Marx Brothers fans may quibble about which of the team's classic films
is their best, but it's impossible to determine their funniest
one. Whereas DUCK
SOUP and A
NIGHT AT THE OPERA may succeed best
as well-made films, at least five (or perhaps six) of the team's
pictures are equally high in laugh content. HORSE FEATHERS,
therefore, is as funny a film as the brothers ever made. It
also perhaps their most freewheeling and joyous one, existing in a
world where everyone from college presidents to dog catchers are
charlatans with hidden agendas, and nobody seems to mind very
much. And, just as ANIMAL CRACKERS was the
best showcase film for
Groucho's talents, HORSE FEATHERS features Harpo at his most unleashed
and creative. One of two early films made without perennial
Margaret Dumont, but nobody objects as long as lovely Thelma Todd is
around to inject her sense of fun into the proceedings. - JL
Z. McLeod may
never hailed as one of
our great directors, but he certainly made some of the best films ever
starring The Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Bob Hope and Danny
Who else in film history can say that?
HORSE FEATHERS is directed by McLeod in his usual style - he steps out of the way and lets the comedians be funny. The college setting of HORSE FEATHERS sets up what could be a satire of higher education, but beyond one classroom scene and a few gags here and there, the Marxes don't seem interested. In an MGM film, we would be asked to pray that Huxley College wins the big football game against Darwin, because something would be at stake. At Paramount, the climactic football scene itself, although filled with clever sight gags, is simply a convenient way to finish off the film with a semi-bang without petering out like MONKEY BUSINESS or ANIMAL CRACKERS. Darwin College cheats by adding two professional players to their roster, and the Marx Brothers respond by cheating even more blatantly, in front of a cheering crowd of thousands, to win the game. As Harpo unloads football after football into the end zone, the scoreboard keeper simply keeps putting up touchdowns, as if this were all perfectly normal. Nobody protests, nobody gives a damn, life goes on.
Unlike the grand Freedonian settings of DUCK SOUP, very little in HORSE FEATHERS acts as a basis for satire, parody or clever observation, but rather as a neutral setting that allows plenty of room for Groucho to spout pithy one-liners ("I married your mother because I wanted children - imagine my disappointment when you arrived!"), Chico to unleash a barrage of puns ("falsetto teeth" matching "Sanity Clause" as his greatest ever), Harpo to perform some of his most outrageous sight gags, and for all four brothers to perform their own unique take on Kalmar and Ruby's silly love song "Everyone Says I Love You". And that is enough to make HORSE FEATHERS my favorite Marx Brothers movie. Which, by default, makes it my favorite movie of all time. Swordfish! - JB
QUOTE AND MAKE IT A
"Now that's all for the first lesson. I come back next week and teach you how to breathe. And don't breathe until I see you again."
Notes by John V. "Jay" Brennan
QUACK, QUACK, QUACK!
The recurring song of the film is Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby's catchy and lovable "Everyone Says I Love You". Kalmar wrote the words, Ruby the music. Zeppo sings it to Thelma Todd early in the film, with Harpo bringing it to a whistling finish in the next scene. Chico sings his version (with Chico-ized lyrics) it to Thelma Todd just before his usual piano solo. Harpo plays it to Thelma Todd on his harp. Groucho, playing a guitar, sings his version (with Groucho-ized lyrics) to Thelma Todd on their date on the lake.
Groucho also sings the Kalmar and Ruby songs "Whatever It Is, I'm
Against It" and "I Always Get My Man" with Zeppo and the cast at the
beginning of the film. Zeppo, bless his heart, sings the
introduction to "I Always Get My Man", which, I guess we can call
"Knowing Dad As I Do" or "He's A Hound".
"Everyone Says I Love You" was covered by several bands at the time,
my favorite being the version by The Isham Jones Orcherstra with singer
Eddie Stone sounding like he is trying his best to out-Zeppo Zeppo.
A BOW FOR HARPO
Harpo's Solo: As stated above: "Everyone Says I Love You".
Bert Kalmar, lyrics (three sets of them for this film!), Harry Ruby,
Chico's Solo: "Everyone Says I Love You" (accompanying his own singing) / "Collegiate" (Moe Jaffe, Nat Bonx)
"Collegiate" was a hit for Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians in 1925, and a nice choice for Chico's solo, as HORSE FEATHERS is a "college" picture. The tune can also be heard during Harpo's arrival as "The Professor" in the opening introductory scene of in ANIMAL CRACKERS, and a more sinister arrangement can be heard late in the film when he loads the can of Flit (or should I write it as Flit?) with some sort of knock-out juice.
Burly character actor Nat Pendleton would costar with the Marx Brothers again in 1939 in MGM's AT THE CIRCUS. He is perhaps best remembered as the tough army sergeant in Abbott and Costello's BUCK PRIVATES and its sequel BUCK PRIVATES COME HOME.