At the Circus (1939)

“There must be some way of getting that money, without getting in trouble with the Hays Office!”

With the help of two dubious but well-meaning assistants (Chico and Harpo Marx), a lawyer (Groucho Marx) tries to secure enough evidence to indict the thieves (Nat Pendleton and Jerry Maren) who have stolen $10,000 from a struggling circus owner (Kenny Baker).


At the Circus was made during the tail end of the Marx Brothers’ successful run of collaboratively anarchic comedies, and is clearly one of their lesser efforts. It’s too bad the team were apparently denied the opportunity to preview their interactions before a live audience, since I suspect this would have given them the opportunity to fine-tune their schtick. As it is, the gags and dialogue throughout are pretty much hit-and-miss. I’m not at all a fan of the entire “midget scene”, for instance, which comes across as simply an un-P.C., one-note gag. However, Groucho is given numerous opportunities to shine, as he sings the iconic ditty “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”, interacts with the always-welcome Dumont (given a small but pivotal supporting role), and tries to get Eve Arden to drop a wallet of stolen money while walking upside down on the ceiling (a scenario which is, at the very least, novel). Harpo’s solo is lovely, but placed smack dab in the middle of a questionable musical revue involving African American stable hands. Meanwhile, all the supporting storyline scenes (between Wilson and Florence Rice, playing his long-suffering fiancee) pretty much grind things to a halt.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Groucho singing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”
  • Groucho’s interactions with Dumont
  • Eve Arden demonstrating ceiling walking to Groucho

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Marx Brothers fans.


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