Horse Feathers (1932)

“You’ve got the brain of a four-year-old boy — and I’ll bet he was glad to get rid of it.”

Synopsis:
The new president (Groucho Marx) of Huxley University hires two bumbling spies (Chico and Harpo Marx) to help his institution win a big football game against a rival university.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “frantic, anarchical comedy” is “regarded as the most surrealistic of the Marx Brothers films”, given that it “takes us zooming from one senseless scene to the next and through completely absurd bits of dialogue”. Peary calls out several particularly “memorable scenes”, including the opening scene (“Groucho addressing the faculty and students”), “Groucho trying to gain entrance into a speakeasy by guessing the doorman Chico’s secret word”, and “Groucho taking ‘college widow’ Thelma Todd canoeing” (during which “she falls overboard and he tosses her a peppermint Life Saver”). I’m less a fan of the infamously climactic “wild, wild football game”, though I’ll concede its slapstick brilliance from afar. Listen for plenty of the Brothers’ characteristically zany verbal wit:

Professor Wagstaff: Tomorrow we start tearing down the college.
Professors: But, Professor, where will the students sleep?
Professor Wagstaff: Where they always sleep: in the classroom.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The infectiously hummable opening song (“Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”)
  • Plenty of classic Marxian dialogue, one-liners, puns, and scenarios: “Why don’t you bore a hole in yourself and let the sap run out?”

Must See?
Yes. Most film fanatics will be curious to check out all of the Marx Brothers’ early Paramount Studios classics, including this one.

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One Response to “Horse Feathers (1932)”

  1. Not a must – but I’ll concede that some may find this one more enjoyable than I do.

    To me, ‘HF’ peaks early with ‘Whatever It Is, I’m Against It’ – an extremely clever song (which segues into ‘I Always Get My Man’), delivered with Groucho’s delightful gusto.

    From that point, the film quickly becomes way too spotty for my liking. There are a lot of jokes that simply haven’t held up. On the other hand, sprinkled throughout are some very nice quips and touches (just not nearly enough for me to be enthusiastic).

    All four brothers get to do a version of ‘Everyone Says I Love You’ – and each is pleasant enough (with different lyrics, and with Harpo whistling), although Zeppo is rather bland (as he is in general). As well, Chico and Harpo each get their own musical interludes and those are always welcome.

    Overall, I think Harpo comes off best here with his varied visual gags. Somehow Harpo always seems fresh to me, no matter what – perhaps because his ‘jokes’ don’t tend to age.

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