December 16, 2018
A Day at the Races (1937)
Grade: 65/100

Director: Sam Wood
Stars: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx

What it's about. Young love is again threatened by villains, but no worries, the Marx Brothers (and clueless dowager Margaret Dumont) will ensure a happy ending.

More specifically, beautiful brunette Maureen O'Sullivan owns a sanitarium whose financial success depends upon retaining wealthy hypochondriac Margaret Dumont as a client. The latter has faith only in quack doctor Groucho Marx, whose credibility is challenged by the sanitarium's dislikable manager, Leonard Ceeley.

It turns out that Ceeley is in cahoots with race track owner Douglass Dumbrille, sheriff Robert Middlemass, and physician Sig Ruman, in a plot to seize the sanitarium and convert it into a hotel. They are also after a racehorse owned by nightclub tenor Allan Jones, O'Sullivan's romantic interest.

Naturally, the three Marx Brothers become involved, and favor the young lovers over their humorless antagonists. The brothers, of course, consist of witty skirt-chaser Groucho, frantic mime Harpo, and thick-accented schemer Chico.

How others will see it. A Day at the Races ranks among the better regarded Marx Brothers movies, albeit behind A Night at the Opera and Duck Soup. But contemporary audiences likely saw it as a close copy of A Night at the Opera, down to supporting cast members such as love interest Allan Jones and pompous foil Sig Ruman (we can't count Margaret Dumont, who was essentially a member of the Marx troupe).

The movie was not among the top 20 grossing films for the year. It did squeeze out an Oscar nomination for its choreography on the big dance number, "All God's Children Got Rhythm", which was apparently the only Oscar nod the Marx Brothers ever secured. It is a pity that the number's lead singer, Ivie Anderson of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, was not nominated.

The presence of comely beauty Maureen O'Sullivan undoubtedly helps today's viewers, as does the antiestablishment character of Groucho Marx. At, the movie has a high user rating of 7.7 out of 10, consistent across all American demographics, though non-U.S. voters grade it slightly lower.

The user vote total of 12K is also high for a 1937 movie. The Deanna Durbin vehicle One Hundred Men and a Girl, Oscar-nominated for Best Picture in 1938 with the fourth highest box office for the year, has only 804 user votes.

One would expect the user reviews to praise the Marx Brothers in general instead of the film in particular. Indeed this is the case. There are some complaints that, at 111 minutes, the movie could use paring down (let's start with Harpo's inevitable harp solo), and there is occasional bashing of purported MGM repression of comic talent.

How I felt about it. As is always the case with a Marx Brothers movie, the scenes vary greatly in their quality. I've already complained about the harp solo, and we also must endure a lengthy skit in which Groucho Marx buys one book after another from Chico. Jones is a good actor but his corny singing is annoying.

But we are fond of Maureen O'Sullivan, and if her UK accent sounds out of place, one could say the same about most of the cast. They can talk funny if they want to. It's a comedy.

The Groucho-Dumont chemistry is always enjoyable, and the "doctors" examination of Dumont is as hilarious as anticipated. Further anarchy involving foil Douglass Dumbrille also follows a familiar but enjoyable formula. We know that the horse will win the race, and O'Sullivan's sanitarium will be saved. All we ask is madness along the way, and there is enough to satisfy most everyone, including yours truly.