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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Merry Marxes On Second Outing

Animals Crackers (1930) Back Again --- and Then Again

The Hanna Theatre in Cleveland Sat 1,397 for Legit Performances
The second Marx Brothers feature at Paramount and based again on a well-oiled Broadway hit where laughs had been pared down over months to funniest of funny. This and The Cocoanuts are purest of all things Marx in spite of tentative boy-girl subplots, these not so intrusive as similar device would become in the team's later MGM comedies. Were the Marxes adverse-affected by having to perform before stone-silent filming crews as opposed to accustomed roaring crowds? That had to have impact on mood and morale. Groucho must have later compared quality of these movies to stage versions, but I don't recall just where, so many books out there by and about him. Would be interesting to learn what changes were made when Animal Crackers made its jump from the stage, which raises larger question: Has anyone restaged this play since the Marx Brothers? I don't see offhand how they could, but anything's possible ...

Chicago Gets Animal Crackers in 1974
97 minutes is a touch long. A lot of what goes on in the third act plays like recapitulation of the first. There seems also to be a good deal of Code-cutting in surviving elements. I know Animal Crackers had a reissue in the late forties before the picture disappeared for a long while. Lines are obviously missing, though ones remain that I'm surprised weren't shorn when AC was submitted for a PCA seal. The DVD is soft for an opening reel, gets better and stays so through the remainder. This has to be the only 1930 feature to still be commercially viable in the seventies (City Lights too if we stretch the calendar a year). Universal got out a 1974 theatrical encore so college-age Marxists could have a "new" Bros. shrine to worship, and Groucho was fortunately around to bask in laurels (exhib at the time Mike Cline reports his 35mm print had a muddy track). Colleges could rent Animal Crackers afterward, but it was pricey --- $175 versus 50/50. Still remarkable to me is CBS playing AC in summer 1979 prime-time. Universal was meanwhile offering the pic on new-christened Discovision for $15.95, which according to Variety, had to be increased from $9.95 due to the format's startup costs being "substantially higher" than anticipated.


Blogger b piper said...

I remember an ad in a Boston paper for a revival of ANIMAL CRACKERS complete with actors in Marx drag, so I assume it happened elsewhere as well. Another theater revived ROOM SERVICE in Marx costume, ironic since the original play didn't feature the Marxes. My favorite cut line from CRACKERS is in "Hooray for Captain Spaulding" --- when the chorus sings "He is the only white man/to cover every acre," Groucho's reply (re: Margaret Dumont) "I think I'll try to make her!" is gone with a very noticeable jump cut. Hooray hooray hooray!

12:38 PM  
Blogger dis220 said...

I saw a professional production of Animal Crackers in D.C. around 1982/83. Marx impersonators, but fantastic nonetheless. Piano and harp solos, included.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

"Animal Crackers" has been restaged a few times in the New York area in the last decade or so, but only for limited runs.

I wish Paramount had used the "Four of the Three Musketeers" number from the stage version of the show. Or at least shot the finale in color, as had been planned. The brief test footage is available on YouTube.

1:16 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Michael Hayde supplies some very interesting info on stage revivals of "Animal Crackers":


A few years ago, I saw a restaging of ANIMAL CRACKERS at Washington DC's Arena Stage. Frank Ferrante, who has a one-man show as Groucho, played the redoubtable Captain Spaulding, and there were good re-creations of the other 3 brothers as well. (IIRC, Harpo was played by a woman, who was very good as both comedian and harpist.)

The play restored a number of aspects not used in the film, from the major
(the costume party that featured the number "We're Four of the Three Musketeers") to the trivial (the subplot involving a Winchellesque gossip
columnist). At the same time, alterations were made. For some reason, "Everyone Says I Love You" was added for the two lovers to sing; that was written for HORSE FEATHERS of course. A wink-wink moment was the casting of a burly black actor as the cop Hennessey, the joke being that he spoke with a thick Irish brogue. Finally, the four "brothers" leaped about the set singing "Oh By Jingo!" a show number from 1919 not written by Kalmar & Ruby. It wasn't out of character, but had nothing to do with the original play; at first I thought it might've been one of their old vaudeville numbers.

All told, it was an enjoyable romp. Hopefully the revival of I'LL SAY SHE IS that is going on now in NYC is as entertaining, even if it too takes liberties with the original production.


3:35 PM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

I saw THE COCONUTS & ANIMAL CRACKERS at a retro theater in the mid-70s. The musical numbers not involving the Brothers were deadly.

9:04 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson considers several modern Marx plays:

Actually, pseudo-Marx Brothers scored a Broadway hit some years ago in "A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine". That show set a sort of standard for professional and community theater; it may have pre-empted any interest in "Animal Crackers."

The first half was sort of a revue featuring new and old songs set in front of the Chinese Theater.

The second half was a Chekov one-act reimagined for the Marxes, complete with a Margaret Dumont stand-in and a couple of MGM-issue singing lovers. That also featured an actress as Harpo.

There was an earlier musical, "Minnie's Boys", that had the brothers and their pushy mother knocking around Vaudeville and finally, near the end, becoming the Marxes we know. It was a bit too similar to "Gypsy," although the writers (including Groucho's son Arthur Marx) found excuses to lace in famous gags and routines. Groucho serenades a Dumontesque landlady with "You Remind Me of You," a song based on a bit from "Night at the Opera"; and they laid siege to a stage producer's office as they allegedly did Thalberg's.

Wonder if anybody has tried to revive "Poppy" with a star playing W.C. Fields playing Poppy.

7:30 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers the Marx Brothers:

I've never particularly cared for the The Marx Brothers, whatever the version. There is a mean spiritedness about them that becomes rather depressing. And for me, puns are punishing. Watching "Duck Soup" and "Animal Crackers," however, suggests how amazing they must have been on stage. The routines and gags are so smoothly honed and mesh so well, that it's like watching a malevolent machine set in motion. An audience couldn't help but have been swept up in the mayhem. There is such a wealth of material, too. It's relentless. In these movies, then, if you don't like them, you won't like them a lot, but you'll understand why others did.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

THe Goodman Theatre in Chicago did Animal Crackers a few years ago. Here's a video piece on it that gives a flavor of it:

9:29 AM  

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