It’s the Marx Brothers, doing a play written for other people that they don’t have the luxury of changing too much of the plot to suit their own needs, or even Groucho’s name to something comical (Gordon Miller? Why not W. Saltlick Frogthrower or something equally comical?) Faker (played by Harpo) is from the original play, from my understanding, having not seen the real play, and all of his lines were just given to Chico or Groucho. It’s also the only film they made with RKO, as they were loaned out for one movie. Sadly this is far from their best film, more near the bottom, as they are limited by their source material and not let to shine the way they normally can. Frank Sinatra also did a version of this play as a movie called Step Lively. I bet that is completely different from this version. Or it could be identical. I can imagine Ol’ Blue Eyes chasing women without saying a word and honking a horn all the while!
Groucho is play director Gordon Miller and is trying to get his play accomplished, he is eating in the dining hall at the hotel he is staying at with most of the actors in the play. A Russian waiter wants him to pay his bill, but is using that as an excuse to audition for the play. After a brief phone call from Lucille Ball(!!!!) the waiter tries to audition by tap dancing. Groucho’s brother-in-law is the manager of the hotel, Joseph Gribble. Joseph Gribble is complaining about the line of credit Groucho and his troupe has received, and Groucho replies that it is because the hotel has 10% interest in the play, in a conversation meant for us audience members to explain what has been transpiring pre-story. The District Supervisor for the hotel chain has arrived to look at the books, two months ahead of schedule, and will soon come across the bill for Groucho. Trouble is a brewin’! Joe Gribble seems to be the role Zeppo would have filled had he still been making movies at this point.
Chico arrives playing Harry Binelli, also working on the play, he and Groucho start putting on layers of clothes as they has to skip before Supervisor Gregory Wagner catches them. Harpo also shows up as Faker (not the He-Man figure) and also helps to pack, he’s arrived sans shirt for greater packing skills. Lucille Ball enters the room next, with news that she has a backer for the play. Groucho is ecstatic, but the backer is coming to his room at the hotel to meet him, and now Groucho has to stay at least until he can get the backer’s money. Just then comes another knock at the door. It’s Leo Davis, who wrote the play that is being produced. He’s left his hometown for good and is ready to cash his paycheck, which has yet to be written as Groucho has no money. After failing to get him to leave, Groucho gets him to stay with him for the time being. Chico gets a phone call that he’s been kicked out of his apartment and his stuff has been put in the street, he has to go get it before the cops haul it away, and they hawk Davis’s typewriter to get money so Chico can pay for a littering ticket he got when his stuff was thrown on the street. Unbeknownst to his typewriter’s disappearance and the lack of money, Leo Davis phones the We Never Sleep Collection Agency and offers to pay off the rest of the typewriter payments, and they agree to send a man to the room.
The next person to appear at the door is a Miss Hilda Manning (Ann Miller) who Davis unhesitatingly hits on. They get along well, and Hilda gets Davis to agree to audition a new actor for the play, the Russian Waiter Groucho rejected earlier. In the Hotel Office, Wagner is yelling at Gribble about Groucho’s credit. Wagner goes up to Groucho’s room with Gribble in tow, but no one is there. That is, until Chico arrives with his things, including a giant moose head. Wagner begins to yell, but is told that twenty-two people are eating in the dining area and charging it all to Groucho, and he dashes downstairs. Davis and Groucho return separately, Davis is yelled at by Gribble, which also let’s Davis figure out what is going on, but the whole thing is put on hold when the backer Jenkins arrives. The group must convince him to invest, the only catch is the person Jenkins represents wants a part added for a female acquaintance, and Leo Davis is unmoving as to altering his play.
Led Davis: Shakespeare didn’t change a line in his plays.
Groucho: Shakespeare didn’t owe twelve hundred dollars!
Eventually Groucho settles the matter and Jenkins tells them they will finalize the deal tomorrow back in the room. Next, word arrives that the actors are locked out of their rooms, and Gribble is convinced by Groucho to hide them in the dining room for the time being. Harpo then arrives, and has been kicked out of his place for not paying rent for the last six months, Groucho: Six dollars is six dollars!, so he is going to also be staying with Groucho and the gang. They all have to hold the fort in the room until tomorrow morning so they can get the backer money from Jenkins. The only way they can keep from getting thrown out is if someone is deathly sick, but everyone who is officially registered is known to be well. Except for Leo Davis. So now poor, disillusioned Leo Davis is forced to pretend he has the measles, the sign posted on the door saying as much frightens away all of Wagner’s goons who were going to forcibly evict. Measles being much more deadly back then, it’s understandable. Harpo helps the disguise by spitting iodine onto Davis’s face giving him numerous red spots.
The collection agency man comes, but Groucho sends him away with words that Davis has been taken away as crazy and is at a maternity ward. Next morning Harpo returns with a turkey he won at a raffle he rigged, but the turkey is still alive and flies around the room, only to escape out the window. The Russian Waiter Groucho rejected wants the audition Davis promised him, and Groucho agrees if the waiter will return with some food, which he does. The Brothers eat in a humorous eating sequence, Groucho can’t seem to get a bit in before one of the others steals it. Later Groucho has to figure out how to get the waiter into the play without getting rid of the actor who was rehearsing for the past couple of weeks.
Davis then declares he is leaving to go see Hilda, not caring if they get evicted or not, and he does leave. Lucille Ball arrives with the contract that Jenkins will use, along with some additional food for the group. Wagner arrives then, but they quickly stash Harpo into the bed as the sick man to replace the AWOL Davies, but Wagner has brought a doctor with him to settle things. The doctor has a devil of a time examining Harpo, and after a few run-arounds Wagner realizes that this is a different sick man than before, but has no proof, and has to run off when twenty-two people are discovered living in the dining area. The best part of the examination sequence is Harpo using the doll he has to say “ahhhh” for him. After some more doctor run-arounds they end up locking the doctor in the bathroom.
Jenkins comes to the door ready to sign, and they hurry to try to complete the deal before things go awry. Jenkins wants the name of his client kept a secret for privacy’s sake, but Wagner chooses that moment to return and ruins everything. Jenkins is scared, even more by seeing the doctor tied up in the bathroom, so Jenkins tries to run. Wagner frees the doctor, who then yells at Wagner for interrupting the legitimate business deal. Wagner then tries to reconvince Jenkins, and they barely get him to sign the check. SUCCESS!! Now they have money! And the actors can get back in their rooms!
The success is short lived, a few minutes later when Davis returns, he had run into Jenkins in the lobby, and Jenkins said he was going to stop payment on the check. The bank is in California and they are in New York, and at that time it takes about five days to get the message across, thanks to it being the olden days and them not having to worry about computers. So Groucho hatches a plan to open the play in five days, drawing off the check, as they will make the money back once they open. All they have to do is keep Wagner in the dark about it.
Five days later, it’s almost showtime. Things almost get pulled off, but then the check is canceled and can no longer be drawn against. Wagner discovers Groucho has been charging everything to the hotel against the check when the bank calls asking for repayment for the charges. He’s noticeably enraged. Wagner traps Chico, Groucho, and Davis in the hotel room they are in, and leaves them there to be arrested while the show has all it’s sets seized mid-performance. Harpo is thrown in shortly thereafter. One question, since Wagner has a stake in the play, why is he relishing in it’s destruction, and enhancing it? The Heroes make a fire so they can escape but it fails. Then they decide to have Davis fake his suicide by taking poison, so they can escape the room that way. Wagner comes in to gloat, when Davis begins his acting. Wagner thinks he’ll get in trouble as a note Davis wrote blames him. Chaos ensues as much of the last act of the film is Davis pretending to die, only to momentarily recover and then die some more. Davis eventually completes the act all the way and is fake dead. To add to the mess, Harpo fakes his death as well with a trick dagger, a note on his body also blames Wagner. Now Groucho convinces Wagner to move the bodies out of the hotel so they won’t get in trouble. He and Wagner move Harpo, with much difficulty. Harpo even reanimates to girl watch for a few seconds. A cop spies them carrying Harpo outside, and they flee. In the eventual chaos, Harpo ends up onstage in the play, playing a corpse. The writer talks to Wagner, causing him to faint, and Our Heroes sing Swing Low, Sweet Chariot as the movie ends.
Not as delightful as the other Marx Brother’s films, this is nevertheless more entertaining than most of the dreck that gets produced today. Still, the Brothers shine best when they have material specially written for them, and this movie proves the point.
Harp Scene: NONE!
Piano Scene: NONE!
Rated 8/10 (Moose, Cupie, Measles, turkey, packing, three cartoon brothers)
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Marx Brothers Films
The Cocoanuts – 1929
Animal Crackers – 1930
Monkey Business – 1931
Horse Feathers – 1932
Duck Soup – 1933