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
CIRCUS, which isn't saying much, but it was probably as good
be hoped for under the circumstances. An independent
released by United Artists, the film was noticeably lacking in the
production values of their Paramount or, especially, MGM
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
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
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
All the brothers, in fact, proved they still had it in them.
the time of their final film (LOVE HAPPY) three years later,
as if they'd aged 20 years. - 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. - JB
ADD ANOTHER QUOTE AND MAKE IT A GALLON
"I see. You want a manager that doesn't steal money... Good day, gentlemen!"
Notes by John V. "Jay" Brennan
A BOW FOR HARPO
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.
BEHIND THE SCREEN
"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)