A Day at the Races Review

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Veterinarian Hugo Z. Hackenbush poses as a doctor at a society hospital, which is under threat from the owner of the neighbouring racetrack, where jockey Stuffy and tipster Tony make their equally shady living.


As they were coming off the back of their best two pictures, Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera, the Marx Brothers can be forgiven here for slipping slightly from such high standards. Yet, this typically anarchic farce contains their finest single routine, while two more rank amongst their funniest.

Countless writers contributed to the diverse plotlines that were discarded and plundered during pre-production. Groucho later claimed 18 different screenplays were involved, as stories about an anti-noise device, travelling players reducing a mansion to chaos and strangers renovating a rundown guest house came to nothing. Eventually, a concoction about a sanitorium and a racetrack was cobbled together and the trio took the rough draft on tour, where it took 141 stage performances to hone the gags and perfect the pacing.  

However, shooting was halted after just 12 days, as Irving G. Thalberg, the exec who had lured the brothers to MGM from Paramount, died at the age of just 37. The picture was closed down for three months while Thalberg's envious employer, Louis B. Mayer, restructured the studio around himself and gave the Marxes notice that he now called their tune.  

But the threesome rose above adversity and animosity to produce their longest-ever picture, with Allan Jones's solo slot and Dave Gould's Oscar-nominated aqua-pastiche of Busby Berkeley padding out the running time. Harpo also fronted an uncomfortable sketch with some shanty blacks, which was supposed to reinforce his Everyman appeal, but wound up a patronising burlesque.

 However, he chipped in with typical enthusiasm to the sequences in which he and Chico disrupt first Groucho's examination of Mrs Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont) - in which he brilliantly lampoons the pomposity of Sig Rumann's Dr Leonard Z. Steinberg - and then his attempted seduction of Esther Muir's buxom blonde. But nothing could top the `Tutsi Frutsi Ice Cream' routine, in which Chico dupes Groucho into buying the paraphernalia required to cash-in on a racing tip and, in the process, exposes the flummery and fast-bucking greed that his social superiors simply fail to notice.

Either he's dead or my watch has stopped