The Four Marx Brothers followed up The Cocoanuts by bringing another stage production, Animal Crackers, to the screen.
“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.” – Captain Jeffrey Spaulding (Groucho Marx)
Victor Heerman takes over directing duties while Morrie Ryskind adapts the stage musical for the screen. There are so many funny quips that I don’t even know where to begin. We get one of the funniest lines in cinematic history (see above). Meanwhile, “Hello, I Must Be Going” and “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” would follow Groucho throughout his career. One of the other musical numbers is a brief excerpt from “My Old Kentucky Home.” While it was before the song was rewritten due to Stephen Foster’s racist lyrics, the racist portions do not factor in what we hear in the film. Anyway, Groucho said in 1974 that it’s the best of the Marx Brothers movies.
The gist of the film is that Captain Jeffrey Spaulding returns from Africa and attends a party in his honor at Mrs. Rittenhouse’s (Margaret Dumont) estate. While attending the party, a painting goes missing and madcap zaniness ensues. I wouldn’t expect anything different from a Marx Brothers comedy. Anyway, Captain Spaulding takes it upon himself to solve the case with secretary Horatio Jamison (Zeppo Marx). He does so while also dealing with Signor Emanuel Ravelli (Chico Marx) and his sidekick, The Professor (Harpo Marx).
The version included on The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection is the original uncut 1930 release. We’re incredibly lucky that the British Film Institute held onto a 35mm duplicate negative. If not for this, the only version in existence would have been the one edited to accommodate Production Code enforcement. Funny enough, we’re only talking about a difference of a minute. It’s still a fricking minute!
Animal Crackers is their longest Paramount vehicle but it doesn’t suffer from the problems that plagued The Cocoanuts. Paramount brought in a different director who knew how to better direct the brothers. What helps their second attempt at bringing a stage musical to the screen is not featuring as many musical numbers. In doing so, Heerman allows the film to focus on comedy and yes, there’s an actual plot this time around. It’s not an instance of musical interludes between sequences. In any event, this was their last stage musical adaptation and their final Paramount film to be produced at Astoria. From here on out, it was off to sunny LA.
Animal Crackers is an improvement on The Cocoanuts with The Marx Brothers bringing the funny in a way that only they can.
DIRECTORS: Victor Heerman
SCREENWRITER: Morrie Ryskind
CAST: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, Zeppo Marx, with Lillian Roth and Margaret Dumont