Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2021) on… Animal Crackers (1930)

For the Classic Movie Blog Assocation’s (CMBA) Fall 2021 blogathon, they chose the theme “Laughter Is The Best Medicine.” Of course, when it comes to providing laughter, it’s hard (for me) not to pick from the Marx Brothers’ filmography, so let’s go with their 1930 film Animal Crackers! Of course, before I go on any further, I have to give credit to my friends Angela and Anna, for their much-needed help and inspiration for this post (and for which I am very grateful).

Now that that’s taken care of, let’s head on down to the stage and join our crew for the day!

(The stage is covered with Christmas decorations. The Narrator comes walking out in that stooped manner that Groucho Marx was known for, wearing a pith helmet, horned-rimmed glasses, exaggerated eyebrows and a greasepaint mustache).

(Narrator): Welcome everybody, as we here prepare to celebrate the Halloween seas — (Stops and looks back at all the Christmas decorations, then turns around to look at the audience with a stunned look on his face, then turns back around.) What in the world?!?! What’s with the Christmas decorations? We’ve got trees, presents, lights, stockings on the fireplace —

(Host): (From offstage) And two hardboiled eggs.

(One honk offstage)

(Host): Make that three hardboiled eggs!

(Narrator): What are you doing? That joke’s from A Night At The Opera, not Animal Crackers! We’ll be doing that one soon enough! Now get out here!

(Host): Just a minute!

(Narrator): (Turning back to audience) As I was trying to say before, with the Halloween season upon us, we decided to celebrate in our own fashion. Since we’ve got a Marx Brothers movie to review today, we decided to dress up as the Marx Brothers.

(The Host walks on wearing a curly-haired wig, a Tyrolean hat and some slightly run down clothes)

(Host): (speaking in a fake Italian accent) That’s-a fine!

(Narrator): Drop the Italian accent. You know you can’t hold it for long. And what’s with all the Christmas decorations?

(Host): You said to decorate for the upcoming holiday!

(Narrator): I did, but I meant Halloween! It’s bad enough that everybody, particularly retailers, like to skip through the holiday season and emphasize Christmas. We’re not there yet! Now, do we have any Halloween decorations?

(A series of honks from offstage)

(Narrator): (Confused) I thought that was you?

(Host): Nope, not me. This time, even the Writer wanted to get in on the fun!

(The Writer comes on wearing a very large trench coat, a battered top hat, a blonde wig, and carrying a cane with a horn on the end. The Narrator offers his hand for a handshake as the Writer comes up to them, but instead the Writer puts his leg in the Narrator’s hand.)

(Narrator): (Putting the Writer’s leg down) So, you’re taking things to that extreme, eh?

(The Writer nods his head enthusiastically, squeezing the horn on his cane.)

(Narrator): (Speaking to the Host) So, apparently you’ve got a silent partner now.

(Host): Oh, that’s nothing. You should hear him when he really gets going!

(Narrator): (Sarcastically) Oooh, I’ll bet. (Speaking to audience) All right folks, I know you’re here for a movie review, and we’ll get to that in a moment. But first, we need to get this holiday mess settled. Do we have any Halloween decorations to put out?

(The Writer whistles to get the Narrator’s attention, and pulls a pumpkin out from his coat.)

(Narrator): Well, that’s one. Have you got any that have been carved?

(Again, the Writer nods enthusiastically, and pulls another pumpkin out of his coat, this time one with Harpo’s famous “Gookie” face carved into it.)

(Narrator): That’s the most gruesome looking object I’ve ever seen. And I’m saying that with you still standing here. And for the reading audience, who don’t know what Harpo’s “Gookie” face is (which I didn’t either, until researching for this), here’s a picture (obviously not on a pumpkin).

(Narrator): Now, can you imagine a pumpkin with that face on it? That’s as scary a thing as I can think of. Alright. I’ll let you put up some Halloween decorations while we get around to the movie.

(The Writer starts pulling various Halloween decorations out of his coat.)

(Narrator): (Stops to think) Now, what movie were we here for again?

(Host): That’s funny, it just slipped my mind.

(The Writer pulls a box of animal crackers out of his coat and starts munching on them while decorating.)

(Narrator): Ah, Animal Crackers, that’s it!

(Host): That sounds about right.

(Narrator): Oh, like you were going to come up with it. Nevermind. The Marx Brothers made it to the Broadway stage with the musical revue I’ll Say She Is (1924), a success which was followed up with The Cocoanuts (1925) and Animal Crackers (1928). In fact, their first talking picture would be the film version of The Cocoanuts, which they made at Paramount’s Astoria studios in New York City. They filmed The Cocoanuts during the day, and performed onstage in Animal Crackers in the evenings (a schedule which resulted in Groucho having one slight slip-up that made it into The Cocoanuts, where he accidentally started to refer to Chico Marx’s character by the character’s name from Animal Crackers before starting to correct himself). The Cocoanuts proved to be a hit with movie audiences, with the Marx Brothers in particular being singled out as the best parts of the movie, which obviously meant that they were going to do another film for Paramount. Of course, while audiences were enamored with their onscreen shenanigans, they were also a lot of trouble offscreen, arriving late to the set, leaving early for golf or lunch, sleeping in their dressing rooms, etc.

(While the Narrator is speaking, the Writer pulls a piano and a piano bench out of his coat. The Host walks over, helps set them up right, and sits down to play the piano.)

(Host): Alright!

(The Host plays the song “I’m Daffy Over You,” which was written by Chico Marx. Now, as an aside here to the audience, I am providing a link to a YouTube video of the song. If you haven’t seen the movie Animal Crackers, Chico plays the song over and over without stopping, much to Groucho’s annoyance. I have several videos placed throughout this post, but whether the timing and placement is correct may not be accurate. However you choose to do it, whether with the same first video or with every one, I would suggest playing the music in the background over and over until I stop it in this post so that you can get the general idea. Now, back to the Host, with the music starting.)

(Narrator): (Speaking to the Host) Keep quiet back there! (The music continues.) Oh well, I’ve heard worse. (Back to the audience) As I was saying their antics didn’t go over well with the studio, so Paramount hired Victor Heerman (who had a reputation for keeping discipline on his films) as the director. Of course, the Marxes were hardly his only duty, as actress Lillian Roth (who played Arabella Rittenhouse in the movie) had been a problem for director Cecil B. DeMille when filming Madame Satan (1930), and she was put in Animal Crackers as punishment (which was apparently effective). Of course, the end results on the movie spoke for themselves, as the Marx Brothers had another hit on their hands, which resulted in them moving to Hollywood and getting new film properties to work with (as opposed to adaptations of stage plays they had been in), starting with Monkey Business (1931).

(Host): (While still playing the music, and attempting an Italian accent again) That’s-a fine. Now how about the movie’s plot?

(Narrator): I thought I told you to drop the accent? I’m getting to the movie. I’m getting to it! The wealthy Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) and her daughter, Arabella (Lillian Roth) are hosting a party at their home for the social elite in honor of the recently returned African explorer Captain Geoffrey (or Jeffrey, as the film can’t make up its mind which spelling to use) Spaulding (Groucho Marx). The high point of the party is supposed to be the unveiling of the famous artist Beaugard’s painting After The Hunt by the famous art connoisseur Roscoe Chandler (Louis Sorin). Captain Spaulding arrives with his secretary, Horatio Jamison (Zeppo Marx) –

(The Host starts playing the song from the start again)

(Narrator): No, no, that’s the wrong song for this spot! Uy, uy. Anyways, upon his arrival, the captain announces that he will leave immediately. Mrs. Rittenhouse prevails upon him to stay, and they are shortly joined by Signor Emanuel Ravelli (Chico Marx) and his partner, the Professor (Harpo Marx), who will provide the musical entertainment for the weekend. Meanwhile, Arabella has invited her painter boyfriend, John Parker (Hal Thompson) to the party, but he laments over his lack of success with his paintings. He shows her a copy he had painted of the Beaugard painting After The Hunt (the one being unveiled), and, upon examination, they have a hard time distinguishing between the two. Sensing an opportunity, Arabella comes up with the idea to switch the paintings, so that they can reveal John’s talent and convince Chandler to commission a portrait. To switch the paintings, Arabella asks Ravelli if he could switch them when no one is looking. They are not the only ones plotting a switch, as Mrs. Rittenhouse’s “friends” Grace Carpenter (Kathryn Reece) and Mrs. Whitehead (Margaret Irving) plot to do the same thing (except with Grace’s very poor copy). They ask Mrs. Rittenhouse’s butler, Hives (Robert Grieg) (who had worked for them in the past) to change the paintings when he gets the chance. That night, Ravelli and the Professor successfully make the switch. The next day, Captain Spaulding regales everybody with tales of his adventures in Africa, followed up with music provided by Ravelli and the Professor.

(The Host once again starts playing the song from the beginning.)

(Narrator): (Slaps his forehead in frustration) How much would you take to go play in traffic or run into that wall over there?

(The Writer comes over, pulls a dollar bill out of the Narrator’s pocket, then goes running at the wall. Right as he reaches the wall, a pair of stagehands walk by with a set piece of a wall, blocking everybody’s view of the Writer. When they pass by, he has disappeared, without creating a hole in the wall.)

(Host): (Still playing the music) He, he, he. I guess that’s what you’d call a “Ghost Writer,” eh, Cap?

(Narrator): That may be, but he took my dollar! I didn’t even offer it to him!

(Host): Well, if you need it that much, I can give you a dollar!

(Narrator): Well, that’s as good an offer as I’ve had, thank you!

(Host): Here’s your dollar, Cap. (pulls a bill out of his pocket) $9 change, please.

(Narrator): (Puts his head between his legs for a moment, before coming back to an upright position) Never mind. I’ll be alright.

(The music stops playing a second before the Host seems to stop playing. The Narrator strokes his chin as he ponders what he just saw, while the Host clumsily tries to cover up his mistake.)

(Narrator): (Suspicious) Finally, you’re done with that music. But seriously, though, we’re talking about Animal Crackers here. I know that money gag is still Marx Brothers (Go West), but couldn’t you at least stick to jokes from this movie instead?

(Host): Eh, maybe I can. So, what happened next in this movie?

(Narrator): (Looks away back to audience) Next up was the unveiling of the painting. Upon seeing it, Chandler declares it to be a poor imitation. Shortly thereafter, the lights go out, and, upon coming back on, that painting is gone, too. Everybody proceeds to search the grounds in hopes of finding the painting.

(Host): So, the thief stole the painting?

(Narrator): (Annoyed) Yes.

(Host): Who did they suspect?

(Narrator): Well, some suspected the Professor, but they brought the police in to help find the painting, just the same. (Stops to think for a second) You know, it’s been awful quiet for a bit since the Writer left. Given how much he’s acting like Harpo, we need to check the inventory of everything around here and find him!

(Host): Sounds like a good idea. (Checks pockets to see if everything is there.) I’ve got everything, Cap.

(Narrator): (Checks his own pockets, finds nothing missing as well) Same here. Let’s go get him back out here to make sure about everything else!

(The Host and the Narrator both run offstage, and come back on after a moment, dragging in the Writer.)

(Narrator): All right. Empty out your coat.

(The Writer pulls out the bouquet of yellow roses.)

(Narrator): Wait a minute. Those were from the Author to his friends for their help and inspiration. Give them to me!

(The Narrator takes the flowers and puts them back at the beginning of the post where they belong. However, the Writer still has one flower and starts chewing on it.)

(Narrator): You’re really taking this one quite far, aren’t you?

(The Writer nods and keeps chewing on the flower.)

(Narrator): Come on, keep emptying that coat!

(The Writer finishes off the flower and starts pulling a string of Christmas lights out of his sleeve. The string just keeps coming and coming, and both the Narrator and the Host grab ahold and help pull it out. Finally, after pulling out one thousand feet’s worth of Christmas lights, they come to the end of the string.)

(Narrator): (Sarcastically) And I don’t suppose you can turn them on, either?

(The Writer nods enthusiastically, pulls a lightbulb out of his coat, grabs one end of the string of lights, sticks the lightbulb in his mouth, and all the lights light up.)

(Host): Well, he’s going to be prepared for the holidays.

(Narrator): Anything else in that coat of yours?

(The Writer pulls the lightbulb out of his mouth, and reluctantly pulls a giant screen TV out of his coat.)

(Narrator): If any of you at home can figure out how he pulled that one off, you’re good. (Turning to the Writer) Does it still work?

(The Writer pulls out a remote, and turns on the TV. On the TV is Animal Crackers, particularly the “Take A Letter” scene. The Writer pulls a chair out of his coat and sits down to watch it. The Narrator and the Host both pause to watch as well.)

(Host): (As they continue to watch the scene) Good stuff, eh Cap?

(Narrator): Indeed. That reminds me, I need to write my own letter to my girlfriend. Take a letter!

(Host): (Still intently watching the TV) Who, me?

(Narrator): Yes, you. Take a letter!

(The Writer pulls a pencil and notepad out of his coat and hands them over to the Host.)

(Narrator): I said take a letter! (Pauses for a moment) Have you written anything?

(The Host is still transfixed by the TV and says nothing.)

(Narrator): My dearest Niña.

(Host): So I’m writing this to Niña?

(Narrator): Don’t question me, let me think. “My dearest Niña. The earth stopped turning yesterday for about five minutes and threw off time. As a result, the laundry pile has gained consciousness. There is a wombat in the drainpipe. Not my fault. Hand me a paintbrush, stat! Pirate flags make everyone look more cultured. The eclipse will cause the cows to melt. There is cheese in my hair. My laptop is on fire. Oops. And in conclusion, I’d like to say that that person is really just made of bees, and I love you. Kindest regards.” You can put my name down later. Now, read it back to me.

(Host): “My dearest Niña.”

(Narrator): That’s good so far. Keep going.

(Host): Well, that’s all I have, as you started going off on a tangent, and I was too engrossed in the TV, so I decided to omit everything else.

(Narrator): (Slaps head in frustration) You realize you omitted the body of the letter? That’s the most important stuff!

(Host): Yep.

(Narrator): (Satisfied) Well, that’s fine. Put it in an envelope, and send it to Iris, Jillian, Daphene, Allison, Belle and Gemma. You’ll find their addresses in my phone.

(Host): But I thought I was sending it to Niña?

(Narrator): You are. That’s my pet name for all of them. Make several copies and send the letter as is, and tell them the body will follow.

(Host): Whose body?

(Narrator): Hopefully, not mine. I know they have gardening tools and have been looking for a project, but hopefully I can duck it. Anyways, after you make copies of the letter, burn the original, and shred the copies.

(Host): Ok, boss.

(Narrator): Now, back to the movie. Obviously, the police and everybody search for the painting, and at one point John Parker is accused of stealing it. But, the right painting is eventually found, and everything turns out well for everybody (almost).

(Host): That’s the end of the story, eh Cap?

(Narrator): Quite! Of course, this movie was originally released before the Production Code went into effect, so, upon re-release in 1936 (after the Code was implemented), a few moments here and there were cut from the original camera negative (in an era where they didn’t keep deleted scenes). After some time, Paramount essentially allowed its licenses for the film to expire (with the rights reverting to the authors of the Broadway show), and therefore it wasn’t shown theatrically or on television for quite some time. Eventually, Universal bought most of Paramount’s pre-1950 sound features, but Animal Crackers was such a legal mess that they left it alone. In the 1970s, some students from UCLA convinced Groucho Marx to help them push Universal to re-release the film in a very successful bid. Even so, it was still the edited version, which would be the only way the film was available until Universal found a 35mm duplicate negative held at the British Film Institute and restored it for theatrical distribution and a Blu-ray release in 2016.

(Host): What a life this film has had, eh?

(Narrator): Indeed! But, even after all this time, it still works as one of the best Marx Brothers movies. It’s hard not to laugh at their antics, whether it be Groucho and his tales of African exploration, or the bridge game, or the conversations between Groucho and Chico (honestly, some of the film’s best comedic moments), or watching everything fall from Harpo’s coat when the police are shaking his hand. Not to mention other moments that have been referenced here! For me, this is definitely still the Marx Brothers at their peak (which would still last for a few years after this, as they finished out their run at Paramount plus their first two films at MGM), which easily makes this film worth seeing, especially when in need of a good laugh (but I guarantee that you won’t stop at one laugh with this movie)!

This movie is available in its entirety on Blu-ray as part of the five-film The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection from Universal Studios.

(Host): Well, we finally got to the end.

(Narrator): Alright!

(“I’m Daffy Over You” starts playing again, and the Host hurriedly tries to push the Narrator around as he makes a mad dash for the piano to resume “playing” the song.)

(Host): (After a moment of playing with the song) Alright! (The music stops playing)

(Narrator): That’s real original. You know that’s an Abbott and Costello routine, don’t you?

(Host): Well, what am I supposed to do? I can’t maintain the Italian accent, the Author isn’t as good at writing wordplay like Chico tended to use, and I can’t play the piano, so what else was I supposed to do?

(Narrator): Well, you were supposed to —

(Writer): (Walking away from the television) “Hooray For Captain Spaulding, the African explorer!”

(The Host and the Narrator stop and gape at the now-speaking Writer.)

(Writer): Well, with this movie, SOMEBODY had to do it!

(The Host and the Narrator look at each other.)

(Host and Narrator): (In unison) Get him out of here!!

(The Host and the Narrator grab the Writer and proceed to run him off the stage. Offstage, the sounds of a scuffle can be heard.)

(Host): (Sticking his head back out) Well, that’s all we have to say folks! (Pulls head back off as offstage fight continues)

(Narrator): (Sticking his head back out) Thanks for listening, and come back soon! (Pulls head back off as offstage fight continues)

(The Writer sticks his head out, whistles, honks his horn and waves before pulling his head back off.)

Film Length: 1 hour, 39 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #4 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2021

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Groucho Marx – A Night At The Opera (1935)

Chico Marx – A Night At The Opera (1935)

Harpo Marx – A Night At The Opera (1935)

The Marx Brothers – A Night At The Opera (1935)

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2021) on… Animal Crackers (1930)

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