The Big Store

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The Big Store
Big Store 1941.jpg
Theatrical poster for Big Store (1941)
Directed by Charles Reisner
Produced by Louis K. Sidney
Written by Nat Perrin (story)
Sid Kuller
Hal Fimberg
Ray Golden
Starring Groucho Marx
Chico Marx
Harpo Marx
Tony Martin
Virginia Grey
Margaret Dumont
Virginia O'Brien
Music by Hal Borne
Georgie Stoll (musical direction)
Earl Brent (adaptation)
Arthur Appell (dance direction)
Cinematography Charles Lawton Jr.
Edited by Conrad A. Nervig
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s)
  • June 20, 1941 (1941-06-20)
Running time 83 min.
Language English

The Big Store (1941) is a Marx Brothers comedy film in which Groucho, Chico and Harpo work to save the Phelps Department Store, owned by Martha Phelps (Margaret Dumont). Groucho plays detective Wolf J. Flywheel, a character name originating from the Marx-Perrin radio show Flywheel, Shyster, and Flywheel in the early 1930s.

The Big Store was the last of five films the team made under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and it was advertised as their final film. However, they would return to the screen in A Night in Casablanca (1946) and Love Happy (1949).

The Big Store co-starred long-time Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont as well as the love interests Tony Martin and Virginia Grey. The Big Store was Dumont's final film with the Marx Brothers. The villain was portrayed by Douglass Dumbrille, who had played a similar role in A Day at the Races.

Tagline: "Where everything is a good buy. Goodbye!"

Plot[edit]

The movie opens with news that Phelps Department store owner Hiram Phelps has died, leaving half-ownership in the business to his nephew, singer Tommy Rogers. The other half is owned by Phelps' sister, Martha (Margaret Dumont). Rogers knows nothing about running a department store, so he plans to sell his interest in the store and use the money to fund music education. Store manager Grover (Douglas Dumbrille) wants to kill Rogers before he can sell his share, seduce Martha into a sham marriage, then kill her to become sole owner. Martha is highly suspicious, worried about Tommy's safety lest anyone suspect her of foul play to take over the store. Against Grover's wishes she hires Wolf J. Flywheel (Groucho Marx) as a floorwalker and bodyguard. Between Tommy wooing his sweetheart and Groucho romancing Mrs. Phelps, the brothers thwart the plot to place a gun in a photographer's camera.

The film has two extended scenes, one of them in the store's bed department, which has all kinds of novel beds that come out of the walls. An Italian family walks in with 12 children, and Groucho asks the father (Henry Armetta) what other hobbies he has got. Six of the kids promptly disappear in a set of bunk beds. While the father pleads for the return of his children, three more large families, a Swedish one with a dozen blond children, another with Chinese children and finally Native American children, arrive, and soon all is chaos.

The second lengthy scene takes place near the end of the film: Groucho, Chico and Harpo escape their pursuers during a madcap chase through the entire store, using the elevator, a staircase, chandeliers, roller skates, a mail chute and a bicycle. This chase involves an unusual amount of Mack Sennett-type slapstick stunts for a Marx Brothers movie.

There is one gag which breaks the fourth wall, during the "Sing While You Sell" sequence: while Groucho is narrating a fashion show, he asides "This is a bright red dress, but Technicolor is so expensive." Later in the film, Groucho breaks the fourth wall again when he comments "I told you in the first reel [Grover] was a crook."

Musical numbers[edit]

As in the previous Marx Bros. MGM films, the movie contains elaborate production numbers, such as the upbeat "Sing While You Sell," led by a singing, dancing Groucho; and "Tenement Symphony" sung by Tony Martin and a boys' choir. The screenwriting team of Kuller, Golden, and Fimberg also supplied the lyrics to Hal Borne's original music. Also of note is that this is the second film in which an instrumental version of "Cosi-Cosa" from A Night at the Opera can be heard (playing during the moving bed scene), the first being A Day at the Races.

  • "If It's You"- Tony Martin (music & lyrics by Ben Oakland, Artie Shaw & Milton Drake)
  • "Sing While You Sell"- Groucho, Six Hits and a Miss, Virginia O'Brien and Harpo as a drum-beating snake charmer
  • "Rock-a-bye Baby"- Virginia O'Brien
  • "Mama Yo Quiero"- Chico and Harpo (piano duet)
  • "Mozart's Sonata in C major" - Harpo (harp)
  • "Beethoven's Minuet" - Harpo (harp/cello/violin, although perhaps supplied by noted jazz violinist Georgie Stoll[citation needed])
  • "Tenement Symphony"- Tony Martin, onstage choir and orchestra, featuring Chico and Harpo

Cast[edit]

Reception[edit]

The film made a profit of only $33,000. Nonetheless, it was among the more profitable Marx Brothers films of this time.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Robson, 2005 p 279

External links[edit]