A Day at the Races review by Tom Blain
Either this movie is dead or my watch stopped.
The Marx Brothers at their best are gold. The perfect combination of Grouchos one-liners, playing off of Chicos silly accent, and Harpos wild physical comedy are what you get on a good day. Unfortunately, at their worst, the one-liners are few and far between, the situational jokes drag, and the musical numbers are crappy. Actually scratch that, the musical numbers are always crappy and should be skipped at all times. But usually you can rely on the brothers to drag out a good comedy. Not this time, unfortunately.
Dr. Hugo Hackenbush (Groucho) is a doctor who gets called in by rich resident, Mrs. Upjohn (Margaret DuMont) to head up a fledgling sanitarium. The only problem is, he is a horse doctor. But when it comes to the lovely and rich (most importantly rich) Mrs. Upjohn, Dr. Hackenbush will put on any guise. Tony (Chico) works at the sanitarium and wants to help Judy (Maureen OSullivan) retain it at any cost. In his offtime, Tony and Hackenbush stop on by the local racetrack to bet on some nags or in Tonys case con a sucker and then bet on some nags. Stuffy (Harpo) is a jockey at the racetrack, who doesnt throw races. If any of this sounds a little discombobulated, then youre not far off.
As stated above Hackenbush was brought in to save the sanitarium, but of course he does more to hurt their reputation than help it. His antics are typical Groucho; never giving a straight answer and always leading into confusion. In a last ditch effort to save the sanitarium, they race a horse that Judys boyfriend, Gil (Allen Jones) had purchased. Like many Marx movies; not much on plot.
My main complaint about the movie is that its scenes just werent as funny as say Duck Soup or A Night at the Opera. In those two movies at least they had huge marquee scenes such as the fake mirror or cramming 15 people into a small room. But the gags in A Day at the Races were pretty dry. The most memorable scenes were when Chico was conning Groucho into buying racing tips and Groucho courting a blonde about a foot taller than he. Other than that, the medical examination scene was kind of repetitive and not so funny.
I would have liked to seen this movie remain more focused. With a title like A Day at the Races I would have expected more horse racing shenanigans. I would have expected Groucho to have his schnoz in the middle of a racing form for most of the movie trying to swindle a buck. The races seem like canvas ripe for all sorts of Marx Brothers jokes. But instead most of the movie is spent at the sanitarium. Many of the jokes, while at the sanitarium, just dont have the umph. It seems like they had two movies with not enough material that they tried to cram into one movie.
The biggest flaw of most Marx films is everything in the film that is not the Marx Brothers. In most MGM Marx films, there are usually two musical numbers sung by while the brothers are not even on scene. In A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races its Allen Jones leading some corny musical number that doesnt belongnot once but twice. Not only is Jones the musical type, but he is also the romantic cheeseball type that swoons the leading lady with a gee-golly goodness that has little to do with the Marx sinful antics. Each music number probably takes close to ten minutes, which means, there are about 20 minutes of skipable footage in this movie.
If you want to see classic Marx Brothers, go rent A Night at the Opera or Duck Soup. This movie is not very well focused (not that many Marx Bros movies are) and the jokes are a bit dry. A Day at the Races seems a little ill conceived and a little forced by the studios trying to cash in off their last big success.
3 out of 10 Jackasses