Animal Crackers (film)

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Animal Crackers
Animal Crackers Movie Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Victor Heerman
Written by Bert Kalmar
Harry Ruby
George S. Kaufman
Starring Groucho Marx
Harpo Marx
Chico Marx
Zeppo Marx
Lillian Roth
Margaret Dumont
Music by Bert Kalmar
Harry Ruby
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s)
  • August 23, 1930 (1930-08-23)
Running time 97 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Animal Crackers is a 1930 Marx Brothers comedy film, in which mayhem and zaniness ensue when a valuable painting goes missing during a party in honor of famed African explorer Captain Spaulding. A critical and commercial success on its initial release, filming took place at Astoria Studios in Astoria, Queens; it was the second of two films the Brothers would make in New York.

Plot[edit]

The basic plot concerns Groucho, as explorer Captain Geoffrey (or Jeffrey) T. Spaulding, attending a party in his honor at the estate of society matron Mrs. Rittenhouse, and investigating the theft of a valuable painting during the party. The bulk of the movie consists of a succession of comedy sketches, one liner jokes and visual gags.

Cast[edit]

The film stars the four brothers, Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, and Zeppo Marx, as well as Lillian Roth and Margaret Dumont. It was directed by Victor Heerman and adapted from a successful 1928 Broadway musical of the same title by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, also starring the Marx Brothers and Margaret Dumont. The part of Hives the butler was played by Robert Greig who also appeared with the Marx Brothers in Horse Feathers (1932).

The film was shot at Paramount's Astoria Studios in Astoria, Queens.

Jokes[edit]

Four of Groucho's best known quips:

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know.
(The American Film Institute listed this at number 53 in the 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time.)
Then, we tried to remove the tusks, ... but they were embedded in so firmly, we couldn't budge them. Of course, in Alabama the Tusk-a-loosa. But that's entirely ir-elephant to what I was talking about. [Similar to a joke Chico would later tell in Duck Soup]
Africa is God's country – and He can have it.
We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren't developed. But we're going back again in a couple of weeks!

Other quotes from Groucho:

"Ever since I met you, I've swept you off my feet."
"You mind if I don't smoke?"
"There's one thing I've always wanted to do before I quit: Retire."
"I was outside the cabin smoking some meat. There wasn't a cigar store in the neighborhood!"
"Didn't you ever see a Habeas Corpus?"Chico: No, but I see Habeas Irish Rose.

The film also contains the well-known Chico-Harpo scene in which Chico keeps asking Harpo for "a flash" (meaning a flashlight), and Harpo—not understanding—produces from his bottomless trenchcoat and baggy pants a fish, a flask, a flute, a "flit", a "flush", etc.

Zeppo figures in a well-known gag in which Groucho dictates a letter to his lawyers in rambling pseudo-legalese. Zeppo gets to one-up Groucho: When asked to read the letter back, Zeppo informs him, "You said a lot of things I didn't think were very important, so I just omitted them!" whereupon a minor skirmish ensues: what he's omitted is the body of the letter. (Joe Adamson, in Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Sometimes Zeppo, observed that this scene disproved the common notion that Zeppo was the least of the Marx Brothers: "It takes a Marx Brother to pull something like that on a Marx Brother and get away with it.")

One more complex running joke has Groucho turning the dialogue into a scene out of the Eugene O'Neill play, Strange Interlude, in which the characters continually spoke asides that convey their thoughts. Groucho's voice becomes deep and droning as he steps apart from the other characters to comment on the scene:

"Living with your folks. Living with your folks. The beginning of the end. Drab dead yesterdays shutting out beautiful tomorrows. Hideous, stumbling footsteps creaking along the misty corridors of time. And in those corridors I see figures, strange figures, weird figures: Steel 186, Anaconda 74, American Can 138..."

The comedy, thus, is in the unpredictable shifting of the scene's meaning, from two socialite ladies and a world-famous explorer mingling at a party, to a parody of O'Neill's work, to a mimicking of a man reading out stock prices. Incidentally, Groucho had heavy investments in Anaconda Copper and after the stock market crash of 1929 experienced a bout of depression as well as insomnia.[2]

In the final scene, Harpo uses a Flit gun to pacify an entire crowd, finally spraying Groucho, who falls unconscious to the ground. The current prints of the film have the "Flit" name blotted out, since Paramount Pictures didn't get permission to use the trademarked name.

Musical numbers[edit]

Groucho's songs, "Hello, I Must Be Going" and "Hooray for Captain Spaulding", both written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, became recurring themes for Groucho through the years. The latter song became the theme of Groucho's radio and TV game show You Bet Your Life. It referred to a real Captain Spaulding, an army officer arrested a few years earlier for selling cocaine to Hollywood residents. The original full version of "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" was edited in compliance to the Hays Code when it was re-released in 1936: the sexually suggestive line "I think I'll try to make her" was removed - it came after Mrs. Rittenhouse's line: "He was the only white man to cover every acre." There is no known print or audio of those few seconds that were trimmed from the film. Prints of the film reveal an obvious edit when they reach that point in the song.

Ironically, Groucho used an even more risqué line in introducing Chico's piano sequence: "Signor Ravelli's first selection will be, 'Somewhere My Love Lies Sleeping', with a male chorus." Chico's own piano composition "I'm Daffy over You" would be played again in their next feature film, Monkey Business, by Harpo on the harp.

  • He's One Of Those Men (Hives and Footmen)
  • I Represent (Zeppo)
  • Hooray for Captain Spaulding Part I (The Cast)[3]
  • Hello, I Must Be Going (Groucho)
  • Hooray for Captain Spaulding Part II (Cast)
  • Why Am I So Romantic? (Arabella and John, and as a harp interlude with Harpo)
  • I'm Daffy Over You (Chico; the refrain is sometimes confused with the 1950s song "Sugar in the Morning")
  • Silver Threads Among the Gold (Chico)
  • Brief piano interlude (Harpo)
  • Gypsy-chorus (a.k.a. Anvil Chorus) (Chico)
  • My Old Kentucky Home (Marx Brothers)

Re-release[edit]

In December 1973, UCLA student and Marx Bros. fan Steve Stoliar drove to Anaheim, California, to view a rare screening of Animal Crackers at the Old Town Music Hall theater. The print shown there was a poor-quality bootleg, probably because the film had not been distributed for theatrical release since the mid-1950s. Paramount Pictures had allowed its licenses to expire, and rights had reverted to the authors of the Broadway stage play: the playwrights George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, the composer Harry Ruby, and the lyricist Bert Kalmar. Although EMKA, Ltd. (now part of Universal Television) had acquired Paramount's older films in 1959, Animal Crackers evidently was regarded as a mess best left untouched. Stoliar impulsively called Groucho Marx to enlist Groucho's support for an unlikely campaign to attempt to persuade — or pressure — Universal to re-release the film. Groucho agreed to visit the UCLA campus for a publicity event.[4]

On February 7, 1974, Groucho and his assistant, Erin Fleming, visited UCLA under the aegis of Stoliar's newly formed "Committee for the Re-release of Animal Crackers" (CRAC). The event drew about 200 students, 2,000 signatures on re-release petitions, and several reporters.[5] Universal scrambled to appear responsive: a spokesman told a UCLA Daily Bruin reporter that the studio was "delighted" by the interest, and that "we have negotiated with the heirs of the writers (Morrie Ryskind and George S. Kaufman), but they were asking much more than we wanted to spend. Just recently we reached an agreement, and we're waiting to sign the contracts." (Not quite: Ryskind was still in the pre-heir stage — he lived until 1985. The songwriter Harry Ruby was also alive, though he died two weeks later, aged 79.) The spokesman added that he expected the film would soon be released. As the Daily Bruin put it, "The rest of the day belonged to Groucho, as he showed surprising flashes of his old brilliance." Asked to name his favorite comedian, he said: "Me." He also said that "Animal Crackers is the best of our movies."[6]

Groucho's UCLA appearance generated national press coverage. An appearance on the nationally syndicated Merv Griffin Show soon followed. In April, 1974, Groucho and Stoliar "received an answer from Universal. According to Vice President Arnold Shane, they were 'delighted with the response of the students.'" On May 23, 1974, attempting to gauge public interest, Universal screened a sharp new print of the film at the UA Theater in Westwood, just south of the UCLA campus. Groucho made a personal appearance and walked unescorted into the theatre on the left aisle. He was wearing his beret. People in the audience stood up and started applauding and soon the entire theater joined in. Encouraged by the response there — the lines stretched around the block for months — on June 23 the studio screened the film at the Sutton Theater in New York.[7] Groucho attended the New York premiere. A near-riot broke out and a police escort was summoned. From there Animal Crackers went into national release.

It is also because of these rights issues that Animal Crackers did not see an appearance on television until July 21, 1979, when CBS broadcast the film.[8]

Multicolor clip[edit]

Multicolor frame from a scene rehearsal (Harpo in robe and without wig)

In the 1990s, a 15-second clip filmed in Multicolor during the rehearsal of a scene in Animal Crackers was found and aired as a part of the AMC documentary Glorious Technicolor (1998). The clip is significant because it is the oldest known color footage of the Marx Brothers, and also for an appearance by Harpo without his usual costume and wig.[9]

References in popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The opening credits say "Captain Jeffrey Spaulding". The newspaper article shown immediately after the credits says "Captain Geoffrey T. Spaulding"
  2. ^ Comedy And The Economic Crash Of 1929
  3. ^ "Lyrics to Hooray for Captain Spaulding". Archived from the original on 4 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-02. 
  4. ^ Stoliar, Steve. Raised Eyebrows: My Years Inside Groucho's House. General Publishing Group (1996). pp. 24-27
  5. ^ Stoliar, pp. 27-35
  6. ^ Silverstein, Stuart. "Groucho Returns to College." UCLA Daily Bruin. February 8, 1974. p. 1
  7. ^ Stoliar, pp. 36-42
  8. ^ Per TV Guide ad at vintagetoledotv.squarespace.com
  9. ^ The American Widescreen Museum, Early Color Motion Pictures, WidescreenMuseum.com, 2003. Accessed 8 February 2010.

External links[edit]