Room Service – A Marx Brothers Retrospective

Room Service lobby card.

Room Service is the first Marx Brothers movie based on a stage play that was not explicitly written for or by the brothers.

Following Irving Thalberg’s death, Zeppo Marx led the efforts for his brothers to do a film for RKO Radio Pictures. John Murray and Allan Boretz had written the Broadplay play, which the brothers had nothing to do with its creation on stage. Despite Morrie Ryskind adapting the film for the screen, it never fully feels like a Marx Brothers movie. Surprisingly, it’s one of two Marx Brothers films in which neither Chico or Harpo play any instruments. Not that it would have made much of any difference in the movie or people’s reactions to it.

The gist of the film is that a broke Broadway producer, Gordon Miller (Groucho Marx), seeks to get funding for their stage play while avoiding an eviction from the hotel. Miller’s friends includes Harry Binelli (Chico Marx) and Faker Englund (Harpo Marx). Anyway, White Way Hotel manager Joseph Gribble (Cliff Dunston) informs them that they will have to leave the hotel immediately after running up the bill. Miller’s secretary, Christine Marlowe (Lucille Ball), informs him that they found a backer. Unfortunately, this is not enough for Gribble, who now has the bouncers on the way. There’s a lot of shenanigans, which we expect in a Marx Brothers film, that follow including a backer’s check that bounces. Is there any surprise here?

While there are some gags right up the Marx Brothers ally, the film itself just never reaches their standards. The measles gag is pretty funny. I still have a few more films left to watch but this is my least favorite Marx Brothers film to date. It pains me to say this to because I truly expect better from them. Again, this was based on a play that was not written with them in mind. Morrie Ryskind’s script can only open things up so much from its theatrical roots. However, the film really isn’t playing to their best strengths. I’m sorry but it’s true. How many people talk about Room Service in the same sentence as their best work? I honestly don’t know. Furthermore, this is a film featuring Lucille Ball before becoming the Lucy that fans know and love.

Room Service features some shenanigans that are fitting for a Marx Brothers vehicle but it is not enough for their standards.

DIRECTOR: William A. Seiter
SCREENWRITER: Morrie Ryskind
CAST: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, with Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, Frank Albertson

RKO Radio Pictures released Room Service on September 30, 1938. Grade: 2.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.