Film Review – A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA (1946)

A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA (1946, USA) ****
Comedy
dist. United Artists; pr co. Loma Vista Productions; d. Archie Mayo; w. Joseph Fields, Roland Kibbee; pr. David L. Loew; ph. James Van Trees (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Werner Janssen; ed. Gregg C. Tallas; pd. Duncan Cramer; rel. 16 May 1946 (USA), 11 July 1946 (UK); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 85m.
cast: Groucho Marx (Kornblow), Harpo Marx (Rusty), Chico Marx (Corbaccio), Charles Drake (Pierre), Lois Collier (Annette), Sig Ruman (Heinrich Stubel / Max Pfferman), Lisette Verea (Bea), Lewis L. Russell (Governor), Dan Seymour (Prefect of Police), Frederick Giermann (Kurt), Harro Meller (Emile), David Hoffman (Spy), Paul Harvey (Mr. Smythe).
Five years after their “billed” final film, THE BIG STORE (1941), the Marx Brothers return in this riff on CASABLANCA (1942). Here, Ronald Kornblow (Groucho) takes over as the manager of a luxurious hotel in Casablanca, in the aftermath of World War II. After discovering that both of his predecessors had been murdered, Kornblow begins to fear for his safety — especially when Nazi Count Pfefferman (Ruman) tries to take over Kornblow’s job in a bid to get his hands on valuable items that were stashed in the hotel by the Nazis at the tail end of the war. Whilst the film runs out of comedic steam as it attempts to wrap up its plot in the finale, much of the rest is top-draw Marx comedy. Groucho delivers his one-liners with leering grace and Harpo provides much of the physical comedy. There are opportunities for musical interludes for Chico (piano) and Harpo (harp) and the plot manages to stay out of the brothers’ way for most of the running time. The result is a return to form and a late-career flourish. The brothers would make one more film together – LOVE HAPPY (1949) before disbanding.

Film Review – DUCK SOUP (1933)

DUCK SOUP (1933, USA) *****
Comedy, Musical
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures; d. Leo McCarey; w. Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Arthur Sheekman, Nat Perrin; pr. Herman J. Mankiewicz; ph. Henry Sharp (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. John Leipold; ed. LeRoy Stone; ad. Hans Dreier, Wiard Ihnen (both uncredited); rel. 15 November 1933 (USA), 29 November 1933 (UK); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 69m.
cast: Groucho Marx (Rufus T. Firefly), Harpo Marx (Pinky), Chico Marx (Chicolini), Zeppo Marx (Bob Roland), Margaret Dumont (Gloria Teasdale), Raquel Torres (Vera Marcal), Louis Calhern (Ambassador Trentino), Edmund Breese (Zander), Leonid Kinskey (Sylvanian Agitator), Charles Middleton (Prosecutor), Edgar Kennedy (Lemonade Vendor).
The most anarchic of all the Marx Brothers films also has strong hints of anti-war satire. Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighbouring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (Dumont). What follows is a breathless 69-minute comedy masterclass mixing inventive sight-gags (notably the famous mirror sequence) with Groucho’s biting one-liners. Dumont is a game foil for Groucho’s insults. Harpo and Chico are also at the top of their game in their respective familiar characterisations and their battle with Lemonade vendor Kennedy is superb visual comedy. This was the last appearance of Zeppo Marx in The Marx Brothers films and the team’s last film for Paramount before moving on to MGM. In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #60 Greatest Movie of All Time.

Film Review – A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935)

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935, USA) *****
Comedy, Music, Musical
dist. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); pr co. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM); d. Sam Wood; w. George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind (based on a story by James Kevin McGuinness); pr. Irving Thalberg (uncredited); ph. Merritt B. Gerstad (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Herbert Stothart; ed. William LeVanway; ad. Cedric Gibbons; rel. 1 November 1935 (USA), 13 December 1935 (UK); BBFC cert: U; r/t. 96m.
cast: Groucho Marx (Otis B. Driftwood), Chico Marx (Fiorello), Harpo Marx (Tomasso), Kitty Carlisle (Rosa Castaldi), Allan Jones (Riccardo Barone), Walter Woolf King (Rudolfo Lassparri), Sig Ruman (Herman Gottlieb), Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Claypool), Edward Keane (Ship’s Captain), Robert Emmett O’Connor (Police Sergeant Henderson).
Hilarious and top-notch Marxian lunacy, their first film for MGM following their glory years with Paramount. It was also their first as a trio, with Zeppo dropping out. Here, the Marxes run amuck in the world of opera when Otis B. Driftwood (Groucho) meets aspiring singer Ricardo (Jones), who is determined to win the love of fellow performer Rosa (Carlisle). Aided by Fiorello (Chico) and Tomasso (Harpo), Otis attempts to unite the young couple but faces opposition from the preening star Lassparri (King), who also has his sights on Rosa. Travelling from Italy to New York, Otis and friends rally to try and win the day. Containing some of the brothers’ very best routines – the contract and stateroom scenes – and Groucho’s wittiest one-liners, this ranks with the team’s best films. MGM head Irving Thalberg ensured high production values, musical interludes, and a romantic sub-plot to give audiences room to breathe between the laughs. The formula works perfectly here.