84. Horse Feathers - The Part-Time Critic

Saturday, March 28, 2009

84. Horse Feathers

84. Horse Feathers (1932)
Directed by Norman McLeod

The second of four Marx Brothers films on the list and I think this is the first one that could be considered underrated by the general populace. Tighter and funnier than any of their previous films, Horse Feathers marks an incredible improvement on the formulas developed in those films.

Watching a Marx brother’s film is not like watching any other film; the expectations and requirements are completely different. What separates the good ones from the great ones is not the plot lines or the characters, in fact those normally serve to get in the way. What matters are the prevalence of great jokes, the routines, and the set-pieces. As long as those aren’t interrupted too much by plot, secondary characters, and musical routines, then we have a successful film.

Horse Feathers in this regard is extremely successful. With the University setting, Groucho, Chico, and Harpo include gag after gag, filling every scene with something funny. My favorite bits include Groucho’s “I’m Against It” song, Groucho and Chico’s swordfish routine, the revolving door and suitor routine with Groucho/Chico/Harpo, and a classroom set piece that is some of the finest work they ever produced. The classroom scene alone includes the brother’s entire repertoire packed into a solid five minutes.

There is very little that doesn’t work in this comedy, and the football field finale is the perfect capper (or should I say caper) to a great film. If you’ve never watched a Marx Brothers film, then this would be a good place to start.

Favorite Quotes:
[Wagstaff's looking in a microscope]
Biology Professor: What do you think of that slide?
Professor Wagstaff: Well, I think he was safe at second, but it was very close.

Connie: Oh, Professor, you're full of whimsy.
Professor Wagstaff: Can you notice it from there? I'm always that way after I eat radishes.

Retiring President: Eh, by the way, professor, there is no smoking.
Professor Wagstaff: That's what you say.
Retiring President: It would please the faculty if you threw your cigar away.
Professor Wagstaff: The faculty members might as well keep their seats. There'll be no diving for this cigar.

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