With Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Sig Ruman, Lisette Verea, Fredrick Guitman
Directed by Archie Mayo
Black and White
Reviewed by JL and JB

Nothing like a hot meal     After their five-year premature retirement, the Marx Brothers returned to the screen in A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA, mainly because (all together now) Chico needed the money.  It was their best film since AT THE CIRCUS, which isn't saying much, but it was probably as good as could be hoped for under the circumstances.  An independent production released by United Artists, the film was noticeably lacking in the production values of their Paramount or, especially, MGM films.  Long gone also were the days of Kaufmans and Ryskinds and Kalmars and Rubys (although an uncredited Frank Tashlin did contribute a few memorable sight gags to the picture).  There was also the matter of director Archie Mayo, who was known as a nice guy during his studio-contract days at Warners and Fox, but who had become a notorious on-set tyrant once he started freelancing in the '40s.  He and the brothers locked horns almost daily, with Groucho referring to him as the "fat slob" who was "ruining the picture."  Despite such encumbrances, A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA is worthwhile for a handful of memorable scenes, a couple of handfuls of quotable one-liners, and Harpo's most unrestrained performance since the Paramount days.  All the brothers, in fact, proved they still had it in them.  By the time of their final film (LOVE HAPPY) three years later, it seemed as if they'd aged 20 years. 3 - JL

     As mentioned above, one of the things that killed the Marx Brothers was their inability to hire top writers like George Kaufman, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby or S. J. Perelman for their post-A DAY AT THE RACES films.  Without the kind of clever, thoughtful and satirical jokes found in ANIMAL CRACKERS, DUCK SOUP or A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, the Marx Brothers were simply another comedy team, just slightly above the Three Stooges or the Ritz Brothers.  However, with the Brothers themselves investing in A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA, they approach their average material with an energy not seen since A DAY AT THE RACES, making everything seem funnier than it really is. The Brothers still firmly believed in Irving Thalberg's A NIGHT AT THE OPERA rules, despite its track record of failure, but in A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA the young lovers are so inconsequential you hardly even notice they are there, and aside from Harpo and Chico's mandatory musical specialties, there is only song - the 1923 Ted Snyder, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby ditty "Who's Sorry Now?", which had the built-in benefit of having already been a hit in the past.  Sig Ruman and Lisette Verea play their parts of Nazi villains with just the right sense of fun, helping lift the film above such previous disappointments as THE BIG STORE and GO WEST.  A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA may not be one of the Brothers' great films, but it is good fun, and by 1946, good fun was the best you could hope for in a Marx Brothers movie.

     Over the years,  I have noticed a great growing fondness amongst my fellow Marx Brothers fans for A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA, a fondness I also share.  While Joe Adamson basically dismisses the film in GROUCHO, HARPO, CHICO AND SOMETIMES ZEPPO, as do Paul D. Zimmerman and Burt Goldblatt in THE MARX RBOTHERS AT THE MOVIES, A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA still feels to me like the first real Marx Brothers movie since A NIGHT AT THE OPERA.  It has something of a Paramount feel to it, with a bit of MGM plot-weaving, and an especially welcome Victor Heermanesque attitude that what's important in a Marx Brothers movie is The Marx Brothers, not the plot scenes or the songs productions.  3 - JB

The Marx Brothers     The Age of Comedy


"I see. You want a manager that doesn't steal money... Good day, gentlemen!"

Notes by John V. "Jay" Brennan


Harpo's Solo: "Hungarian Rhapsody #2" (Franz Liszt).  The most famous of 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies Liszt composed.

Chico's Solos: "Beer Barrel Polka" and "Moonlight Cocktail".  A rare instance of Chico getting to play to complete piano solos in a row (not counting MONKEY BUSINESS, which was a continuous medley, or HORSE FEATHERS, which was a song and a solo).  See the AT THE CIRCUS review for notes on "Beer Barrel Polka".   "Moonlight Cocktail" was written by Kim Gannon (words) and Lucky Roberts (music), and was a 1942 hit for The Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Chico opens his version of "Beer Barrel Polka" with the opening piano chords of Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody #2", which is what Harpo plays on the harp in this film.


"I was terribly depressed at the preview.  We had worked so long and hard on this, and thought we had it so solid and tight, and then to see reams of it emasculated by that fat idiot (Mayo), well, it was heart rending... I'm sure it will be better than THE BIG STORE, but it will never be another NIGHT AT THE OPERA."
 ---- Groucho, in a letter to his daughter Miriam, circa January, 1946 (Love, Groucho by Miriam Marx Allen; Faber and Faber, 1992)