Go West – A Marx Brothers Retrospective

The Marx Brothers Go West in their only Western comedy and the shenanigans go exactly as one might expect in the film.

Foreword: In 1851, Horace Greeley uttered a phrase that did much to change the history of these United States. He said: Go West, young man, go west.

This is the story of three men who made Horace Greeley sorry he said it.

This is the second Marx Brothers film directed by Edward Buzzell and once again, Irving Brecher has sole screenwriter credit. Nat Perrin did some uncredited writing. But anyway, Brecher writes to the brothers’ strengths as we get some fun gags during the final half half. In Go West, the brothers help a couple, Terry Turner (John Carroll) and Eve Wilson (Diana Lewis) get back their stolen property deed. I’m not going to lie–the climax had me rolling with laughter. It sees no shortage of gags as the Marx Brothers try to stop the train and the villains, John Beecher (Walter Woolf King) and “Red” Baxter (Robert Barrat).

Interestingly, all three brothers play con men. S. Quentin Quale (Groucho Marx) runs into Joseph (Chico Marx) and Rusty Panello (Harpo Marx). Quale attempts to con them but they end up conning him instead. There’s a lot of swindling going on here. Turner thinks it’s best for Eve’s grandfather, Dan Wilson (Tully Marshall), to sell the property to the New York and Western Railroad. Did I mention that both of their families are feuding? In theory, this would also make the Wilson family rich. However, the property deed got swindled and thus, there is a race to retrieve it.

The film continues the trend where a non-Marx actor is standing in for Zeppo Marx by playing it straight and also having a love interest, too. Obviously, much of the attention lies with the Marx Brothers but it’s something I’ve noticed in watching their filmography. It’s fascinating to see them move forward from film to film in their filmography. There’s some musical numbers but they are not as memorable as other films. The bits that really work are what we see on the train. It’s exactly what I would expect from them! If it looks similar to what Buster Keaton did in The General, he was also an adviser on the film.

Interestingly, the film was made more or less as a response to a Laurel and Hardy Western, Way Out West. After At the Circus brought them back to form, Go West really ups the zany antics. The film finishes really strong as they race to beat their villains east to the railroad company. If you look at their Paramount, Thalberg, and post-Thalberg filmography, this is almost certainly the best that their post-Thalberg years had to offer.

It’s not quite in their top tier but Go West is the strongest film of the post-Thalberg filmography with a climax that is classic Marx Brothers. Again, I feel a good amount of this is because Irving Brecher is a veteran of writing for the brothers by this point. It also helped that they worked out bits on stage during a three-week tour. How things work on stage is much different than film but it also helps them and the filmmakers to see what is working and what is not. If something isn’t working, they have time to rework the script and replace the failed bit with another one. It’s kind of like watching The Second City Mainstage and etc cast members work out new material as they transition from one show to the next.

DIRECTOR: Edward Buzzell
SCREENWRITER: Irving Brecher
CAST: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, with John Carroll, Diana Lewis, Walter Woolf King, Robert Barrat

MGM released Go West in theaters on December 6, 1940. Grade: 4/5

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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.

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