At The Circus
Another Marx Brother’s film! This one has Our Boys involved in Hot Circus Action, gorillas gone wild, ceiling walking, quotes galore, cannons, quips, gags, and lots of fun. A welcome change from the parade of Turkish Monstrosities.
Wilson Wonder circus, owned by Jeff Wilson (Kenny Baker, not THAT Kenny Baker, this one is full sized and not a robot), our male romantic lead for this film, Julie Randall is his girl, as well as a star performer, who does a singing horse act (she sings, the horse acts.) Strongman Goliath is on next, his assistant is Punchy (HARPO!) so you know it’s going to go well. Harpo’s job is to shoot cannonballs at Goliath so he catches them, but a long fuse results in a cannonball to the behind for Goliath, who retaliates by tossing super-heavy weights at Harpo, pushing him into the ground.
Chico is introduced as a busy man with no time to talk as Jeff Wilson is telling John Carter (of Mars! My Brother!) that he has the money to pay off the loan he owes, as John needs the money by Saturday or he will own the circus. Jeff think there might be trouble with all the money sitting around, so Chico calls his old friends J. Cheever Loophole, Attorney at Law (GROUCHO!) At the train station, Chico is told by Jeff to only let people with badges on the train. Jeff tells Julie he is paying off the circus and she agrees to marry him. Jeff has also be disowned by his aunt, Mrs. Susan Dukesbury (Margarat Dumont!) Jeff and Julie sing Two Blind Loves as the movie isn’t dragging slowly enough yet.
Groucho arrives and Chico greets him, but won’t let him on the train, as Groucho has no badge, despite Chico inviting him. A whole slew of people get on the train by having their badges, including Harpo and a Seal, yet Groucho still can’t get on. Finally, Groucho is given a badge, but it’s last year’s badge!
Later on the train ride to the next town, Chico gets his piano seen. Groucho has made it onto the train, we also see. Pauline, John Carter’s girl (What happened to Dejah Thoris?); Goliath the strongman, and a midget called “The Professor” are working for John Carter (of Mars!) and begin to do dastardly deeds. Groucho is introduced to Harpo, then to the rest of the circus. He tops it all off by singing the now classic Lydia the Tattooed Lady, one of the greatest songs of all time. Jeff keeps the money stored with the Gorilla, Gibraltar, but is mugged by Goliath and the Professor the second he takes it out of Gibraltar’s cage. Chico, Harpo, and Groucho find Jeff shortly thereafter, and try to help him recover his money.
First person they are going to interrogate is Goliath, but Groucho is distracted when Pauline walks by.
Groucho: I’ll grill her until she’s well done. She must know something, even if it isn’t about the case!
Groucho: She’s innocent.
Groucho and Chico talk to Goliath briefly before being scared off. Julie then speaks with Groucho, who was about to run off, and mentions that she and Jeff are to be married. Groucho agrees to help for the long haul now. Harpo has found a cigar left by the assailants, and they go to see if The Professor’s cigars match. Every time Groucho brings up an excuse to get a cigar, Chico manages to ruin it by providing Groucho with one of his own cigars. Groucho: “I bet your father spent the first year of your life throwing rocks at the stork!” The Professor is played by Jerry Maren, who you may recall as the Lollypop Guild Munchkin from The Wizard of Oz. He has no lollies for Groucho, Chico, and Harpo, only contempt. Groucho tries one last time to get a cigar, but Chico: “Are you lucky, I thought this cigar was in my other suit” Groucho: “I wish yo were in your other suit, and your other suit was being pressed…no, mangled!”
After the next stop, Groucho meets Carter’s girl Pauline, and starts hitting on her as well as looking for evidence. After some Groucho-styled banter, Pauline hides the money inside her shirt, and Groucho tries to get her to walk on the ceiling, as it’s part of her act. She finally relents as long as he does it as well “I have an agreement with the houseflies. The flies don’t practice law and I don’t walk on the ceiling.” Pauline takes off while Groucho is still stuck on the ceiling. Harpo shows up to the rescue, dropping Groucho on his head. Later we see Julie is getting offers from other circuses, and Jeff tells her they shouldn’t get married as he has no certain future.
Our boys are stymied, pacing back and forth as well as being imitated by monkeys. Chico mentions Jeff’s rich aunt the Widow Dukesbury, who has disowned Jeff. Groucho perked up at “widowed” and “rich” and leaves immediately. Chico leaves for other business, and Harpo is left alone at the zoo. He starts playing music, putting the lions asleep, and attracting the attention of some African-American Stereotype children who tarnish the film. Now this was probably very inclusive in 1939, and is a follow up to the previous black number in A Day at the Races, but now it just looks so out of place. “Now shut my mouth and feed my face, that man don’t belong to no human race!” states one black youth, wide eyed. Another chimes in “Well button my lips and send me quick…” This is the Swing-alie number, and it includes the harp scene.
Mrs. Dukesbury is busy organizing the concert of the famous French Conductor Jardinet when Groucho arrives. Groucho manages to pass himself off as one of Jardinet’s men, and gets Mrs. Dukesbury to agree to a $10,000 fee, but she is unaware that the money will go to her nephew. Mrs. Dukesbury is also taken aghast at Groucho’s blatant flirting. Back in circusland, Julie has decided to take another job offer, and Jeff sings more Two Blind Loves.
Chico and Harpo sneak into Goliath’s room as the giants sleeps to search. They tear up pillows and make a big mess, all while rocking Goliath gently to sleep each time he stirs. As feathers fly in the air, and the hidden Chico and Harpo abuse Goliath while trying to sneak around, Goliath is eventually frightened away. Groucho tells Jeff to arrive at his aunt’s with the circus, and tries to make trouble for Jardinet so he doesn’t reach the shore.
Jeff sets up the circus quietly as Groucho entertains and distracts the guests beforehand. Some of John Carter’s thugs (Thugs of Mars!) try to burn down the circus but an ostrich riding Harpo stops them from completing their circus-ending task of taking down the Big Top, fire-style. Jardonet manages to make it to the dinner despite Groucho’s best efforts, and Groucho manages to convince him to go to the dockside stage, which is soon set adrift by Chico as the orchestra plays on. Jardinet is played by the great character actor Fritz Feld who played characters similar to this in many many many movies and TV shows, including Silent Movie.
The sudden appearance of the circus after Groucho is done having his repeated cups of coffee is a shock to Mrs. Dukesbury, but she is told by Groucho that Jeff did it as a favor to her, as they thought Jardonet was not coming. The guests enjoy it immensely, and she ends up having a good time. John Carter (of Mars!) won’t be stopped by such trickery, and he sets Gibraltar the Gorilla loose, backfiring as Gibraltar chases him as well. A wacky chase is on, involving circus ropes, trapeze, cannons, gorillas, and bad guys. Eventually Gibraltar find the missing money in John Carter’s pants, and Jardonet plays on as his stage sails out to sea.
Piano Scene: On the Train
Harp Scene: At the Animal Cages
Rated 9/10 (Jardonet’s stage, Jardonet’s rage, Lydia the Tattooed Lady, the Professor, Goliath, Monkey Madness, Mrs. Dukesbury, Wanted for Jaywalking, Jardonet plays out to sea)
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Marx Brothers Films
The Cocoanuts – 1929
Animal Crackers – 1930
Monkey Business – 1931
Horse Feathers – 1932
Duck Soup – 1933