The fabulous Marx Brothers: Groucho, Chico, and Harpo. Zeppo only appeared in the first five Marx Brothers movies as the straight man. They were the biggest comedy stars of their time and their humor is still influential today. Like most during this time they started in Vaudeville. They were a huge success on Broadway and unpredictable on stage. Two of their movies, The Coconuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930) were adaptations of their Broadway shows. In 1932 they were on the cover of Time magazine. They gave the depression era laughter.
Each brother had his own unique stage persona. Groucho was a wise cracker, had quick wit and was gifted with improvisation. He walked with a stoop, carried a cigar and had greasepaint eyebrows and moustache. Chico spoke with an Italian accent, wore a Tyrolean hat and was a remarkable piano player. Harpo was gifted with pantomime and used sight gags. He didn’t speak instead using horns and whistles. Harpo played the harp. He wore a trench coat, curly wig and top hat. In their movies Chico played a con man and Harpo was his partner in crime. They made a great con team. The Marx Brothers had chemistry.
Their films include: The Coconuts (1929), Animal Crackers (1930), Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932), Duck Soup (1933), A Night at the Opera (1935), A Day at the Races (1937), Room Service (1938), At the Circus (1939), Go West (1940), The Big Store (1941), and A Night in Casablanca (1945). Their character names were as wacky as their antics: Rufus T. Firefly, Wolf J. Flywheel, Otis B. Driftwood, Chicolino, Baravelli, Pinky, Stuffy and Rusty. Margaret Dumont co-starred in seven Marx Brothers films.
Their escapades were crazy, zany, loony, funny and just plain fun. In the Tootsie Frootsi Ice Cream skit from A Day at the Races, Chico runs a con on Groucho to buy horse betting manuals that he keeps in an ice cream cart. The manuals are technically free with the catch that there is a $1 charge for printing or delivery.
“Say, is it my imagination or is it getting crowded in here?” Just how many people can you fit into a tiny ship’s cabin? In A Night at the Opera it’s 15 people. Let’s see, there’s Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Ricardo, 2 chamber maids, an engineer, manicurist, engineer’s assistant, a woman looking for her aunt, the cleaning lady and 4 stewards. At the end of the skit Margaret Dumont opens the door and everyone falls out. Buster Keaton helped develop this famous skit.
Another famous skit is the mirror scene in Duck Soup. Harpo is dressed like Groucho and imitates his every move. It’s a very funny skit. In an episode of I Love Lucy, Harpo and Lucy recreate the mirror scene. Both are classic!
In 1941 the marvelous Marx Brothers announced their retirement but they would go on to make two more movies. After that Chico did some TV and had his own orchestra. Harpo did some TV as well and concerts. Groucho would go on to star in You Bet Your Life (1947-1961). He won an Emmy for Outstanding Personality. In 1974 he was presented with an Honorary Oscar.
Although they may be gone, The Marx Brothers films still live on today making new generations laugh.