries to spend time with Lisette Verea’s Beatrice, only to have to keep switching rooms (and carry the champagne, flowers, and records everywhere). I also enjoy their antics as they try to keep the Nazis from getting all the trunks packed, not to mention Harpo’s sword fight with the Nazi waiter.
Now, as I hinted at, this film certainly does have its issues. Even with the Marxes a bit more in control, this film still has the unnecessary romance between Charles Drake’s Pierre and Lois Collier’s Annette (not to mention the fact that, although the characters are supposed to be French, neither of them are anywhere close to actually playing that). But, one of my biggest problems with this film is its score, by Werner Janssen. Its decent for most of the movie, but there are times it just feels too serious for some of the action going on onscreen (including the scene I mentioned earlier with the Marxes trying to stop the Nazis when packing the trunks and the film’s ending). Still, these are minor quibbles for what was the last good Marx brothers film, and they’re not enough to stop me from watching it (or recommending it either)!
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Classicflix. The new transfer for this release looks wonderful, with the picture generally cleaned up to remove dirt and specks and the like. The detail is wonderful, and I would say it’s the best way to enjoy the movie. Throw in an audio excerpt of a stage performance from 1945 (where they were trying out some of their material for the movie to see how well it would work), some radio commercials promoting the film and an image gallery that contains stills, lobby cards, etc., and this is a release that I find to be well worth having!
Film Length: 1 hour, 25 minutes
My Rating: 8/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
At The Circus (1939) – Groucho Marx
At The Circus (1939) – Harpo Marx
At The Circus (1939) – Chico Marx
At The Circus (1939) – The Marx Brothers
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