Animal Crackers Review

Image for Animal Crackers

Explorer Jeffrey T. Spaulding, his secretary Horatio W. Jamison, musician Emanuel Ravelli and his sidekick The Professor all arrive at the Long Island mansion of Mrs. Rittenhouse to attend the unveiling of her latest artistic purchase.


While they were launching Animal Crackers on Broadway in 1929, the Marx Brothers simultaneously made their movie debut in The Cocoanuts. It proved to be an unhappy experience, with directors Robert Florey and Joseph Santley being compelled to clip the anarchic quartet's wings, as they insisted that the brothers remained in shot and within range of the primitive microphones. What's more, the absence of an audience affected the foursome's timing and they arrived to make their second Paramount picture at Astoria Studios in New York with considerable misgivings - a situation compounded by the fact that they had all just lost heavily in the Wall Street Crash, with Groucho down by around $250,000.

Already a screen comedy veteran, director Victor Heerman further disconcerted the Marxes by cutting swathes from George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind's screenplay. But before they mutinied, they agreed to watch some test rushes and were so reassured by what they saw that they abandoned their stage showboating and settled into what would become their stock characters.  

As Captain Spaulding (who was reportedly named after the studio's drug supplier), Groucho established his trademark brash, arrogant social climber, whose ability to dupe others was matched only by his own naivete. Chico similarly honed his Italianate schemer and Harpo his mute, madcap womaniser. Even Zeppo had some choice moments, during the dictation sequence with Groucho.

 Reprising her stage role, Margaret Dumont proved equally invaluable to the act and it's a joy to watch her barely suppressing giggles against Groucho's torrent of insults and inanities and Chico and Harpo's antics during the bridge game with Margaret Irving. However, the highlights belong to Groucho, whether he's clowning along to `Hooray for Captain Spaulding!' (which would become the theme for his TV show,  You Bet Your Life) or lampooning Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude in a virtuoso monologue.

With lots of turning of heads and looks of bewilderment it's classic Marx and of course Groucho steals the show.