The Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers was their second feature-length “talkie.” Groucho stars as Captain Spaulding, a celebrated African explorer who is being honored at the manor of Mrs. Rittenhouse (Margaret Dumont). She also plans to unveil a famous and valuable painting at the ceremony. But the painting goes missing in the middle of the night, leaving Spaulding, the Professor (Harpo), Signor Emanuel Ravelli (Chico), and Horatio (Zeppo) to try and find the culprits. Why it’s their job to find the culprits, nobody knows. But it’s fun.
In this outing, the producers and the Marx Brothers begin to understand how to utilize their roles. Only Zeppo still hasn’t found his footing; in fact, his role is even worse than his role in their first film, The Cocoanuts. Zeppo just doesn’t have anything to do yet. The musical numbers and set pieces begin to be more grand and more broad in their humor, and “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” is a fully-fleshed out bit of whimsical craziness.
Margaret Dumont deserves special mention in her role as Mrs. Rittenhouse. She is the lighthouse around which three of The Marx Brothers flit like moths. To change metaphors, without her, the Marx Brothers would have no solid rock to push back against all their zaniness.
- The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos
- Feature Commentary with Film Historian Jeffrey Vance
The bonus materials might seem scant, but are excellent. There is much to be learned from The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos; a documentary which is an hour and twenty minutes of interesting facts from several experts on the Marx Brothers. Film historian Jeffrey Vance’s commentary is chock full of information. If you haven’t begun your Marx Brothers collection yet, Animal Crackers is a great place to start.