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  Horse Feathers All In The Gamesmanship
Year: 1932
Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Stars: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Zeppo Marx, Thelma Todd, David Landau, Nat Pendleton, James Pierce, Reginald Barlow, Robert Greig, Theresa Harris
Genre: Musical, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: The Dean of Huxley College is retiring today, so the professors and students have assembled in the large hall to pay tribute to him and meet the new Dean. However, the new Dean is Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho Marx), a man not given to reverence, making no bones about how pleased he is to see the back of the old Dean. After spotting his son Frank (Zeppo Marx) in the audience and asking him to get up from his seat so he can see the son rise, Wagstaff proceeds to sing a song about how whatever it is, he's against it. But despite his forthright views, can he stay in his post with the important football game coming up?

Horse Feathers was the fourth of the Marx Brothers movies, continuing a successful run of classics that lasted until around A Day at the Races five years later. It's difficult to imagine a world without them, as their characters were so vivid and unique, with Groucho, complete with spectacles, painted on moustache and cigar making with the wisecracks, Chico and his phoney Italian accent and doublespeak, and Harpo, saying not a word and running wild as possibly the most insane screen comedian of all time. Oh, and Zeppo too, still with the team at this point, and filling in as straight man.

Here it's the respectable halls of American learning that are the target of the humour, but really they're a backdrop for the jokes and sketches. Putting across the point that it's the sports fields that make or break a college's reputation, Horse Feathers has as its plot a scheme to help Huxley win at the football game against Darwin College. To this end, Wagstaff is offered a tip by his son that there are a couple of football players drinking at the local speakeasy, and they can be bought for a small sum. Wagstaff dutifully goes along, but hires the wrong two.

Can you guess who he hires by mistake? The real footballers have been scooped up by Darwin, who are obviously just as double dealing as Huxley so we don't mind them getting their comeuppance. This means Wagstaff gets involved with Baravelli (Chico), an ice deliveryman, and Pinky (Harpo) who is a dogcatcher (well, he chases after pooches whenever they run across the set, at any rate). At the bar, there's the famous password routine to enjoy, with Wagstaff fooling Baravelli into giving away "Swordfish", and Pinky playing one armed bandit with a telephone.

Speaking of telephones, marvel at the incidental pleasures such as Groucho cracking walnuts with a phone, or in one of the funniest throwaway gags, Harpo shoveling the Dean's books into the roaring hearth. You can't have a Marx Brothers film without the songs, for better or worse, but here they're fairly satisfying as first Zeppo croons Everyone Says I Love You to "college widow" Thelma Todd (who didn't have long to live, dying in mysterious circumstances three years later), and the other brothers offer variations on this - Harpo on the harp, and Chico on the piano, of course. The climactic football game, even if you don't know the rules, is a fitting finale, with the brothers careering around the field as Roman charioteers in a horse-drawn garbage cart. You can't go wrong with the Marxes during this period.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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